The legendary designer shares his love for leading ladies.
As a child I grew up watching lots of Italian cinema: Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and so many others. Over the years you tend to forget about the films. But growing older, when you watch them again, they come back with deeper meaning and a new appreciation. You never really, truly recognize how these movies affect you until you stop and think all these years later. They were so full of incredible characters—especially the women.
I love actresses who can make me cry or laugh. Telling stories of poverty and of the everyday in the neorealist school of the Golden Age of Italian cinema, these leading ladies were so full of beauty and passion. They were mothers. They were lovers. You felt close to them. You’d invite them into your home. Anna Magnani, Sophia Loren, Giulietta Masina—these were women of passion, of humor, and of drama. Magnani as Maddelena in Luchino Visconti’s Bellissima, Magnani in Pasolini’s Mamma Roma. Loren in Matrimonio all’italiana by De Sica. These women still, to this day, make me cry and laugh for joy, with tears from beautiful memories streaming down my face. These actresses continued their collaborations with the directors they worked with at Cinecittà, like Silvana Mangano, who—with Pasolini and Visconti—created her most iconic roles, in Le Streghe. And as times changed during the 60s and 70s, we were introduced to the blonde bombshell Monica Vitti. These women had so much beauty and so much style.
American actresses and cinema also seduced me as a teenager. Like Marilyn… oh Marilyn! With her exaggerated beauty! She would make me laugh, and even now she can make me cry. Like in the film Bus Stop! But in real life, away from the glamour of Hollywood, she was so chic and simple. I have to also mention Mary Tyler Moore, who is best-known for her TV show. I watched it for years! She was like my best friend. I dreamed about living in an apartment with my best friends next door, like she did with Phyllis and Rhoda. The clothes were to die for! It really doesn’t get better than that!
Costumes, of course, have always been important and something I’ve paid attention to. And these women, in the fashion of the times, were incredible. Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall come to mind in 3 Women by Robert Altman. Those sick colors and weird characters—it obsessed me.
My long time obsession has been Elizabeth Taylor. I’ve always loved her and her characters; she was never afraid of portraying crazy, unstable women like in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Boom!, and X,Y and Zee. I love that about a real beauty like her— even when crazy she looked amazing! She had incredible style on and off of the screen. Sometimes it was just so bad, but so full of confidence. I was and still am hypnotized by the screen when I watch Suddenly, Last Summer or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. And by the way… the best Cleopatra ever!
Others who come to mind: Karen Black and Cher in Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, a movie with a nearly female-only cast. Very strong. And very unforgettable women. Isabelle Adjani scared me forever with her incredible beauty and terror in Possession by Andrzej Zulawski. I love Jessica Lange. Her mix of exceptional beauty and talent, with a touch of comedic relevance, always struck me—in Frances, Blue Sky and especially as Big Edie in Grey Gardens.
Cinema, drama, and women. Film is a medium that tells a story that taps into an emotion. That affects the heart.
This article first appeared in Document’s Fall/Winter 2015 issue.