Elizabeth Taylor was the antithesis of today’s Hollywood fashion icon, who is eager to be seen as an everywoman. She was always dressed like a movie star: hair done, makeup on and lots of jewelry.
Never would you see Taylor in jeans and a T-shirt.
And while she was famous for her Oscars, iconic roles and many husbands, she was most renowned for her beauty — the violet, almond-shaped eyes, creamy skin, pouty lips and raven hair. She died Wednesday at 79 from congestive heart failure.
The public saw her mature from a young curly haired tomboy in National Velvet to the sultry Cleopatra. Yet no matter the time, place or role, her glamour was consistent, and that was inspiring to women, even if they could never quite replicate it.
“Every quality that we consider classically beautiful, she had,” said Amy Keller Laird, beauty director of Allure. “She was sexy and girlish at once, she had both those qualities all through her life.”
In 1951, Taylor showed off her legendary 19-inch waist in a strapless dress with a bodice top, full tulle skirt and delicate flowers at the neckline designed by Edith Head. InStyle fashion director Hal Rubenstein said the outfit the “blueprint for prom dresses of the ’50s.”
She had the same influence on lingerie styles after she wore a lace-trimmed slip in “Butterfield 8.” And black kohl eyeliner was all the rage after Cleopatra.
Somehow, she even made caftans stylish in the ’70s, Rubenstein said with a laugh.
Rubenstein said he had the pleasure of meeting her a few times. “As a child, she was eerily beautiful — she never had a child’s face, and as a woman, she was unmatchably beautiful,” he said.
In person, the most striking thing about her was her impeccable features, but her broader appeal, the one the world saw in photographs, was her overall glamour, he said.
“When she walked into a room, she just had the most amazing presence about her,” added designer Elizabeth Emanuel, who is best-known as Princess Diana’s wedding dress designer but who also made several looks for Taylor, including caftans. “She was just incredible.”
The big studios trained her to always step out the door as glamourpuss Elizabeth Taylor: She wore the role of movie star all the time, and she didn’t apologize for it.
“She was an incredible beauty and she had an awareness of her own beauty.”
Even those we think are great beauties today play it down and speak modestly — there’s always something they don’t like and they apologize for it, but she never did,” Rubenstein said. “She was aware of her gifts and truly appreciated them.”
He also noted that Taylor made sure any and all of her suitors, from boyfriends and husbands to reporters, knew that she liked gifts and that she expected them. After all, one of the most important diamonds of all time, a 69-carat stone, was a gift from husband No. 5 and 6, Richard Burton. It is now known as the Taylor-Burton Diamond.
Taylor not only owned many pieces of statement jewelry — unlike today’s starlets, who borrow them — but she’d wear them often instead of storing them. That goes back to the movie-star thing.
At the Oscars in 1970, she asked costumer Head to create a gown that would show off her necklace, ending up in a blue gown with a very low V bustline.
“Elizabeth Taylor was a style icon who always followed her own unique and daring fashion vision,” said Jamie Cadwell, director of the Diamond Information Center, a trade organization. “Her love of jewelry was unsurpassed, and women everywhere continue to be inspired by her incredible collection.”
In her clothes, Taylor had a preference for draping, said Emanuel.
Her longevity as a style influencer is proven by the longtime success of her fragrance collections launched with Elizabeth Arden. White Diamonds, which followed 1980s-era Passion and was one of the original celebrity perfumes, has been a beauty-counter bestseller for 20 years.
The fragrances will continue, according to a company statement. “Our best tribute to Elizabeth Taylor will be to continue the legacy of the brands she created and loved so much,” said chairman and CEO E. Scott Beattie.
“White Diamonds is still one of our readers’ favourite fragrances. The fact that hers has stood the test of time, even though every hot celebrity has a fragrance, says a lot about her as a beauty icon,” said Allure’s Laird.