In the past year, Barbara Tfank has outfitted Michelle Obama (in a pale blue silk jacquard A-line dress when the first lady met Kate Middleton for the first time at Buckingham Palace) and Grammy award-winning singer Adele for numerous awards shows.
Now the Los Angeles-based designer has set her sights on Elizabeth Taylor.
Tfank's spring/summer 2012 collection, which will be a featured attraction at the opening night of Fashion Houston 2011 tonight, is inspired by the iconic star. The pieces are an homage to the two-time Academy Award winning actress in her Cat on a Hot Tin Root/A Place in the Sun period in the 1950s when she was curvy and gorgeous. The collection features silky slip dresses, 3/4-length jacquard coats, shiny capri pants and styles cinched at the waist, with flared skirts, lace décolleté and slashed necklines.
"Taylor didn't even know she was doing it, but she was a rebel. Everybody was so mesmerized by how beautiful she was, they couldn't focus on anything she said. She was incredibly smart about getting this message across about homosexuality, about everything. She was a real liberal in the body of a goddess."
"It was scientific the way they did it. She wasn't a big woman (only about 5-ft.-2-in. tall); it was the cinching of the waist and the creation of the ratio that was unforgettable for everbody," Tfank told me, while showing her collection at a Chelsea art gallery last month during fashion week in New York.
For the collection, Tfank also created a Cleopatra-inspired gold column gown, paired with the famous Bulgari serpentini bracelet that Richard Burton gave Taylor when they filmed the movie. Bulgari is supplying jewelry to complement other designs for the Houston runway show as well.
To drive home the Taylor connection, the models in Tfank's show wear wigs reminiscent of the actress's hairstyles of the era.
There is a vintage feel to the collection — a Tfank trademark — but the designer insists she has put her spin on the styles with a fresh interpretation for today's woman.
"I don't want it to feel retro. This is a wink and a nod to her great moments," Tfank said. "I look at it like let's take all the smart things and try to move forward instead of the things that weren't smart. That's my feeling in life."
Tfank is certainly ahead of the curve with her Taylor obsession. Since the actress's death in March, she has been emulated everywhere. Style.com calls Taylor the "icon of the moment," noting that her heavy eyebrows are being copied by makeup artists and sheer blouses, fitted swimsuits and crisp chinos that she popularized are showing up on runways around the world.
In what is shaping up to be the celebrity estate sale of the century, more than 2,000 objects owned by Taylor, including clothes and jewelry, will auctioned off by Christies in New York in December, with her artwork, including the famous 1963 silk-screen portrait by Andy Warhol, to be sold separately.
Tfank believes Taylor's style remains relevant because "It's a celebration of the female body in a wonderful way," she said. "(With Taylor), it was OK to have rare beauty and to be seen as beauty. It didn't have to get messed up.
"And I also love that she went against the Hayes Code (which had restricted the content of American movies since 1934; Taylor's Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf? brought about an end to the code; in 1968 a voluntary rating system was established). She was really an accidental feminist. A friend of mine, M.G. Lord, is writing a book about it if you want to check it out.
"She didn't even know she was doing it, but she was a rebel. Everybody was so mesmerized by how beautiful she was, they couldn't focus on anything she said. She was incredibly smart about getting this message across about homosexuality, about everything. She was a real liberal in the body of a goddess."
Barneys New York image consultant José Parron, who attended Tfank's New York presentation, believes that the designer makes pieces that fit into any stylish woman's wardrobe. He notes the fine textured fabrics she uses and points to a taupe and gold brocade 3/4-length coat as an example.
"This jacket with a T-shirt and white jeans, with a wedge and gold chain, is pheomenal in the summer. But then you can put it over a dress and really dress it up. Barbara really crosses over. They don't just become special occasion pieces; they become a staple in your wardrobe," Parron said.
Barbara Tfank will show her collection at Fashion Houston tonight, along with Jerri Moore, Douglas Hannant and Project 360. Tfank will make a personal appearance at Neiman Marcus Tuesday from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.