100 Unforgettable Dresses

Every dress tells a story. Or so believes Hal Rubenstein, author of 100 Unforgettable Dresses, which was just released by HarperCollins and is being celebrated with a series of book signings around the city.

The book includes a foreword by Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz and opens with The Dress Heard ’Round the World – Gianni Versace’s safety pin gown, which made Liz Hurley famous seemingly overnight. Other famous – or is it infamous? – dresses featured are the black and white Valentino gown Julia Roberts wore to collect her Oscar in 1982, the embroidered chartreuse chinoiserie gown by Dior that put Nicole Kidman on the fashion map, Marilyn Monroe’s white halter dress from The Seven Year Itch, Yves Saint Laurent’s safari dress, the wedding dresses worn by Kate Middleton and Princess Diana, and the greatest hits of style icons Audrey Hepburn, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cher, Grace Kelly, Cate Blanchett, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, to name just a few of the more memorable inclusions.

“When HarperCollins first came to me with this idea, I actually sat in the office and did 75 of them in about 20 minutes,” Hal (who is Fashion Director at InStyle magazine) told me at the Swarovski party being held in his honor at Chelsea’s The Pace Gallery, which drew the likes of Peter Som, Cindi Leive, Monique Pean, Gilles Mendel, Constance White, Susan Kaufman, and Narciso Rodriguez. “Whether it was Marlo Thomas’s A-lines in That Girl, Carol Burnett’s Gone With the Wind parody dress, or Marc Jacbos’ grunge collection, they were all just swimming around in my head. And I already knew the stories, so I just needed to expand on them.”

In fact, one of the best things about this book is that it’s so wonderfully democratic in scope, featuring both rarified fashion moments (Christian Lacroix’s pouf, Tom Ford’s White Dress Collection, the Kate Moss hologram gown at the finale of Alexander McQueen’s Fall 2006 presentation), alongside more mainstream delights such as Phyllis Diller’s tent dresses, Stevie Nicks’ goth-goddess gowns, Norma Kamali’s sweatshirt dress, Claire McCardell’s Kitchen Dinner dress and the red, off-the-shoulder gown Julia Roberts wore in Pretty Woman.

“I think when you look at a book like this you think, it’s a lovely picture book with anecdotes,” said Hal while signing copies of his tome for friends and fans. “But really, it’s a story book with 100 illustrations. And that’s how I want people to see it. I think what people are surprised and captivated by is that the stories grip them.”

Designer Narciso Rodriguez was on hand to support his good friend, Hal, and told me he’s “very proud to be in there a couple of times!” (He created Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s wedding gown, for those who don’t remember.)

When asked about favorite dresses she’s worn, host Nadja Swarovski waxed rhapsodic about her Vera Wang wedding dress, and dresses that Christina Perrin, Pamela Dennis, Proenza Schouler, and Narciso have designed for her. “The dresses become mementos of a certain time period,” the elegant blonde said with a dreamy smile.

Indeed. And that’s exactly what makes 100 Unforgettable Dresses such an engaging, enlightening read.

Lauren David Peden writes for Rue La La as a Contributing Editor.


December 13, 2011