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March 25, 2014

Southern Belles

From Gone with the Wind to Debutante Balls, a Cross-Generational Look at Beauty in the Deep South

A little under 75 years ago, David O. Selznick’s adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind delivered Scarlett O’Hara in all her Technicolor glory, imprinting forever the notion of the Southern belle: the feisty beauty with a honey-laden accent, done-up in yards of antebellum dress, on the hunt for a husband. By exploring Scarlett’s proverbial stomping grounds in and around Atlanta, Georgia, Tim Richmond and James Nutt’s documentary short Southern Belles discovers that, while the plantation no longer remains, the front porches, hospitality, grace, and etiquette persevere.

Often beneath the genteel exterior lies a strong, refined woman to be reckoned with—but presentation is still paramount. Stepping out in loungewear sans makeup or anything deemed less than respectable is a definite no-no. Equally important is their renowned, friendly hospitality. Southern ladies are exceptionally welcoming and adore entertaining. This is where the warm climate plays its part. Pleasant spring times and forgiving falls. When people are comfortable going in-and-out of doors, serving sweet tea, hosting evening garden or pool parties and the like. But on the flipside, regardless of age, many Southern women agree that one should be weary of artificiality, particularly when the mannerisms are overdone.

Today’s belles are inevitably more independent, liberated and better-educated than their predecessors. The life goal of solely seeking out an MRS degree is, slowly but surely, fading. “Long ago we were taught that we could either teach school if we wanted a career, or be a nurse or perhaps a secretary for some big shot,” notes Louly, one of the narrators from today’s short. “Things have certainly changed but the core values of the Southern belle, such as strength and graciousness, still exist.” —Lee C. Wallick

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Hair Raising

"Vidal Sassoon The Movie"

“It’s deeper than just me,” muses legendary hairstylist Vidal Sassoon on the new documentary about his life. “It belongs to the craft.” Initially conceived by Bumble and Bumble founder Michael Gordon as a short film to give to Sassoon upon his 80th birthday, the project quickly evolved into the feature-length Vidal Sassoon the Movie, celebrating not only the hairstylist’s life but the art of the profession itself. “It was a process of trying to put pieces together in a way that I thought it should be told—it wasn’t necessarily the way Vidal remembered it,” explains Gordon. “When some people are making history they don’t really realize what they’re doing.” The film, which debuted at last week’s Tribeca Film Festival, follows Sassoon’s life, covers Sassoon's beginnings in an orphanage, his apprenticeship as a teen “shampoo boy” in London, and a stint in the Israeli army before he found international celebrity with his salon, established in 1954. Sassoon’s revolutionary approach freed women’s tresses from the need for pins and sprays, and created a host of era-defining styles, including the bobs he snipped for Mary Quant’s runways and the five-point geometric style—which he explains himself in today’s exclusive clip. Sassoon’s passion is still evident: “If you were to ask me what was the moment of complete joy, it was sharing; it was knowing that our work was not just copied but people utilized it, learned from it and then used their own artistry. That’s what it’s all about.”

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Spotlight

Fashion Poweristas

Robb Young and Man Repeller Sound Off On Modern Sartorial Icons

From Anna Wintour’s indestructible bob to Anna Dello Russo’s obsession with feathers, fashion’s inner circle are known as much for their style signatures as their ability to influence others. We invited two authorities with differing perspectives to analyze the distinct looks of the aforementioned tastemakers. Author Robb Young makes a study of the loaded dress codes of female political figures in his new book Power Dressing: First Ladies, Women Politicians and Fashion, unpacking everything from Michelle Obama’s J. Crew-helmed casual revolution to Carla Bruni-Sarkozy’s sophisticated embrace of Dior; Leandra Medine’s witty Man Repeller blog dissects the fashion statements women love and men love to hate—from harem pants to clogs. The conversation that ensued takes on industry power dressers Daphne Guinness, Diane Pernet and Emmanuelle Alt.

Robb Young: I’ve always felt like [Vogue Japan editor-at-large] Anna Dello Russo was tutored in a dress-up school where Isabella Blow was headmistress and Anna Piaggi was teaching physical education. If it’s not flyaway feathers it’s a watermelon hat. There’s something powerful about not taking your look too seriously.

Leandra Medine: Let's also note that RuPaul likely played the role of fine arts teacher. [Dello Russo] wears gilded apples on her head. One highly respected man repeller indeed.

RY: That’s something [American Vogue editor-in-chief] Anna Wintour would never, ever do. With her fur stoles and floral frocks, she’s a walking advertisement for appropriateness. But she still makes a visual impact. I think it’s the helmet hair. No doubt it’s as soft as alpaca, but the way that the impenetrable bob frames her sunglasses always makes me think of NASA-approved headgear with a bulletproof visor.  

LM: I do commend her for making outfit repetition a societal norm. As to her hair, three words: Dora the Explorer. And I mean that with utmost respect!

RY: If anyone beats Anna in the hair department, it’s our lady of perpetually shaded blackness, [editor of influential blog A Shaded View On Fashion] Diane Pernet. There’s such fortitude in that silhouette of hers. She’s magnetic and aloof, austere and decadent. Contradictions like that spell power, if you ask me.

LM: Diane Pernet is my queen of darkness, the substance of which my dark abysmal insides are made. If anyone knows how to garner attention, it’s D. 

RY: And when style eccentricity runs through blue-blooded veins, it's always a traffic-stopping combination: step forward the chaos of [socialite] Daphne Guinness’s canvas. I just saw her at the Charlie Le Mindu show in London looking as refined as ever. When a woman with as delicate a figure as hers can stomp around in those alien McQueen hooves and still look both elegant and ferocious, it says a lot.  

LM: Daphne Guinness? Refined? That's a name and adjective I never thought I'd see in one sentence. Unless the sentence was Daphne Guinness is the antithesis of refined. How a woman could wear heelless Nina Ricci shoes with ensembles that resemble vertebrae and still manage a busy love life and a romp or two is mind-boggling. In a good way.

RY: If you thought my sense of refinement was unique, you might think I've lost the plot when I say I think there’s more than just discipline in [Vogue Paris editor-in-chief] Emmanuelle Alt’s look. There’s a touch of decadence, too. In her world, wearing a cornucopia of the wildest runway looks would be the default, but, instead, she dares to wear “comfy rock-n-stroll” every day. It says, “I'm a natural authority and I don’t need to prove it.”  

LM: I'm on the same page as you on this one. Her monochromatic tendencies—which only include the crème de la crop of designer labels—speak lengths to her personal style. She spares no expense on the flimsiest of cotton tees, which goes back to your point about her touch of unusual decadence. I'm looking forward to watching her rule the new Vogue throne.

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