Miniskirts in Paris

Medical Missions for Children ( is a nonprofit organization that provides surgeries free of charge to underprivileged children and young adults living in the most underserved areas of the world. Their focus is specifically on the surgical repair of cleft lip and palate deformities, burn injuries, microtia (absence of the outer ear) and head/neck tumors and their motto is “Let the healing begin- one child at a time”.

Lauren Lawrence, Vicky Tiel, & Joy Venturini Bianchi

On Friday evening, they held their first annual spring fundraising gala at 580 Park. Chaired by Board Member Margie Rotchford and Vice Chaired by Lauren Lawrence (who generously opened up her Park Avenue apartment to host the kick off cocktail party), it was called “Miniskirts in Paris” as a fitting tribute to their 2016 honoree, Vicky Tiel, the famed American born French designer, who (along with best friend and partner Mia Fonssagrives), put miniskirts on the map. (Ms. Fonssagrives-Solow was a Vice Chair for the event though she was unable to attend).

Vicky Tiel and Mia Fonssagrives in Life Magazine 1965
wearing their hand made Floppy Hats

The talented duo was discovered by Louis Feraud in Paris and their careers were kick started when their Mia-Vicky mini dress was included in his couture show in Paris in 1964. It prompted Eugenia Sheppard, the famed International Herald Tribune writer to headline her review with this startling caption, “Anyone in Fashion Over 25 Might as Well Be Dead”.

Vicky Tiel and Mia Fonssagrives on The Tonight Show with
Johnny Carson in 1964

Life Magazine subsequently wrote a five page profile of the young talents, “Two American Girls Show in Paris” and they became instant stars. Johnny Carson even invited them to appear on his show with their ‘daring’ creations.

Joy Marks in a Vicky Tiel gown & Lucia Hwong Gordon

For the record, I am WELL over 25, and don’t think my life is over lol. And I don’t wear minis either. Though that is precisely what Vicky wore (along with white lace tights), and I spotted a few others among the approximately 250 in attendance for an evening of cocktails, dinner, and dancing; all for a very worthy cause.

Vicky meeting Marylou Luther, with Nicole Fischelis,
Marilyn Kirschner and Lynne Deutch

The guest list included Lucia Hwong Gordon, Marylou Luther, Nicole Fishelis (Vicky once worked for Nicole’s furrier father in Paris!), Joy Venturini Bianchi (who came all the way from San Francisco and looked fabulous in a fitted Tom Ford embellished jacket), Heather and Ed de Courreges, Martha Kramer, and Joy Marks, who was wearing a form fitting strapless beaded Vicky Tiel gown purchased at Bergdorf Goodman 15 years ago.

Margie Rotchford

Margie Rotchford was also wearing Vicky Tiel. The blue dress, a couture creation was made specifically for her. Vicky told me it was modeled after an 80’s design that’s been selling in Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus for 34 years and is the longest selling continuous dress in their history. It was copied in the movie “Pretty Woman” from the windows of Giorgio’s, who did it in red first. It’s called the “Pretty Woman” dress in the stores. When I saw it, I immediately thought of the 80’s hit show, “Dynasty”.

Denise and John James

Coincidentally, after taking the podium to make her welcoming remarks, she introduced the event emcees, Denise and John James (Denise is a former Miss World Australia who has her own radio show called “Let’s Talk Animals” and John is an actor who is best known for his role as heart-throb Jeff Colby in “Dynasty”). He wasted no time introducing a film about Vicky Tiel which was followed by a fashion show featuring some of her iconic, notoriously leggy designs.When Vicky took the podium, she jokingly admitted she had never been honored by anyone before, other than her “HOT” husband. For the record, she is married to fishing boat caption Mike Hamilton who is 15 years her junior. He is obviously her secret weapon in being able to turn back the clock; she looks decades younger than her 72 years.

Elizabeth Taylor and Vicky Tiel in Paris

She went on to explain that Elizabeth Taylor had not only been a loyal customer, but a great friend and an investor in her company. “How many people can say that Elizabeth Taylor was a great friend?” she asked. “She taught me that the most important thing in life is to give back and to think of others. The only time you should think of yourself, is when it comes to your jewelry”. This got a lot of knowing laughs.

She also remarked that she was lucky enough to have met Coco Chanel who inspired her to create fragrances along with her designs (they, along with her fashion, have become great sellers that have enabled her to enjoy a wonderful life). In fact, she once said, “I think of myself as a beauty expert. Fashion doesn’t come first, you know. The whole point of my clothes is to make a woman’s body look beautiful.”She has created 15 fragrances in 25 years and they can all be described as “feminine and seductive” just like her clothing. Her first was called “Vicky Tiel” and launched in 1989 and her latest, “1964” launched in 2014 and celebrates Vicky’s 50 years in fashion. A bottle of “Bonaparte 21” was at each guest’s place setting. The name of the oriental floral, created in 2013 is the address in Paris of the dress boutique Vicky co owned with Elizabeth Taylor (Vicky still owns the real estate which is no longer a retail shop).

John James came up again and announced that he has been in the entertainment industry for over 40 years and “these are the true talented artists”; an obvious reference to the approximately 375 volunteer surgeons, anesthesiologists, medical, dental, speech and nutritional specialists who generously donate their time and their remarkable services to literally change lives. He then introduced Dr. H. Dennis Snyder, Chairman, MMFC, who showed graphic and heart wrenching images before and after successful surgeries, putting names with faces. Truly remarkable!

The Denis Collins Band

This was followed by a live auction headed up by Ms. Rotchford and Dr. Shadi Daher. An operating room for one week: $15,000; an operating room for one day: $2500; one operation: $300. Afterwards, the celebration (music and dancing) began, courtesy The Dennis Collins Band with help from special guests Alfa Anderson, Luci Martin, and Norma Jean Wright (formerly of Chic). Vicky and Marcie helped blow up large purple balloons which matched the room. It was aglow in purple and I noticed it as soon as I walked in. Naturally, I immediately thought of Prince (though it should be pointed out that purple was also Elizabeth Taylor’s signature color). And yes, there was a tribute to the late singer as the group broke out with their rendition of “Party like its 1999”.

Vicky Tiel sketch for the mini wrap dress for the movie Candy 1968

But clearly, the evening was all about raising money for this wonderful charity. It also gave me an opportunity to finally meet Vicky and familiarize myself with her long and productive fashion career, which is still going strong, and includes many firsts (many years before Diane Von Furstenberg became a household name with her wrap dresses; Vicky created a bias cut wrap dress for the movie “Candy” in 1968). She has also designed costumes for iconic movies such as “What’s New Pussycat”, and her dresses have appeared on leading actresses in “Saturday Night Fever”, 1977, “Black Rain”, 1989, and “Pretty Woman”, 1990.

Models on parade wearing Vicky Tiel

Her couture evening dresses and gowns are available at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. Vintage websites like 1stdibs feature her sexy, form fitting designs and she has a collection which is available on HSN. Her autobiography, It’s All About The Dress: What I learned in Forty Years About Men, Women, Sex, and Fashion was published in 2011 by Saint Martin’s Press. (On Thursday, the day before the gala, there was a book signing party at the home of Vice Chair Lauren Lawrence was which being filmed as part of a documentary about Vicky). When I asked the woman known for her unapologetically feminine, body hugging designs, what she thinks of androgynous fashion (which is all the ‘rage’), she answered “I don’t think about it.” But quickly offered that everyone should dress the way they want.

Vicky Tiel beaded tulle dress in Bergdorf Goodman’s Holiday Windows, 2004

Re-acquainting myself with Vicky’s resume and body of work made me realize just how impressive her accomplishments have been. She also has the honor of being the longest lasting female fashion designer in France (52 years). Given the fickle industry we are in, the fashion world’s well documented short attention span, and the never ending revolving door of designers, this makes Vicky’s staying power and longevity all the more impressive and miraculous. While this is hardly in the same category as the life altering work being done by Medical Missions for Children’s highly skilled team of physicians and specialists, it is miraculous none the less. Even more so when you consider that she has accomplished all this without a publicist! As she put it, “I just sell!”

– Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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