Legends & Icons: A Warm and Fuzzy Memory

1968 – Lauren Bacall
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In the world of fashion there are two all important buzz words: fresh and iconic.  An item is either deemed cutting edge or old-hat.  Ideas and fashions that stand the test of time are classic.  If they wither on the vine and die they are “dated.” It is no accident that “young” and “vintage” apply to wine, apparel AND women.  I am reminded of this dichotomy in 2014’s infanthood yet I’m reflective about what attains iconic status in the “Polar Vortex” of this January.   Hence, the topic of Legends (with a capital L) and a fur coat tie- in seemed appropriate.

1973 – Liza Minnelli

Those of us who can recall the late 1960’s and its impending years, will immediately recognize the Blackglama advertisements.  Peering out from women’s magazines were the black & white ads featuring a woman of note in the public eye generally from Broadway or Hollywood, with the tagline “What Becomes a Legend Most?”  I remember being fascinated by these ads which appeared unfailingly in my mother’s Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar subscription.  I can recall questioning the wording;  not quite understanding the implied double entendre or the significance of what was to evolve into the most successful ad campaign spanning the decades.  All I can say is that these full page ads definitely left a mark on my forming psyche and in my early consciousness.  Didn’t every girl secretly want to be a “Legend” even if she was unsure what that entailed other than wearing a Blackglama mink?

1968 – Barbara Streisand

According to the 1979 book “What Becomes A Legend Most? The Blackglama Story”  written by advertising executive Peter Rogers, the campaign began when the Great Lakes Mink Association (GLMA), a group of about 400 mink ranchers, were looking for a way to “remodel public opinion.” This being 1968 it was, of course, years before PETA reared its head in 1980 and the subsequent red-paint attacks on fur-wearing women.  The campaign was conceived by NY ad exec Jane Trahey and executed by her associate Rogers who later bought out the firm and continued the campaign.  Trahey invented the “Blackglama” name and came up with the “legendary” tagline as well as the idea of spotlighting high-profile celebs clad in  Blackglama mink which they were allowed to take home after the shoot.  Initially, famed photographer Richard Avedon shot the ads until 1972.  The first ” legends” were Melina Mercouri, Lauren Bacall, Betty Davis, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand (who at 26 was the most youthful of the lot).   It was also the year that propelled Ms. Streisand to mega-watt stardom as “Funny Girl” eclipsed “2001: A Space Odyssey” winning her an Oscar in 1969 so I guess it was a good luck talisman of sorts.

1976 – Martha Graham, Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn

The “legendary” ad campaign continued until 2012 although the original form varied a bit in the later years (the last one in full color didn’t bear the famous tagline) and featured Ginta Lapina (a Latvian model and hardly a household name).  In general the “icons” branched out into the supermodels and lesser illuminati at least in “old-school” terms.  In the 44 years of the campaign, actresses and performers mostly of “a certain age” included superstars such  as Maria Callas, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Pearl Bailey, Lena Horne, Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Leontyne Price, Elizabeth Taylor and even a few men such as Rudolph Nureyev, Ray Charles and Luciano Pavarotti.  As far as I know, no one complained about whether their photo was cropped in close or was shown full-length as is the outcry these days with magazine covers.  (Cue the controversy over Mindy Kaling’s Elle cover, Adele covering Vogue and stay tuned for Lena Dunham’s possible Vogue Cover).

1973 – Diana Ross

I found that there is a Pinterest page for the Blackglama campaign featuring many of the ads over the years.  I liked reading the Diana Ross anecdote as it is both funny and telling.  Ever the diva, Ms. Ross appeared in the ad in 1973 swathed in the lustrous black mink. Apparently after the shoot she announced that she would prefer sable and paid the difference.  If you google” fashion icons” the names that appear include Kate Middleton, Princess Diana, Audrey Hepburn, Madonna and even Johnny Depp.  There is an article on the movie “Clueless” and its iconic ’90s style while another article is devoted to Lily Collin’s iconic eyebrows.

Anna Wintour

To tell the truth, I’ve been obsessed with a coat of many colors and a woman’s face on it this week.   None other than the Prada Spring/ Summer 2014 fur (fur coats for summer?) that Anna Wintour stepped out in on Monday night for the HBO premiere of the third season of “Girls.”  The coat, a wonderful collaboration of street art  and feminist inspired beauty made me long for a new ad campaign:  one featuring iconic women in equally iconoclastic designs.  What becomes a legend most, indeed!

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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