Ann Bonfoey Taylor, Vogue, November 1969, Photo by Toni Frissell
As I combed through the racks of Moncler jackets at Bergdorf Goodman, I was reminded of how timelessly chic ski and apres ski wear is. It’s a combination of style and functionality that’s hard to beat, regardless of whether you are skiing, walking down Park Avenue, or strolling through Main Street in Park City, Utah. Unsurprisingly, this has become a significant classification at the retail level.
Balenciaga Skiwear, balenciaga.com
It’s impossible to escape the emails from e-tailers hawking ski and apres skiwear and festive holiday clothes, and more and more designers are getting into the act. In 1995, Giorgio Armani launched a collection of men’s and women’s skiwear and apres-ski casual wear called Armani Neve (snow in Italian). It was relaunched in 2022. Just recently, Balenciaga and Zara have introduced ski collections.
“When I saw you in Paris, I thought you were the best-turned-out woman I’d seen for many years in Paris.”— Excerpt from a 1971 letter to Ann Bonfoey Taylor from Diana Vreeland, editor-in-chief of Vogue
Ann walking her West Highland Terriers wearing a yellow goatskin coat, Vogue, November 1969, Photo by Toni Frissell
The glamorous side of skiwear is epitomized by Audrey Hepburn in “Charade, in her mink pullover and graphic and colorful Valentino cape, accessorized perfectly with a tight hood, hat, and goggles. But while Audrey’s wardrobe was designed for a movie, Ann Bonfoey Taylor, 1910 – 2007 (no relation to the clothing company) routinely elevated skiwear to haute couture in real life.
“She was so chic. Women like this plotted my course in life. She has such an enormous influence on me, from just one article in Vogue.”Ralph Rucci
Ann Bonfoey Taylor Photo by Toni Frissell
Born into a life of privilege in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, Bonfoey-Taylor was an American original, a dedicated skier, and a world traveler with an eye for improbably but practical ski clothes. At Vail, in the 60’s, she accessorized her skiwear with Courrèges-like sunglasses and a coordinating fur hat and mittens. She preferred to wear black and white on the mountain because of the beautiful contrast it created — so modern, then and now.
Ann skiing in her military regalia, Vogue. November 1969, Photo by Toni Frissell
Ann routinely skied in uniforms from the Civil War (from both sides) and in her tailor-made creations, including a matador cape and hat. She often wore a Scottish Sporran as a belt and took to wearing an authentic Arabian headdress. While it was designed to protect against the wind and sand in the desert, Ann found it offered seamless protection against the wind and snow on the mountains.
Ann wearing a Scottish Sporran as a belt, Vogue November 1961, Photo by Toni Frissell
Hailed as a “relaxed perfectionist” and a great sportswoman, Ann was an extraordinary woman who lived an adventure-filled life. She was a pioneering female flight instructor during World War II, a US Olympic Ski Squad member in 1939, competed in tennis at Wimbledon, and was accomplished at riding and shooting.
Ann Bonfoey Taylor wearing a Balenciaga evening coat (1962–63) at a personal photo shoot in 1971. Photo by Toni Frissell Courtesy of the Taylor
Recognized among an international jet-setting social circle as a wonderful hostess at her magnificent homes in Colorado and Montana, Taylor also played a leading role as a style icon ahead of her time. During her lifetime, she was regularly featured in publications such as Vogue, Town and Country, Harper Bazaar, and Life. Aristocratic, beautiful, tall, and athletic, Ann was her own best model.
At age 57, Harper’s Bazaar selected her as one of the “One Hundred Great Beauties of the World.” Well into her eighties, whether she was in Denver, Vail, Montana, or abroad, Ann continued to practice a discipline of daily exercise and skiing until the very end of her life.
Ann wearing a cape of her own design, vaildaily.com
After the war ended in 1945, out of her barn in Stowe, Vermont, she launched her own clothing label—Ann Cooke— (she was briefly married to James Cooke), and growing fame by marketing a line of distinctive homemade skiwear and innovations she had honed on the slopes of Mount Mansfield, including the first fanny pack. Her designs appeared in many of the day’s most prominent fashion magazines and even graced the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in 1946, thanks to her friend Diana Vreeland.
Taylor ran a shop in Stowe, Vermont, and both Bergdorf Goodman and Lord and Taylor carried the line in New York. Ann’s business thrived, but it was short-lived, as she remarried in 1946 and soon moved with her new husband, Vernon (Moose) Taylor, first to Texas and then to Colorado.
Left, Ann’s Mme. Gres day dresses, 60’s 70’s, Right, Ann’s Charles James coats, 1950’s
In 2008, Ann’s widower, Vernon Taylor, gifted her collection of haute couture day and evening wear (about 200 items) to the Phoenix Art Museum, which staged an exhibition from February 27 – May 29, 2011. Curated by Dennita Sewell, the exhibition, “Fashion Independent: The Original Style of Ann Bonfoey Taylor,” included pieces from leading designers such as Mariano Fortuny, Charles James, James Galanos, Cristobal Balenciaga, Hubert Givenchy, and Madame Gres. #9
It also included some of Taylor’s own skiwear designs, sportswear (riding and shooting clothes), and accessories by Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Henry Maxwell. In conjunction with the exhibition, a 143-page book edited by Sewell was published.
“After reading about an exhibition on her at the Phoenix Museum, I wondered how Ms. Bonfoey Taylor’s name could be absent in the lineup of constantly referenced 20th-century style icons”Charlotte Moss, “A Fashion Icon Uncovered,” WSJ, May 27, 2011
The exhibition brought renewed recognition and appreciation of Ann’s fabulous style to the forefront. It also inspired celebrated interior decorator Charlotte Moss to pen an article for The Wall Street Journal, “A Fashion Icon Uncovered,” May 27, 2011.
“Ann Bonfoey Taylor was as impressive a couture collector as an athlete. How have so few people—even in the fashion world—heard of her?” asked Moss. Indeed, few people today, even those in the fashion universe, have heard of Ann. Still, her marvelous personal style has captivated the likes of Diana Vreeland, Ralph Rucci, and Michael Kors, among others.
Ann was Michael Kors’s muse for his Pre-Fall 2012 Collection, vogue.com
In fact, Michael Kors used Ann as his muse for the pre-fall 2012 collection. “Nan Kempner on the Range” is how Kors described Ann’s elegant and rugged mix which, along with her love of military uniforms, appears to be a constant source of inspiration for Ralph Lauren as well.
Left: Ralph Lauren Collection The Officer’s Jacket, $2490, bergdorfgoodman.com; Right: Ann wearing a military jacket, May 1967 Vogue, Photo by Toni Frissell
Most recently, I see vestiges of Ann Bonfoey Taylor in Phoebe Philo’s collection, geared towards a strong, independent woman, with its embrace of luxurious and sophisticated pragmatism.
Left: Phoebe Philo, Courtesy of Phoebe Philo; Right: Ann wearing pants made from Mongolian fur pelts, Photo by Toni Frissell Courtesy of the Taylor Family Collection
And is it just me, or did Philo specifically have Ann in mind when she designed her fantastical hand-combed embroidered trousers in white?!