“The Tragedy of Fashion Today” by Vicky Tiel

Sitting at a table at Maxim’s Restaurant in Paris, on Jan. 21, 1968, are from left: Actress Elizabeth Taylor, her husband British actor Richard Burton, fashion designers Vicky Tiel, Louis Feraud, and his wife Mia Fonssagrives.
(AP Photo/Str/Cardenas)

I am compelled to write and explain what is happening to our fashion industry. It’s an industry I’ve loved and been involved with for 60 years since 1961, first as a New York Parson’s fashion student and then since 1964 as a Parisien designer. I may have one of the longest careers designing and selling dresses as I made my first sale in 1955 at 12 in my wealthy Chevy Chase, Md community, where I sewed my first A-line mini dresses that I sold to my very posh classmates and I still wear today.

Liz Taylor wearing a mini dress by Vicky Tiel in 1968
Photo: Gianni Bozzachhi

I started designing with my partner Mia Fonssagrives in Paris by launching the thigh-high minidress, jumpsuits, hot pants, pantyhose, and leather miniskirts with fringed beaded vests, all wearable, all selling out immediately. 60’s designers changed the fashion industry to a younger, sexier but wearable fashion that women loved so much they threw away their corsets, boxy suits, and grandma-style floral print dresses with fitted waists and full skirts with 3 tulle crinolines to the calf.

Our styles, especially the minidress, were soft and new, but they were meant to SELL. They were meant for a woman to look hip and modern and leave their mother’s uptight look behind. The 60’s male designers in Paris, YSL, Cardîn, and Courreges hopped onto the bandwagon with the hip English designers, Mary Quant, Biba, Zandra Rhodes, Thea Porter, and we all had 25 years of selling exciting, beautiful, soft modern, yet wearable clothes.

These designers could all draw, drape, sew and measure their customers, and each had a style and identity. You could close your eyes and see a YSL, a Zandra, a Cardin, and a Chanel. It was Coco who indeed invented “Timeless Fashion.

Mini Skirt & Beaded Bra designed by Vicky Tiel circa 1964

I was taught in Paris in the 60s that in my fashion shows, I must have 2-3 dresses just for the press that no one would buy, but the press would get excited and write about. Mia Vicky made dresses with nude drawings embroidered on the front, diamond bras and miniskirts, and topless bridal dresses that could make a great photo in the French press. But 95% of my work had to sell as my Bendel, Bergdorf, and Neiman clients would give me thousands for a dress that they could wear to a ball and look hipper, sexier, and younger.

The stores would not spend a penny for a publicity dress. Clothes that are made just for publicity might be borrowed or used for a holiday window but they do not sell. 95% of designer clothes in a collection were meant to be ordered and sold.

Today, this math is the opposite. Shows are more and more for publicity and are not meant to sell. Students must learn to design promotional pieces that will not sell but would still give them long careers and buckets of money. C’est Impossible! Can you produce a publicity design that can also sell and sell? YES, some people can: Coco, Courreges, Azzedine Alaia, Thea Porter — but not many.

Designers today have found a way to get publicity by overdoing styles as sexy tarts, strippers, and cartoons but not as sexy real-life ladies. These designs are worn on the red carpets or at the Met Balls, but these designs DID NOT SELL. How do the companies make money? Again, I was taught to SELL. There you make money.

It meant I must create work to SELL — forever. “Timeless Fashion” became my goal, so I had to own my business. While Elizabeth Taylor became an investor for a lifetime of free dresses and not for publicity, I was lucky to never work for anybody. I was always my own boss using my own money. I recommend this strategy when I lecture young students today.

In the 1970s and 80s, Fred Heyman (Giorgio’s), gave me an opportunity to dress top movie stars. I flew from Paris to L.A., took measurements of these actresses like Goldie Hawn, Barbra Streisand, and Farrah Fawcett. They selected their Oscar gowns from my collection and they paid for the dresses.

One day Sharon Stone demanded a free Oscar dress after her tremendous success in “Basic Instinct,” and Fred gave it to her as a gift. After that, top actresses all wanted free dresses like Sharon, and they eventually had to be designed wild and unsalable but crazy photographable. It ruined our celebrity gown business.

Blame it all on Sharon Stone!

Publicity is good if you also have products that sell. In the last 10 years, great designers sold their brands as they passed. The companies who bought their names hired young new designer after designer, each with different looks, each grabbing publicity for a season or two, and each eventually getting replaced.

So today, most designers have lost touch with personal power as they don’t own their companies, and the fashion companies are hiring designers accordingly. Their names are used, and other young designers are hired to replace them almost yearly. Goodbye to long careers. Goodbye to closing your eyes and seeing a particular style that each couture house represents.

Vicky with Rudi Gernreich at Parsons circa 1963

YSL and Cardin started as dressmakers. They could draw and drape, do it all. Jimmy Galanos appeared in stores with me, measuring customers. Rudi Gernreich and Norman Norell taught draping at Parsons. They knew a woman’s body. Today designers have assistants and they have no understanding of today’s woman’s body. Because men have no idea what it’s like to have a bust, their bust cups are often one size too small for the rest of the pattern. The body in a computer becomes the object, not a living person.

Fashion designs are often designed for the computer body, not the natural body. The internet created a whole new world of online shopping. 60% of online shopping is clothing, and the designs must be wearable by all body sizes. They have nothing to do with the fashions in designer collections that have only photo appeal and not sale appeal.

Eveningwear has significantly changed as most designs leave a bad taste with cheap stripper-looking dresses done in good fabrics for the press. Few designers today can draw, drape or sew, let alone fit a customer in a store. Their assistant does this demanding job. The assistant travels to the stores, not the designers who are somewhat caged in the atelier, not selling in stores, meeting their clients and listening to what they want to wear as I did for 60 years, as did Coco, Cardin, Balenciaga.

Today the fashion industry is totally different. The internet allows clients to order inexpensive sportswear that stretches with no need for fitting rooms and no need to go shopping in stores and malls that are rapidly closing. Hundreds of fashion and fragrance companies are closing their famous stores or bankrupting their brand like my neighbor Sonia Rykiel on Blvd St Germain, who opened her first store 55 years ago. Yes, the pandemic is partially responsible for the closings, but many fashion bankruptcies were in 2017 due to internet shopping.

Gym stretch fashion has now become the leading fashion biz. It was 20% before all sales, and now it’s 90% of all sales. Gym fashion is easy. It can be made anywhere, with high markup on famous names in cheap fabrics. It’s the most profitable business today and stretches into the future.

Mrs. Bieber in a puffer and stretch pants
Photo: Getty Images

In this asexual world, a lady is an object on your computer, not a woman in reality. An image of yourself in a mini robot will appear onscreen, and you will dress her by shopping online, and the outfit will arrive at your home by a drop air post.

“Femme Power” is equality, But we are not equal as women still need men to get excited, marry, make babies, and continue this planet. So, how to stay equal and still find a mate? Before, it was with clothing and looking appealing. Not today, as women all look like they are at a gym or about to take off on a spaceship.

Latest comments…

  1. I LOVE Haider Ackerman Thank you Haider. The clothes are sleek, wearable, with just the right touch of newness. Chic!…

  2. I am in love with every out your featured. I want them all! My favorite..Joseph and Ralph. Libertinecis a treasure.…

Vicky Tiel

Vicky Tiel is an American born French couturier designing since 1964, when she went to Paris with her partner, Mia Fonssagrives. They created a storm with their miniskirts, hot pants and jumpsuits. Vicky did the costumes for 15 films and in 1975 she sold couture to Henri Bendel’s and 45 leading shops In 2011 she joined HSN TV, wrote her first book “Its All About the Dress” and has written a second book “The Absolute Woman It’s All About Feminine Power” which she recently launched on HSN.

  1. I have admired you, Vicky, thru every phase of your design career. You understood your customer and gave her a unique identity that was your creative and timely expression.
    I’m a designer who has done custom clothing for hundreds of women for 40+ years. I had my own workroom of 8 seamstresses. I made all of the approximately 40,000 patterns I have on file. I have a warehouse of samples and fabrics from Abraham, Bucol, Solstiss etc. I appreciate your talent and understand that what you write is truth. Aging is difficult, but our times were better times for us in fashion. God Bless you…and Thank you for all you did to make women happy and beautiful. Mary Anne Vaccaro Omaha NE My website is dated and says nothing about the scope of my work . Mus add that I love LOOKONLINE…Thank you

  2. Very interesting read. Vicky, I wish I had gotten to know you during those years … I cherish all the stories & admire your longevity in this fashion world. You are one of a kind.

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