Elizabeth Taylor Transcends Fashion, Fortune and Femme Fatale

“Big girls need big diamonds…”

On Wednesday, March 23rd 2011 the world lost a memorable leading lady.

Not only was Elizabeth Taylor one of Hollywood’s most elite starlets—but the violet-eyed actress certainly made her mark as a fashion icon.

In the era of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, Taylor continued to shine.

With natural glamour and serene sensuality she broke through the restrictive salaries imposed on female film stars and inspired generations of young fashionistas throughout her lifetime.

One of Taylor’s most enticing qualities was the ease, in which she made simple, nearly mundane clothing seem superior and magnificent.

As a 1960’s icon Taylor took basic pieces and transformed them into sleek, sexy get-ups without even realizing it.

“You really could put something plain on her, and she filled it out in every way,” said Deborah Nadoolman Landis, author of Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design and founding director of the David C. Copley Center for Costume Design at UCLA.

“Because she had these extraordinary features, because she’s one of the world’s great beauties and had this fantastically small waist and raven hair and iris eyes, you didn’t have to put much on her. It was actually hard for costume designers. It took a lot for them to not gild the lily.”

Making uncomplicated costumes irresistible was something Taylor continued to do throughout her reign over the silver screen.

From the mid 1940s throughout the 1960’s her fierce beauty commanded attention.

A Place in the Sun

In George Steven’s rustic Western A Place in the Sun, Taylor captivated viewers in a classic pure white, debutant dress.

The frock, designed by Edith Head, highlighted Taylor’s unbelievably tiny waist—it was nearly unbelievable how such a simple piece of clothing began to shape her fashion reputation.

Butterfield 8

Later in Butterfield 8, it was a delicate white slip, a casual, almost thoughtless staple for women in the 1960’s; with its subtle lace trim that made Taylor’s Manhattan beauty-turned-call-girl character all the more charming. Her fiery personality and steadfast confidence made the simple costume one of the sexiest getups in the world.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

White continued to give Taylor a fashion-edge, when she was adorned in a Grecian-goddess inspired dress in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

The Helen Rose-made frock, with its cinched waist, paired perfectly with her short, dark hair—showing of her very feminine figure.

However, as glorious as Taylor looked in effortless white, it was her colorful, highly-accessorized looks throughout the 1963 Cleopatra that truly made her break the ice as a full-blow fashion icon.

Irene Sharaff’s Egyptian-inspired ‘60s mod costumes were apparently, among some of Taylor’s most beloved onscreen looks.

A recent piece from the LA Times quoted Taylor stating,

“Cleopatra changed so many wonderful things about my life and fashion was only one of them…Certainly the enormous gold headdress was one of the most spectacular pieces of drag ever captured on film. After Cleopatra, eye makeup and hats were never far away.”

Taylor in Cleopatra with Richard Burton

Taylor’s influence in Cleopatra certainly did not stop at the big screen.

The very sophisticated, independent spirit she portrayed throughout the film were the same qualities that inspired designer-extraordinaire, Alexander McQueen, in his 2007 makeup collection for MAC Cosmetics.

MAC for McQueen consisted of a dramatic 16 product collaboration between McQueen and makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury. Inspiration grew from Taylor’s role in the 1963 film.

The Egyptian persona plays up a very a “feminine sexual strength” McQueen has reportedly said.

Most importantly, it wasn’t just her leading lady characters that were surrounded by glitz and glamour—her off-screen, infamous love for jewelry—white diamonds and shiny green emeralds especially, aided added to her movie star persona.

Taylor’s utter adoration for sparkly jewels was enhanced by her twice husband, Richard Burton—the two married for the first time in 1965 and a gain ten years later in 1975.

Burton & Taylor

Burton doted on Taylor with jewels of all shapes and sizes, including the 33.19-carat Krupp Diamond, which she had set into a ring, and the 69.42-carat pear-shaped Taylor-Burton Diamond, which was used as the centerpiece for the most precious neck candy seen at the time.

And how did Taylor feel about her constant praise, attention and references to being a fashion icon? She quite simply, didn’t agree…

“Fashion icons are the geniuses I was fortunate enough to work with,” she answered, naming Valentino, Halston, Gianni Versace, Rose, Irene Sharaff and Head as the real trendy fashion geniuses.

“I never worried about good or bad taste,” she said. “I dressed to please myself, the man in my life, or the character onscreen.”

Whether she saw herself as an icon, an inspiration or a role model—one thing is for certain—Elizabeth Taylor made a difference.

Not only was she the first women to ink a $1 million deal in Hollywood—causing quite a stir with another competing starlet Marilyn Monroe—but Taylor proved to women across the globe that simple, genuine beauty is the most irresistible quality a women could have.

If there is one remaining piece of advice that Taylor could leave with us, I believe she would encourage us to follow in her oh so glamorous footsteps:

“I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I’m not afraid to look behind them.”


Kelly Ahern is a recent Roger Williams University graduate living in New England. Graduating with a degree in Communications-Public Relations and a Core Concentration in Italian, Ahern is an aspiring PR professional who loves social media, fashion and traveling. Currently she is a Social Media & Content Strategist for a Rhode Island-based digital marketing firm. You can find her on Twitter @Kelly_Ahern.

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