I am celebrating 50 years in fashion in 2014 and am today the longest lasting female designer in Paris and America. HOW? How did I last? By what Miracle am I still sewing Vicky Tiel in the back of dresses.
It's quite simple. Being a fashion designer is not for the sensitive, heavy hearted artist confused that their egos are the labels in the back of a dress. Being a fashion designer is for the tough cookies as my mama says of me," Vicky has no feelings, all she wants to do is play."
I really do have some feelings but these feelings are mostly about food and sex and my feelings have pretty thick skin when it comes to fashion critiques. My brain has developed a pleasure oriented life in France, sexual happiness with a good partner followed by a delicious Mont Blanc hazelnut cream pastry is my idea of a day well spent.
My point of view about fashion is that I only want two things to happen, to sell and to sell and if possible to sell the exact same dress for 30 years, that works perfectly well for me.
You see, lasting is all about selling and selling dresses is all about YOU HAVE TO LOOK GOOD IN THE DRESS WHEN YOU ZIP IT UP. Fashion as pure art is great for a one time show to make a name for yourself and crazy shape dresses are perfect to hang on museum walls under glass but humans have breasts, curves and often short legs and fat arms and the human eye is a nasty critic.
Fashion design is the toughest career for any of the artists, fine art, commercial art, music, acting, because you must have 4 collections a year (at least) and be judged by each show.
The judges are journalists, merchants, your peers and your customer. Fashion is the only one of all the arts where you have such exact dates you must " perform" up to 8 times a year for the rest of your life, holidays included. No actor, singer, writer, painter, dancer, has such pressure and that fact alone explains the crazy behavior of the fashion designer we have seen in the last 30 years.
Recently we had the unexplainable death of the beautiful and talented L'Wren Scott and the fact that she hung herself on a piece of fabric is so fitting. She tells the world that fashion was too hard to handle, not the pop star boyfriend. You build yourself up to be Somebody, a Name, and Failure and Bankruptcy are not an option. In spite of having a wealthy backer, friends to network and the press in love with you plus a beautiful face and body to help promote your product, all the above did not help to sell enough product to be profitable and most of the money you earn goes to becoming a famous brand and not profit in the bank.
In my first year fashion class of Parsons 1962 we were 40 and only 16 graduated and of the two award winners, the one female student who teachers felt would make it to the top committed a young "suicide" after turning to drink, (a fashion favorite) and our other student star (the next Yves St Laurent the school proclaimed) became the movie director Joel Schumacher. After only a year or two in the NY Seventh Ave dress world, Joel ran away in terror to Hollywood. We spoke years later at a party for Jack Nicholson where a very laid back "Western" looking Joel asked me, "How can you do it? "
You have to have nerves of steel (or no feelings) to create a new look, ( short sexy thigh high dresses) and launch the look with partner Mia Fonssagrives in July 1964 Paris couture, make the front page world press, "Mia and Vicky Conquer Paris"and have another designer married to a British public relations star claim she invented the mini. She invented the name, "The Mini " after a British car, but not the garment. Did I kill myself, no ! I tell people today with a laugh, "I still sell dresses and Mary Quant sells nail polish."
In 1968 Mia and I make a sweet fitted dress that wraps under the bust and ties around at the waist for a film "Candy" and we sell the dress to Bloomingdales and the WRAP DRESS appears in Redbook magazine only to be invented in 1974 by a young designer, you all know who! Do I kill myself? No, I go to work and invent the "Pretty Woman" draped dress that is the longest selling gown in the history of the posh American department stores. It is celebrating 40 years even though it was copied for Julia Roberts after appearing in red in Georgio's of Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive window. Still no suicide? No! Not likely. I would miss my favorite French pastry besides I have sold thousands and thousands of Pretty Woman at 4000$ each. My acceptance of all things often gets a blessing. Oprah Winfrey today is on the cover of May 2014 in her Oprah magazine wearing a long sleeve Pretty Woman in purple some 24 years after the film.
I had the rare opportunity to spend an evening with Coco Chanel ( thanks to Elizabeth Taylor, it was my birthday present) in a "tete a tete" the year before she died. Coco at that point in her career had been Thriving for over 50 years. She gave me the golden advise about lasting in fashion which was to create and own a perfume that will represent me and sell forever creating the brand. Coco was all business, down to earth and exuding power as she proclaimed that great design is forever including her perfume bottle. Her cardigan jacket, quilted bag and black tipped toe beige shoe are in every woman's wardrobe for half a century yet Coco herself was not visible at chic parties, on TV talk shows or lunching with Mme De Gaulle. If you wanted to meet Coco you had to fork out 10000$ for a suit and she would measure you on Rue Cambon, and the Chanel suit would fit you perfectly, you would wear it forever and you would have met Madame.
In the Final Analysis as Sister Theresa proclaimed,"It's only between you and God" and in fashion God is not Anna Wintour but God transforms into the consumer swiping a credit card with good eye for what she looks like in the mirror when she puts on your work of art and proclaims, I LOVE IT!
I keep Sister Theresa's quote on my fridge .
Vicky Tiel began designing clothes 40 years ago in Paris and still owns a boutique there. See Vicky and her new collection on HSN and online. Her couture is available at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, and her perfumes are carried in Perfumania. Her memoir, It's All About the Dress: What I Learned in 40 Years About Men, Women, Sex and Fashion was published by St. Martin's Press in August 2011.