Billie Blair

February 27, 2014 § 4 Comments

Billie Blair on the cover of Interview magazine, August 1974

Billie Blair on the cover of Interview magazine, August 1974. Image via Lipstick Alley.

Born in Flint, Michigan, Billie Blair (b. 1946) worked as a model at the Detroit Auto Show before becoming one of the highest-paid fashion models of the 1970s. Moving to New York City, she got a job at Halston and soon found success as an editorial and runway model. Blair was among the African-American models at the historic 1973 fundraising event, Le Grand Divertissement à Versailles, known today as the Battle of Versailles. (The event was the subject of a recent documentary by Deborah Riley Draper, Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution [2012)].)

Billie Blair in Halston, 1979

Billie Blair in Halston, 1979. Image via Pinterest.

Billie Blair may be seen on a number of Vogue designer patterns from the mid-1970s. Here she wears a tweed skirt suit and pussy-bow blouse by Oscar de la Renta; this design was marked as ‘suitable for knits’:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Oscar de la Renta suit and blouse pattern - Vogue 1163

Vogue 1163 by Oscar de la Renta (1975) Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

Stan Herman designed this casual hooded top, skirt, and pants. The illustration shows some American Hustle-worthy aviator shades:

Billie Blair modelling a 1970s Stan Herman pattern - Vogue 1169

Vogue 1169 by Stan Herman (1975) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Here Blair wears a girlish, vintage-style ensemble by Nina Ricci, a cream-coloured dress with matching cape:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Nina Ricci cape and dress pattern - Vogue 1175

Vogue 1175 by Nina Ricci (1975) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

From Jean Patou, this maxi dress may date to the period when the young Jean Paul Gaultier was assistant designer. Blair brings out the glamour of this haute couture loungewear:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Jean Patou loungewear pattern - Vogue 1344

Vogue 1344 by Jean Patou (1975) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

In Vogue Patterns‘ 1975 holiday issue, Jerry Hall wears the Patou dress while Blair models an off-the-shoulder party dress in an editorial devoted to evening sparkle (the headline reads, “Be a Star the Vogue Way”):

Designer evening wear Billie Blair Vogue Patterns November December 1975

Vogue Patterns, November/December 1975. Image via eBay.

Here she models a fabulous, evening-length Dior caftan with piped neckline:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Christian Dior caftan pattern - Vogue 1346

Vogue 1346 by Christian Dior (1975) Image via Etsy.

This Nina Ricci separates pattern includes a poncho with shirttail hem, convertible collar, and big patch pockets:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Nina Ricci pattern - Vogue 1376

Vogue 1376 by Nina Ricci (1976) Image via Betsy Vintage.

Blair is the model on this rare pattern by Sonia Rykiel, Vogue 1378—check out the matching coral sandals:

Billie Blair models a 1970s Sonia Rykiel pattern - Vogue 1378

Vogue 1378 by Sonia Rykiel (1976) Image via Etsy.

Billie Blair’s commanding presence and approach to modelling as performance don’t seem too unusual today. But she was unconventional for the time, and even felt the need to under-report her age when she first became famous. A 1974 profile of Blair in People magazine says she is 22 years old and remarks on her size 9 feet. (In a letter to the editor, a high school classmate wondered how Blair had stayed 22 when her peers were 28.) She continued modelling into her thirties—here she appears in a dynamic 1978 Vogue shoot by Andrea Blanch:

Billie Blair, Renée King, Toukie Smith, Iman, Alva Chinn, and Dana Dixon in Vogue, December 1978

Billie Blair, Renée King, Toukie Smith, Iman, Alva Chinn, and Dana Dixon in Vogue, December 1978. Photo: Andrea Blanch.

Clash of the Titans: Goddess Gowns

February 20, 2013 § 11 Comments

Oscar season is upon us, and that means goddess gowns. Goddess gowns usually share elements of classical drapery and the simple construction of the toga and chiton. Here’s a selection of patterns for Greco-Roman-inspired evening wear.

This 1920s evening dress from the House of Worth features elegant back drapery, with a beaded appliqué holding more drapery at the left hip:

1920s Worth evening dress pattern - McCall 4854

McCall 4854 by Worth (1927) Evening dress.

The illustration for this 1930s Lanvin ‘scarf frock’ plays up the classical mood with a fluted pedestal and ferns:

1930s Lanvin evening gown illustration in McCall Style News, January 1936. Image via eBay.

McCall 8591 by Lanvin (1936) McCall Style News, January 1936. Image via eBay.

This late 1940s one-shouldered evening dress has a long panel that can be worn belted in the back or wrapped around the bared shoulder:

1940s one-shouldered evening dress pattern - McCall 7862

McCall 7862 (1949) Evening dress.

Toga-like drapery distinguishes these short, Sixties evening dresses by Pauline Trigère and Jacques Heim:

Pauline Trigère 1960s evening dress pattern - McCalls 6599

McCall’s 6599 by Pauline Trigère (1962)

1960s Jacques Heim evening dress pattern - Vogue 1333

Vogue 1333 by Jacques Heim (1964) Image via the Blue Gardenia

This late ’60s Yves Saint Laurent evening dress has a classical simplicity, with the bodice gathered into a boned collar:

1960s Yves Saint Laurent evening dress pattern - Vogue 2093

Vogue 2093 by Yves Saint Laurent (1969) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

This Pucci loungewear has culottes on the bottom, but still has that ‘goddess’ flavour (modelled by Birgitta Af Klercker):

1960s Pucci loungewear pattern - Vogue 2249

Vogue 2249 by Pucci (1969) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Angeleen Gagliano models this mid-Seventies Lanvin evening dress and toga:

1970s Lanvin evening dress and toga pattern - Vogue 1147

Vogue 1147 by Lanvin (1975) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

This Pierre Balmain evening ensemble, modelled by Jerry Hall, shows a more literal interpretation of classical dress:

1970s Pierre Balmain evening dress and cape pattern - Vogue 2015

Vogue 2015 by Pierre Balmain (1979) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Finally, this jersey gown with beaded waistband, from Guy Laroche by Damian Yee, is an example of the recent trend for goddess gowns:

2008 Guy Laroche pattern - Vogue V1047

Vogue V1047 by Guy Laroche (2008) Evening dress.

(From the Spring 2007 Laroche collection, the pattern is still in print.)

Goddess” was the theme of the 2003 Costume Institute exhibit; the catalogue, Goddess: The Classical Mode (Yale UP, 2003) is still available.

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