IN CHAPTER 15 of I Dream I Married Perry Mason, Cece accompanies the architect Burnett Fowlkes to a Hollywood Regency house he's restoring in her neighborhood.
In a town renowned for plastic surgery, Hollywood Regency may be the consummate architectural style. You've got an aging stucco bungalow. But what you really want is something sexier, younger, classier. So you tack on a mansard roof, an oversized front door framed by black-and-white striped drapes, maybe a niche with a Greek urn in it on top, and yes, the mail man might mistake you for Gina Lollabrigida
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These remodels, most of which were done in the fifties and sixties, can be seen all over West Hollywood. With their promiscuous mix of Georgian, Federal and Second Empire flourishes, they provide the perfect visual antidote to the ubiquitous cool of mid-century modern (I am not a fan of the latter, though Tom Ford's clothes for Gucci do look best in Richard Neutra houses). They are theatrical, with highly embellished false fronts dropped into place, unintended billboards for their owners' class anxieties.

The maestro of Hollywood Regency was John Woolf. Born in Atlanta in 1908, he came out to L.A. In the 1930s to get a part in Gone with the Wind, which didn't happen, though he did make lots of celebrity friends, including Fanny Brice, George Cukor and Ira Gershwin. After doing a remodel for Gershwin, turning the latter's run-of-the-mill house into a swanky Georgian manor, Woolf and a partner opened the offices of John and Robert K. Woolf on Melrose Place in West Hollywood. (Robert K. was eventually adopted by John. Somebody should definitely make a movie about this guy).

Eventually, Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, Mae West, and Greta Garbo became clients. Woolf houses, it turned out, made perfect backdrops for even a movie star's fantasies of luxe. Typical features included marble fireplaces with inset windows where the flues would normally be, formal dressing rooms, grill-screened living rooms, Doric colonnades, and pavilions in the pool court. And, of course, high, sloping mansard roofs.

By the 1970s, the style look vulgar, over-reaching. False fronts were peeled back to reveal "authentic" Spanish houses beneath. That is, until Vogue did a fashion spread in 2002 at hipster restauranteur Sean K. MacPherson's vintage John Woolf home. Now you can't get one of these camp artifacts, at any price.

 


 



IN CHAPTER 11 of I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason, Cece visits her friend Bridget's vintage clothing shop and reads up in one of Bridget's books about Claire McCardell, the founder of American ready-to-wear fashion.

There would be no Ralph Lauren, no Calvin Klein, and no Donna Karan without Claire McCardell. McCardell invented casual sophistication. From the first successful silhouette she created, the "Monastic," a dartless, waistless tent dress that could be worn with or without a belt, she championed practicality and comfort.

Every pocket must have a raison d'etre.
Play clothes get hoods; it’s cold in the winter.
All women deserve an interchangeable, coordinated wardrobe of separates which don't wrinkle.

Which leads me to jersey. McCardell believed in jersey. And zippers. She was the first designer to use a zipper. To use denim as a dress fabric. To decry stilettos. To advocate ballet flats worn with pedal pushers (her invention, put to excellent use by Audrey Hepburn).

Designed under the label Townley Frocks by Claire McCardell and later Claire McCardell Clothes by Townley, McCardell's designs often featured adjustable elements, like drawstrings and spaghetti strips, that allowed for different body types. And God bless her for that. "Most of my ideas," she once said, "come from trying to solve my own problems."

 
 

We need more female fashion designers.

While in Paris during her sophomore year at Parsons School of Design in New York, McCardell bought samples from the French couturier Madeleine Vionnet and studied the construction of her garments, incorporating the bias cut into her own designs. But on the whole, she had little use for French fashion, unlike most American designers working around WWII. She favored textiles from American mills that had the look and feel of the cotton calicos and homespun plaids of the nineteenth century.

If you ever come across a Claire McCardell madras cotton halter-style full-length hostess gown, I'll have to kill you.