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
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
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.