100 Unforgettable Dresses
“Name me five Elizabeth Hurley movies. Okay, name me three . . . you can’t,” says Hal Rubenstein, Fashion Director for InStyle and author of the new book 100 Unforgettable Dresses. “Here is a woman who basically nobody knew . . . and within 24 hours she was world-famous because she put on a black dress with a bunch of slits and safety pins from Versace. Here is a woman who built an entire career on a dress.”
From left: The book’s cover; Elizabeth Hurley in the safety pin dress.
And while Rubenstein says he wouldn’t go quite as far as comparing the career-making power of a great dress to, say, Kim Kardashian’s sex tape, he does believe that, “sometimes all it takes is one moment. It’s about the right dress on the right woman at the right time,” he says. And he pegged 100 of those iconic pairings in his 200-page book.
Left: Tilda Swinton in Alber Elbaz for Lanvin for the Oscars, 2008. “…the parade astride Oscar’s scarlet yardage is less directed toward wowing [fashion] insiders and more toward a viewing public that is desperately seeking glamour’s equivalent of comfort food.” Right: Sarah Jessica Parker in Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel for Sex and the City, 2002 “Then there is the dress Sex and the City devotees refer to as ‘the one she got dumped in.’ But if you’re going to be miserable, why not do it engulfed in eighty thousand dollars’ worth of Versace haute couture?”
There’s Princess Diana and her wedding dress: “It changed, not for the better, the entire wedding industry. Caroline Bissette changed it right back. Thank God.” Jennifer Lopez and her plunging green Versace gown: “Donatella wore that dress, Amber Valletta wore it on the runway and nobody said a thing until Jennifer wore it.” Marlo Thomas and the Jonathan Logan mini dresses in That Girl: “It mainstreamed the miniskirt, so that it was acceptable to wear to work,” says Rubenstein. “I remember when my cousin graduated in the late 60’s and started her job, she bought 23 A-line Jonathan Logan dresses.”
Julia Roberts in Marilyn Vance-Straker for Pretty Woman, 1990. “By the time Gere fastens the diamonds around her neck…Roberts had vanquished all pretenders to become the more desirable woman in film. So how can you separate the woman from the dress?”
100 Unforgettable Dresses if far from just a picture book. Photographs of the dresses, and their unforgettable moments, are paired with incredibly specific information about the garment’s history, provenance, and Rubenstein adds his own original details that only someone with a rolodex like his could pull off — that Hurley didn’t pick out her famous safety pin dress (Gianni Versace sent it to her “fresh” from the spring runway), the inspiration behind Valentino’s trademark red (stage costumes from an opera at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona), that Halston’s most famous creation was made of fabric developed for automotive upholstery, or that Bette Davis’s dress in All About Eve never fit her properly.
“Oh my God. It was very, very difficult to track down the person who actually designed the dresses for the Supremes or to find and be able to watch a segment of the movie Letty Lynton,” says Rubenstein. “But I just love this kind of stuff. I wrote this out of my own passion.”