Style AND Substance
Brooke Astor as the next fashion ‘muse’?
It’s not exactly far fetched when you consider that fashion has been embracing (once again) a decidedly patrician, WASPy, thoroughbred, blue blooded, aesthetic that speaks of boarding school educations, old money, and privileged lives. In fact, much of it is based on an unabashedly preppy look (crested navy school boy blazers, rep ties, button down oxford shirts, jodhpurs, etc.) that could be described as very ‘Ralph Lauren’ (though he’s not the ‘Real Deal’ but a ‘Wasp Wannabee’); a look that has more recently been ‘updated’ and glamorized by Nicolas Guesquiere for Balenciaga (who is not the ‘Real Deal’ either).
But the “grande dame of society and philanthropy” who passed away last Monday at the age of 105 was the Real Deal no doubt. (Her husband’s great grandmother ‘invented’ the social register for heaven’s sake!)
Bill Cunningham devoted not one but two columns to the late Mrs. Astor in the Sunday ‘Style’ section of The New York Times. ‘Evening Hours’, began on the front page and was entitled, “She Could Have Danced All Night”, and ‘On the Street’ was dubbed, “To the Nines”. And while the subtitle on the front page read, “A Thoroughbred Clotheshorse”, no vapid clothes horse or idle “social swan” was she.
Bill insured, through his carefully edited images, many going back decades, AND his copy, that he would not only pay a joyful and personal tribute but illustrate that point perfectly. And illustrate he did.
While Bill made note of Mrs. Astor’s trademark white gloves, face framing hats, perfectly tailored suits, entrance making gowns and enviable jewels, he noted that “two of her most treasured baubles were the Medal of Freedom presented to her by President Bill Clinton and the medal she received from her beloved New York Public Library, recognizing her as an author and a Literary Lion.”
And while she certainly did not have to work, she was “booted, spurred and corseted by 8 o’clock every morning and at the Astor Foundation by 10”. She wasn’t lazy, though she could have been, and she wasn’t a snob…though she could have been that as well. As Bill wrote, “For her 100th birthday luncheon, when she was asked whom she wanted as guests, she replied without hesitation: “One hundred librarians.”
Dressing the part was simply part and parcel of the entire package. It was not the whole shebang or an end to itself. It was her giving (of both her precious time and her vast fortune) that was the stuff of legends. She did not dress up to attract undue attention or to insure that she be photographed all over the place but rather, because it was the right thing to do. She understood what people expected from a woman in her position and she did not disappoint. It was her ‘duty’ to present herself to the public in a certain way, and her ‘look was predicated on the correct sense of the ‘appropriate’.
What makes her life, legacy, and the way she treated others even more remarkable is when you consider the way so many modern ‘socialites’ (and you know who they are), appear to use the ‘veil’ of charity as an excuse to be out every night, get dressed to the nines (in borrowed frocks no less), and mug for the camera. But rather than promoting a good cause, they seem to be promoting only themselves. UGH!
And with more and more big name designers and labels underwriting charities and other causes, it’s not uncommon to see the same woman turning out in Gucci on Monday, Ricci on Tuesday, Calvin Klein on Wednesday, Donna Karan on Thursday, YSL on Friday, etc, etc….you get the picture.
I hate to be skeptical but while undoubtedly, there are some who are genuinely dedicated to giving back, doing good, and making the world a better place, it’s hard for me to believe that a certain percentage would bother to show up if the photographers, newspapers, websites, etc. were not there to snap their pictures and record it for posterity.