Fashion

The Story of Elizabeth Taylor's Famous Headdress

The stuff of fashion legend.
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No Dolce & Gabbana collection would be complete without a selection of attention-grabbing headwear—chic little headbands, colorful hats, tiaras or even crowns. And last week's "secret" runway show in Milan featured some of their most extravagant pieces yet: three towering headdresses made of yellow, purple, and blue flowers.


Dolce & Gabbana held a secret show of its eveningwear in Milan.

The headpieces were part of a "secret" show of evening wear the label put on in Milan this month, a buzzy event that featured T&C Swans Delilah Belle and Amelia Gray Hamlin (daughters of Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin) and Ella Richards (granddaughter of Keith Richards), and Christian Combs (son of Sean P. Diddy Combs).

The capsule collection of evening wear was designed for millennials—we know this because the brand helpfully suggested the hashtag #DGMillennials—but the flowery extravaganzas on the models' heads have a history that goes back five decades.

ELIZABETH TAYLOR AND AN EPIC 1967 PARTY

September 9, 1967: It's a Saturday night in Italy, the rain is pouring, and some of the worlds richest and most famous are stuck in the worst motorboat traffic jam anyone had ever seen. Boatmen shout, curse, and thumb their teeth as they maneuver through the grand canal of Venice, delivering hundreds of guests to the Ca' Rezzonico Palace for a masked ball.


Elizabeth Taylor at Rezzonico Palace in Venice on September 9, 1967

There's an accident: author Clare Boothe Luce's boat collides with another, a window shatters behind her, and covers her wig and red organza cape with shards of glass. She brushes it off, arriving unscathed to the party, where her fellow guests include Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, Aristotle Onassis, Pierre Cardin (wearing an aluminum gas mask), Vicomtesse Jacqueline de Ribes, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Marylou and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, and social grand dames Rose Kennedy and Phyllis de Young Tucker.

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But the true star of the evening is Elizabeth Taylor, outshining everyone in a beaded caftan by Karl Lagerfeld for Tiziani of Rome, a Bulgari necklace, and a headdress people are still talking about 50 years later.


Aristotle Onassis and Elizabeth Taylor

Designed by legendary hairstylist Alexandre of Paris, and crafted with the help of Massimo Spazzoli, it was made of silver spikes, white orchids, lilies, and pearls. One writer at the time said it "looked like a blend of fresh flowers with radio aerials and king-size cigarettes." Another compared it to a porcupine.

Alexandre designed the piece for Liz to wear in Boom!, a film that she was making in Sardinia at the time. It's been largely forgotten, but it does have its fans, such as John Waters, Martin Scorsese and thanks to its wardrobe, almost anyone who works in fashion or interior design.

HOW DOLCE & GABBANA DISCOVERED THE HEADPIECE

The story of how the Italian couturiers discovered their muse has its origin in another society party. This past June, a gala of 250 masked jet-setters were gathered together by philanthropist Becca Cason Thrash to raise funds for the restoration of the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice. Among the guests at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia were tech entrepreneur Trevor Traina and his wife Alexis, author of the new book From Napa with Love: Who to Know, Where to Go, and What Not to Miss.


Trevor and Alexis Traina in Venice

Guests were encouraged to dress dramatically, so the Trainas called on the help of a friend who knows a thing or two about making an entrance: Ken Fulk, the designer of tech baron Sean Parker's fairy-tale wedding to Alexandra Lenas in 2013.

"For the Save Venice Ball, Trevor commissioned Ken's atelier to replicate the headdress Liz Taylor wore," Alexis tells Town & Country. They spotted a photo of her wearing it at the party with husband Richard Burton, and knew it would be the perfect piece. "It arrived in its own large suitcase an hour before we left for the trip, and came in three pieces and required more than two people to assemble. It was so much fun!"

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After Venice, the Trainas went to Portofino, where they visited Domenico Dolce and his boyfriend Guilherme Siqueira. "They loved Ken's handiwork," she says. So much so that she let them keep the headdress.


The headdress designed by Ken Fulk

"Alexis's headdress created a huge splash. Everyone at the party was like, 'Ahh! What is that?' One of those people was Gui," Ken Fulk tells T&C from his studio in San Francisco. Soon, Dolce, whom Fulk first met at San Francisco's famed Mid Winter Gala a few years ago, asked him to make some for use in a show.

"I was so flattered when they asked. Alexis and I were sort of giggling like schoolgirls," he says. "Without any direction, we made three inspired by the one we made for Alexis, in three different colors."


The headdress on the Dolce & Gabbana runway

He and his team searched high and low for the right mix of materials, using what he calls "a kind of crazy creativity and almost Etsy savvy" to put them together. In about 10 days, the finished creations were placed on hand-painted mannequin heads and shipped to Italy in special crates built so not a single petal would fall out of place.

"The original, extravagant idea, was that they would all be original flowers," he says. "Someday I would love to do that, because that would be spectacular."

We think Liz would agree.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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