FIT exhibit showcases actress Lauren Bacall’s closet

By Lauren Craddock , Staff Writer

The Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology celebrates the simple and fresh style of iconic American actress and model, Lauren Bacall, in their exhibit “Lauren Bacall, THE LOOK.” The show is on display from March 3 to April 4, and is a small collection of garments, photographs, magazine features and archival footage of Bacall. The garments belonged to Bacall, from her donation of more than 700 articles of clothing and accessories to the Museum at FIT from 1968 to 1986. Today, the graduate students of FIT celebrate her influence on fashion, with her signature wavy hair and bold lips.

The showing begins with the various appearances Bacall made in fashion magazines from the 1940s to the 1960s. Magazines on display range from her 1943 Harper’s Bazaar cover to her features in LIFE in 1944 and Vogue in 1963. LIFE headlines of Bacall identified the actress as having “catlike grace and insolent voice” in her debut movie “To Have and Have Not.”

From her modelling career, Bacall rose quickly to prominence as an actress.  Within a few years of her first cover with Harper’s Bazaar in 1943, Bacall starred in To Have and Have Not. She went on to become a household name in productions such as Sex and the Single Girl and Bacall and the Boys.

Bacall called her style “studied carelessness.”  Her clothing was free flowing, yet tailored and never sloppy. The garments on display represent this casual elegance and relaxed attitude. Outfits included a Christian Dior by Marc Bohan evening dress made with silk jersey and ostrich feathers around the bottom, as well as an Yves Saint Laurent evening set made with silk organza, sequins and beads.

The exhibit portrays Bacall as an everyday American with a distinct, elegant sex appeal. Unlike Marilyn Monroe, Bacall’s sexuality was subtle, displayed through her confidence. Her clothing was simple and relaxed, yet had intricate, quality construction and glamorous touches of detail. Her signature hair style of face-framing waves added an illusion of length and thickness. Her signature makeup was neutral, yet usually featured a bold lip.

“For my particular face I look best when I look as though I’m not wearing makeup at all,” Bacall said in a 1959 Vogue interview.

Excerpts of information within the exhibit showcased Bacall as a “combination of individuality, audacity and glamour that continues to inspire.” On display for comparison is a 2010 Dior advertisement in Harper’s Bazaar, with model Karlie Kloss emulating Bacall’s style, hair and makeup. Bacall will continue to be remembered for her stamp on the entertainment and fashion industries as the all-American girl who embody femininity, strength and subtle glamour.

A version of this article appeared in the March 25 print edition.  Email Lauren Craddock at [email protected]