Forum fashion show focuses on designers to the stars

29 August 2017 1:23PM

SINCE the very first Academy Award nominees sashayed through the photographers’ flashlights into the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in 1929, Oscars night has been as much about who wore who as who won what.

Down the decades, designers have competed to dress the biggest stars, knowing that this red carpet of all red carpets is the most lucrative catwalk in the world and that their reputations can be either raised to the heights or ruined forever by the attention their gowns are given.

From Valentino to Versace, Balenciaga to Balmain and Wang to Westwood, some of the foremost names in fashion have been favourites of the famous – and vice versa.

The most well-known costumier and client pairing was between William Travilla and Marilyn Monroe, according to vintage fashion collector Gaby Sutton.

“He was known simply as Travilla and he designed for Marilyn Monroe. He was her favourite and she was his. He also designed for some of the other film stars from the golden age of Hollywood, such as Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford,” she says.

“He created some of Marilyn’s most iconic outfits, including the white cocktail dress that revealed those famous legs above the subway grate in The Seven Year Itch.

“Travilla designed for her off-set too and helped to sew her into the sheer gold lame dress she’d worn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, to go and claim her award for Hollywood’s ‘Fastest Rising Star of 1952’.”

Gaby has been busily researching the history of Hollywood fashion for her forthcoming event, Oscar Night at the Forum – a celebration of 80 years of show-stopping gowns – to tie in with the Hexham cinema’s 80th anniversary.

And amongst the line-up of fabulous frocks is – wait for it – an authentic Travilla that Gaby managed to get her hands on only weeks ago.

“I knew this dress was around in Tynedale, owned by another collector,” she says.

“I saw it when it was first for sale but I thought it was a bit too much to splash out on then.

“This time I decided it would be worth it, especially as they are making a film of Travilla’s life.”

Gaby fights shy about saying how much her ‘Marilyn dress’ cost, but is clearly thrilled to finally have it in her possession as it’s a wonderful example of a vintage two-piece in gold lamé.

The fitted dress with stylish kick-pleats and matching jacket will be one of around 20 ensembles chosen by Gaby for her fashion show next Friday, and the lady lucky enough to be wearing it on the night, Val Pesarra, has given The Courant a sneak preview by modelling it in the art deco cinema’s recently-decorated Scott’s café.

“I love dressing up,” Val confesses as she strikes a pose for our photographer. Part of the reason for that, she says, is that as a girl, she would regularly come to the Forum and drool over the dresses worn by the queens of the silver screen.

“One of the main films that stands out was Barbara Streisand in Hello Dolly,” Val recalls. “I remember her coming down the staircase in this sequinned gown and I thought, ‘Oh, how I would love to wear that dress!’”

Val swaps the Travilla for another designer label that will be part of the show – this time a stunning full-length Dior.

“This one was worn by a titled lady in Durham Cathedral as a wedding dress,” Gaby explains. “It’s a numbered model from Dior in ivory brocade and is from the 1950s.”

Christian Dior was the darling of Hollywood’s leading stars, including Grace Kelly, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, and as part of Gaby’s show, there’s to be a screening of the movie, Dior and I, Frédéric Tcheng’s behind-the-scenes documentary about the fashion house in Paris.

Lastly, Val, slips into a wonderful blue YSL ruched evening dress and drapes herself across the velvet seats of the 1930s auditorium.

“Yves Saint Laurent took over the house of Dior after Christian Dior’s death in 1957,” Gaby says. “He was only 21, but went on to design some of the most beautiful clothes the world has ever seen.”

The French actress Catherine Deneuve was Saint Laurent’s friend and muse and he designed her costumes for the 1965 Bunuel film Belle de Jour.

But then just about everyone who was anyone in the sixties and seventies wore YSL, including a young Jane Fonda at the 1972 Academy Awards where she won best actress for Klute.

She wasn’t in a frock, however, but, in true YSL gender-bending style, a black wool couture tunic and pantsuit.

Gaby is really looking forward to narrating her Oscar Night which is in aid of the Children’s Liver Disease Foundation.

A retired physiotherapist from Beech Hill, Hexham, Gaby has become well-known in Tynedale for her fascinating fashion shows for the WI and other organisations, and has raised well in excess of £20,000 for the CLDF for whom she began fund-raising when her 11-year-old grand-daughter, Imogen, was born with a rare liver disease.

She said it had been fascinating reading about the history of red carpet glamour.

“One thing I discovered was that the year the Forum cinema opened in 1937, the girl who won the award for best actress (it was Luise Rainer from The Great Ziegfield) failed to show up in an Oscar-worthy gown.

“Apparently she was at home in her slippers when MGM called her to say she should come down to receive her gong. So she dashed out the door in the only dress she had – a rather plain, long-sleeved crepe gown.

“But people can rest assured there’ll be nothing plain about our Oscar Night and we’re encouraging people who want to have a bit of fun to dress to the nines and glam up.”

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