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No Holds Barred

by Blair Sabol

As I get older it's not fashion but personal style that intrigues me. Now lets be clear: Style is not just the showboating and beauty of the outer layer but a person's entire DNA package. It's about honesty and going for broke on who YOU really ARE. For better or worse. No wonder I am so depressed as I look around for any vestige of decent "stylistas". (And though "class" is a whole other worthy topic ... "style" may or may not come with "class" but "class" almost always implies "style.”) Face it ... we've lived through Cary Grant, Noel Coward, Kay Graham, Kitty Carlisle, Fred Astaire, Kate and Audrey Hepburn, Diana Vreeland, all of the Rat Pack, the Windsors and various Royals ... we all know golden oldies.

Now what? What does it say about our current culture that we are so hard pressed to find legitimate style icons. Authenticity is rare these days. "Fashion" comes cheap.
Clockwise from top left: Cary Grant; Noel Coward; Kate Hepburn; Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn.
Clockwise from top left: Fred Astaire; Diana Vreeland; The Rat Pack; The Duchess of Windsor.
I grew up exposed to the supreme likes of Maxime de la Falaise, Louise Nevelson, Andree Putman, The Paleys, Jackie and Ari Onassis, Dominick Dunne, and yes John Gotti (why not). I also have been blessed to have parents, 86-year-old Audrey and 93-year-old Ed Sabol, who "get dressed" everyday (Lands End and vintage cashmeres) and lead elegant measured lives.

For me they have set the barre very high in spite of their canes, walkers and hearing aids. I suppose I have to realize that every era has its day. And luckily style is NOT wasted on the young. However you have to be courageous to project who you are today, no matter what your age.
Clockwise from top left: Jackie and Ari Onassis; The Paleys; Louise Nevelson; Maxime de la Falaise; Andree Putman; John Gotti.
Recently I have been on this never ending search for the current "stylistas" ... and it hasn’t been easy. Start with musicians since they always project themselves the sharpest. Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison were all unique and they may have created "looks" but none of them really upended the universe with their style. They were reflections of their times. On the other hand David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Miles Davis created worlds for themselves and others.

I have asked a dozen of my wise friends to help me find today's style icons. None of them have come up with anyone below the age of 58 and most were at a loss. It seems that Michelle Obama is the universal winner. I agree and watch out for daughter Malia as she seems to have the guts to pull ahead all on her own. No one could come up with any new male names. Yes to Michael Jackson (especially in "This Is It") but George Clooney and Barack Obama are questionable. Both are handsome and charming but is that "style?"
Clockwise from top left: David Bowie; Miles Davis; Mick Jagger; Michael Jackson.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia.
I beg ignorance when it comes to stylish sports figures and commentators. No doubt there are some long dreadlocked "cool-hand" running backs who are knocking the world dead. I wouldn’t know. And as for The Country Western scene ... I left off with Johnny Cash. Bette Midler, Cher, Diana Ross are all highly gifted "costumed" performers. As is the sensational Barbra Streisand who was always a tremendous collector and now an interior decorator. But are any of them really "stylistas?"
                     
Coco Chanel
and Cecil Beaton made the "uber" style icon list. But with Tom Ford and Karl Lagerfeld, it remains to be seen. Sure they are in the Fashion Biz but does that really count? What DOESN'T count is if you have a ton of money and a personal stylist. You can definitely buy "a look" but you cant buy style. Ralph Lauren truly has an amazing personal style and has sold it as an entire LIFESTYLE to the globe. Nobody does it better. But many people think that by buying Lauren or any designer "label" they are on the "high list." Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Hermes are now Canal Street fare. "Status" is now Vegas. Remember shopping is sport NOT style.
Coco Chanel and and Cecil Beaton. Ralph Lauren and Anna Wintour.
As for the world of STYLISTS. I think most of these pros have killed honest self-expression. However many of my younger friends have warned me that certain stylists and models are THE current heat. Too bad I don’t see that world enough to know. Obviously I tip my hat to the Olson Twins (even though to me they look like two old Jewish bubbies) and Kate Moss. All three merchandised their "high/low" images into skank chic. In Moss's case out came Top Shop.

As for Amy Winehouse: she may be an interesting looking phenom but all the overdosing and high histrionics keeps her stuck in repeat and not revelation. Now Lady Gaga herself and her "house of Gaga " actually engineer her visuals and on that alone she has become "tops in style pops.” (In spite of the "kiss of death" Barbara Walters interview). As for other current examples: high marks go to Sean Puffy Combs for his vodka and clothing line; the lead vocal instrumentalist of Black Eye peas Will. I. Am. I face it, any true "cool" black lead rock or rap singer nowadays would rate. After all where would we be without black style in general. No bling no swing.
Clockwise from top left: Sean Puffy Combs; Lady Gaga; Will. I. Am.; The Olson Twins; Kate Moss.
Looking back, Diane Keaton was never one of my stylista favorites but you must acknowledge The originality in developing "Annie Hall.” But I will never understand her current eccentricity. At least Keaton is still working it. Likewise Yoko Ono. We may not like her but bless her for carrying on with her entire image. Now some celebrities make it and some are on the edge: For instance, yes to Judy Garland (fat, anorexic, sober and drunk) but Liza?

Yes to Charlotte Rampling and Anouk Aimee but no to Catherine Deneuve and Carla Bruni Sarkozy (tries too hard); Yes to Annie Magnani but no to Sophia Loren (a"monument" not a stylista). Yes to Sofia Coppola and Chloe Sevigny but forget Madonna (currently her ravaged style message is "the gym") and Scarlett Johansson (pretty face but what?). And please, once and for all a big "Nada" to Tory Burch, The Kardashians, Paris Hilton and Sarah Jessica Parker. All powerful "PR packages."
Clockwise from top left: Marcello Mastroianni and Anouk Aimee; Judy Garland; Chloe Sevigny; Sofia Coppola; Charlotte Rampling.
You can see it all gets to be a tough call. I got many "youth votes" for young model Agynes Deyn and musican Alice Glass. Even though they harken back to Patti Smith ("the real thing") and the 70's anti fashion scene with black torn stockings, ripped t-shirts and big black leather or men's jackets.

They have a new twist to it all and do it with a little more in-your-face- authenticity. They could be called the new "androgynistas" ... and I gather they live it to the hilt. Good for them. In other words they ain’t posing; they are living their look.

Ali McGraw.
No doubt celebrities carry weight but I must admit the most compelling style setters I have seen in the past five years were a dental hygenist in Phoenix and a Dav El limo driver in Los Angeles.

They were not just "put together" they knew how to put it all together for and by themselves. On the other hand I am beyond fortunate to have actress/model and major style icon Ali MacGraw as a close friend. So I have experienced a Royal Gold Standard up close and personal and in action. Ali (now in her 70s) has more chic sweating on her yoga mat than any current cover model or performing artist.

She was simply born that way. Her whole world reeks of her creativity: her Scottie dog Jemima looks terrific; the Jamba juice concoction she drinks tastes incredible; the three different aromatic oils she combines and wears are out of this world (and ONLY on her -- I tried the combo and cleared the room -- and the interior of her Santa Fe hut is magical. Ali not only lives, breathes and eats her originalty, she OWNS it. Few can. No "branding" needed here. She even married and divorced two primo "stylistos" Bob Evans and Steve McQueen. Talk about consistency.
                
Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby sang in Cole Porter's "High Society" (talk about THE royals of style): "You either got or you haven’t got style.” So I ask YOU; Who today HAS really got "it"??
 

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