The devotion to their wardrobes narrates a wealth of personal stories, writes Hannah Stacpoole of Saluto London, as she delves into the closets of remarkable women - starting with Lynn Wyatt.
Lynn Wyatt with Princess Grace of Monaco, 1980
As I sat at my desk and thought about what to write, my immediate instinct was to steer clear from anything related to Covid-19 - the beautiful clothes that we love and appreciate should be escapism for this after all. However, one thing that has really struck me from life in the not-so-fast lane is a realisation of what we value. Amongst many ‘virtual' catch-ups with my friends and family, we had all established a common principal - that until now, we had rarely valued our freedom amongst a number of other things. Laughing with friends, long wine-fuelled afternoons, weekend getaways - and it was a united decision that this time in lockdown would teach us to value more.
Clothes, for example, have been something that have always had great value for me but this continues to grow everyday. The history that lies behind each piece and the inﬁnite stories that are hidden behind a person’s wardrobe door is what has sparked my passion for vintage. I assume my thirst for ‘treasure hunting’ would have started as a young child; I remember long summers in my Grandmother’s house in Northern Italy where I would often sneak up to the attic (she had a true penchant for never throwing anything away) and try and snoop inside the dusty trunks, trying to understand and dream of the life that had been lived by those item’s previous owner. The villa had been derelict before my grandparents moved in and so I have since learnt that these items were owned by a Russian doctor and most likely dated prior to World War I.
Behind our possessions lie precious memories, meanings and ideas and I have always found a wardrobe to be the most fascinating starting point in learning about someone’s life. We have intimate ties with our clothes - they can bring us joy and sadness. It is a great starting point in conversation - I recall a family gathering late last year where I had to refrain from having a proper chuckle as the elderly lady sat on my right had informed me that she was trying to sell a suﬃcient number of Hermès scarves. When I had commented on how lucky she was she stated that in fact each one had been gifted to her from a past husband every time he had been unfaithful (!).
In Shahidha Bari’s ‘Dressed: The Secret Life of Clothes’, there is a particular quote that has truly stuck with me - “The clothes we love are like friends, they bear the softness of wear, skimming the various places of our bodies, recalling the proportions that they seem almost to have learned by memory and habit. Like the certain clothes that we long for and into which our limbs pour as soon as we ﬁnd a private moment…” It deﬁnes my love of clothes perfectly and how we should value these things so we can cherish them, look after them and pass them on. It is with this that I introduce the ﬁrst of a number of interesting women in history whose devotion to their wardrobes narrates a wealth of personal stories, starting with the remarkable Lynn Wyatt…
Lynn Wyatt outside her home, 1965
THE WARDROBE OF LYNN WYATT
“My style can be deﬁned as class with a dash of sass but never trash”
If you haven’t had a chance to watch the brilliant ’The Secret World of Haute Couture’ I recommend you do so immediately - a BBC documentary circa 2007, which delves into the inner circle of couture buyers around the world. Moving far away from the modern inﬂuencer - it looks at a somewhat closed society of women, ranging in ages, who maintain lifelong relationships with the houses of Chanel, Dior and more.
A woman that would fall well under this category is philanthropist and hostess Lynn Wyatt - an American octogenarian whose outstanding collection of couture would leave any fashion-connoisseur drooling. Born in 1935 in Houston, Texas, her family owned a department store, which she worked in as a teenager - it is the store that is believed to have kickstarted her passion for ﬁne fashion. She has since lived a life in tribute to the arts as she has since raise millions for charities worldwide.
Wyatt shot with her Warhol portraits, 1983
With a plethora of famous friends including Grace Kelly, Yves Saint Laurent, Princess Margaret, Truman Capote and Emmanuel Ungaro (to name a few!), I hope you can see why this lady would strike so highly in my list of dream dinner guests. One of the last of the bygone era that I have fallen so in love with and clearly was (and still is!) a woman to leave an avid impression.
Shown with the late Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel’s studio in 1984 below - they were known to have been dear friends (she was one of those lucky customers who had an exact mannequin of her proportions housed in the couture atelier) and she states “I think clothes are fun, I think life is fun, and one should dress appropriately for an occasion - that’s the most important thing. And, you know, you’re showing an image of yourself to the world and why not make light of it?” A true embodiment of the magic that the world of fashion can bring.
In 2016, she auctioned 17 of her couture pieces (shown below) for charity - often describing her clothes as ‘old friends’ some of these were pieces were clearly incredibly special to her and included the ﬁrst couture piece she ever purchased; a 1970’s black Chanel boucle skirt suit (talk about keeping it timeless!). Looked after and cherished, these items were passed on to a new generation and carried some of Lynn’s charm and stories of the past.
(From left to right: Wyatt's first couture purchase, a Haute Couture Chanel Chanel boucle skirt suit from the 1970s; a Haute Couture Yves Saint Laurent cocktail dress from the 1980s; a Haute Couture Valentino silk gown from the 1980s; a Haute Couture Givenchy royal blue draped evening gown from the early 80s)
Although she rules the roost as a queen of 80s couture (and I do have a real weakness for this), it is her attitude in life which is is truly enviable. Having done quite a fair bit of research, there was one quote, which really resonated with me - when asked what her greatest fear was she simply replied “I don’t even think of fear. Life is a challenge and I just look at it in the face and go for it”. Whether it’s her inherent sass or her numerous achievements (including obtaining a ﬁrst-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do at 60!) it is clear that her thirst for life is quite enviable and something to look up to. A life lived to the full!
“She is the best friend. I cannot say more… Or maybe yes… That she is super chic, beautiful, smart, witty, fun, a good mother and wife, in love with life.’
(From left to right: with Nan Kemper at the Met Gala, 1988; with Bill Blass in 1988; shot by Slim Aarons, 1991; dressed in couture in her home today)
Hannah Stacpoole is a fashion journalist and the owner of Saluto London, an online brand that carefully curates vintage womenswear and accessories for the modern woman.
Saluto London is trading in our Market on Sunday 24th May.