Couturier Vicky Tiel On Designing Clothes For Elizabeth Taylor And HSN
For the past forty years, Vicky Tiel has been designing one-of-a-kind couture gowns in Paris for the likes of the late Elizabeth Taylor. Now she’s designing for the masses with a collection for HSN. It may sound like a bizarre turning point, but when we chatted with Tiel recently, the 69-year-old couturier said that it was a natural progression in her illustrious career. Keep reading to see how Tiel’s designs and entrepreneurial spirit took her from Parsons to Hollywood and HSN.
Check out Tiel on HSN this Wednesday, April 24 at 11 PM and 2 AM and start scoping out your favorite dresses in the gallery below.
So tell us how you started designing.
I grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Everyone was very wealthy and had everything. I started designing clothes so that I could be special. My mother could sew and I made my first design — a wrap skirt with two buttons. I bought felt fabric, put different flowers all over it, and and sold it to my girlfriends. Once I made the sale of the skirt at 12-years-old, I was like, ‘Wow, I can sell.’ Then I made a muumuu, which is sort of the beginning of a caftan. I sold that for $25, which was a lot of money. I’d been making clothes ever since. I wasn’t the cool girl, I was always very busy. I was always entrepreneurial and all about business.
What was your experience like at Parsons School of Design?
My father set me up in a beautiful apartment, he was very wealthy. I hung all the clothes that I made on the walls and sold them, so I had a little shop. I was riding to Parsons on my motorcycle in a leather miniskirt. That was 1961 and I was already in skirts that were four inches above my knee. Then I started fringing the skirts so you could see my leg when I was riding the motorcycle.
You were close friends with Elizabeth Taylor, how did you both meet?
I’ve had an incredible, incredible life, and I have no idea why I was meant to pass Elizabeth Taylor in the hallway in Billancourt Film Studios in Paris. This was when I was making What’s New, Pussycat? and she was working on The Sandpiper in Paris. I was wearing a very short skirt at the time. But Elizabeth’s skirts were all made by the studio so they were down to her knees. So there’s Elizabeth passing me in the hallway and looking at how dowdy her skirt was. She was dressed like Jackie O in a sheath dress. Then Richard [Burton] comes to find me — ‘Hey baby, where’d you get that dress?’ I told him I made it and he said, ‘My wife, she’s gotta have this dress.’ And that was it, we were friends until her death.
She was always surrounded by men, have you picked up any tricks to seduce the fellas?
All my tricks were from Elizabeth! If you’re at a party, you’ll notice that all the women are in one room and they’re all talking about babies, clothes, and hats. And then there’s the room with all the men. Where do you think Elizabeth is? In the room with the men! And what is she doing with them? She’s talking about sports! Rugby, basketball, baseball — you name it. ‘Oh honey, you look like you really know ball!”
This HSN collection is a far cry from couture, how did this collaboration come about?
I created the couture department in Bergdorf Goodman 25 years ago, they had no couture back then. One of my customers, whose wedding dress I had done years ago, came into the store and said, ‘Vicky, would you want to have dinner with my husband and I? We want to talk to you about making clothing that wasn’t couture but for the masses.’ So we talked and I agreed, obviously, to work with HSN.
What was the design process when it came to producing for the masses?
I gave HSN my dress patterns. I have these patterns from the ’70s in boxes and boxes. I pulled out my top sellers that were easy to make for HSN and they used those patterns, right down to the details. They came as close as they could to my French seams.
You specialize in making clothes that men like — what does that really mean?
Half the planet is women and the other half is men. We have to love each other and how do we get men to love us? By being hot and fabulous, there’s no other way. So any day that you’re not hot and fabulous, you’re gonna make me mad. I want a woman to be feminine, beautiful, fabulous, and girly. I specialize in making and selling clothing that’ll make you feel like that. My whole life, I’ve just made clothes that will be desirable to a man. I don’t make t-shirts and sweaters.
Do you have any pet peeves?
I don’t like designers who don’t know how to sew! I think it’s their responsibility since they work in fashion. Half the designers on Seventh Avenue don’t know how to sew.
Last question, who would you like to work with?
Right now, I’ve had my career. I’m pretty old. I’m happy with just selling dresses on HSN and not [going] back to making clothes for people. But I really like the young singers of today. I think they’re really exciting, like Rihanna. I’d love to make a dress for someone like her.
Vicky Tiel’s collection for HSN includes her signature wrap dresses, flirty frocks, and color blocked styles that range from $49 to $100.