Fashion / Style File

Secrets of the International Best Dressed — Keeper of Coveted List Tells All

The True Tests of a Fashion Star

BY // 12.10.19
photography Johnny Than

The elegant Amy Fine Collins, Vanity Fair special correspondent and keeper of the keys to the late Eleanor Lambert’s International Best Dressed List, held the chic throng assembled at Tenenbaum Jewelers to rapt attention as she provided an insider’s look at the coveted list.

For certain, the ladies and handful of gents who attended the book signing for her most recent tome, The International Best Dressed List: The Official Story, dressed to the nines. We might guess that a few were even posturing for the style diva’s attention. And we would know why.

A fashion icon in her own right as the reed thin, sophisticated muse of the late designer Geoffrey Beene, Collins was invited into the Best Dressed realm by Lambert, who created the list in 1940. She was named to the list as a Fashion Professional in 1992 and entered the Hall of Fame in 1996.

Today, Collins helms the IBDL enterprise that Lambert bequeathed to Collins, Graydon Carter, Reynaldo Herrera (husband of designer Carolina Herrera) and Aimée Bell. (Lambert died in 2003.) Collins also serves as editor-at-large for Carter’s sexy Air Mail digital weekly, which will announce the 2019 best dressed this month.

Two International Best-Dressed Hall of Famers were in the gathering, brother and sister Robert Sakowitz and Lynn Wyatt, both of whom rose to sartorial fame in the mid 1970s. Wyatt’s photo is in the book and she and Collins spent much of the night autographing, until the last copy was sold. Wyatt cohosted the evening along with Tenenbaum owner Tony Bradfield.

During Collins’ visit, we held a formal Q&A with a standing room only crowd in the jewelry emporium’s salon. Highlights from our discussion:

PaperCity: What was your goal with the book?

Amy Fine Collins: My aim with the book was to inspire, enlighten and entertain aficionados of design and style. I also wanted to preserve the legacy that Eleanor Lambert established and take it into the future.

PC: What is your role today with the International Best-Dressed List?

AFC:  I am a co-owner of the IBDL with three partners — Graydon Carter, Reinaldo Herrera and Aimée Bell. My role is to ensure that the IBDL continues, make sure ballots are sent out every year and that the results are tallied, and then to review these results with my partners before the winners are announced. All year round I am observing fashion, how it is worn, and by whom.

PC: What is the selection process of today?

AFC:  The selection process follows the same rulebook that Eleanor established. Ballots are sent out with suggestions for consideration, the ballots are sent back, the votes are counted and the committee convenes to analyze the results. This year we tried a new technique for reaching voters.  Ballots were posted online at Air Mail, Graydon’s new weekly news magazine.

The voting was open to both Air Mail subscribers and to anyone who wanted to log in with an email address. As always, voters could choose from  the suggested names, or write in candidates of their choice. The system set up within Air Mail automatically calculates the votes as they come in.

PC: How have the honorees changed over the decades?

AFC: The IBDL always reflects the times in which we live. So during the ‘40s people involved in WWII were named. In the ’50s, a new younger glamour came in, connected with the great fashion houses of the day.  During the ’60s, the various cultural upheavals come to the fore — the youth rebellion, the male “peacock revolution,” the civil rights movement.

In the ’70s, a time of recession, the IBDL became slightly more populist, and in the prosperous ’80s, the Reagans and Princess Di set the tone for a new opulence.  The ’90s were a post-modern moment when niche markets, minimalism and even grunge were acknowledged by the IBDL. In the 2000s we see the effect of the global economy brought about by the Internet, the apotheosis of the celebrity, and the increasing fusion of the entertainment and fashion industries.

PC: How did Eleanor feel about personal stylists?

AFC: Eleanor thought stylists were the plague of fashion. She called them termites —  invasive pests who took over the advisory role that designers once had, and who impeded the development of individual, personal style.

PC: Were there bribes offered to get on the list?

AFC: There were bribes offered to get on the list on several occasions that I have heard of, all in Eleanor’s time. But Eleanor was incorruptible. Nobody could buy her.

PC: What does best dressed mean in 2019/2020?

AFC: Best dressed means finding your own style, one that is suitable to your life, and remembering that getting dressed is not only for yourself but also for those who observe you. Just like manners, dressing well is a matter of showing respect for other people. Best Dressed is not about how much money you spend or how much you shop.

We’ve all seen how over-consumption can lead to fashion victimhood. It’s about an attitude, the ease with which you wear your clothes, and about the quality of the contents of  both your closet and your mind.

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