Born: Washington, D.C., 21 October 1943. Education: Studied fashion design at Pratt Institute, 1961-62, and at Fashion Institute of Technology, 1962-64. Family: Married Ron Berkeley, 1971 (divorced, 1986); children: Rex, Richard. Career: Film costume designer 1960s; settled in Paris, 1964; opened boutique, Mia & Vicky, later renamed Vicky Tiel; introduced fragrance line, 1990; introduced eveningwear bridge line, 1992; launched first men's fragrance, Ulysse, 1998. Address: 159 East 63rd Street, New York, NY 10021 USA. Website: www.vickytiel.com .
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"The Cinderella Treatment," available online at the Washington Post, www.WashingtonPost.com , 9 January 2001.
Vicky Tiel is a unique phenomenon in the international world of fashion. She is perhaps the only American to operate her own fashion design business in Paris and to do so longer than many of her French contemporaries. She holds a unique place in the history of fashion as one of the early boutique/ready-to-wear designers in Paris. Her clothes now occupy a special place between ready-to-wear and couture, both in manufacture and in marketing.
In 1964, having graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Tiel arrived in Paris with the intention of designing costumes for films. During her school years in New York, she had already been actively creating youth-oriented clothes, sold in Greenwich Village boutiques. Her designs in this early period included leather skirts with matching fringe vests and a prototypical miniskirt designed in fall 1963, a full season ahead of Mary Quant's mini, introduced in London in the spring of 1964.
While looking for film work in Paris, Tiel, together with her friend Mia Fonssagrives, created innovative "youth-quaker"-style ready-to-wear. These clothes caused a stir among the fashion press, and in 1965 Tiel and Fonssagrives even appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. At this time, fashion in Paris was still dominated by the great couturiers, and only a few designers, such as Emmanuelle Khanh and Michele Rosier, were exclusively designing ready-to-wear clothes. Subsequently Fonssagrives married couturier Louis Féraud, who, in a highly unusual move, permitted Tiel and Fonssagrives to use sample-hands and seamstresses from his atelier to produce their ready-to-wear for sale in their own boutique called Mia & Vicky.
Fonssagrives later dropped out and the boutique was renamed Vicky Tiel. As a direct result of this series of events, Tiel's clothes have come to hold a unique place between ready-to-wear and couture— they are meticulously crafted clothes of the finest fabrics, sewn in the tradition of haute couture. By 1972 Tiel's clothes had moved away from the radically young, kooky 1960s look toward a traditionally feminine style with a sexy twist, as seen in floral printed garden party dresses closely gathered through the bodice, skinny navy jersey tops with white piqué collar and cuffs, and long skirts worn with ruffled shirts.
By the mid-1970s, dramatically draped dresses in matte jersey had become a major component of Tiel's collection. From this period onward, her style has reflected her point of view that a woman can be glamorous, sexual, powerful, and feminine all at the same time. Her exemplar for the reification of this concept was the Hollywood screen goddess of the 1940s and 1950s. Her clothes appeal to the consumer's basic fantasy desire, a fantasy of glamor and sexuality mediated by quality and a refined sensibility.
In 1978, inspired by a 1940s Frederick's of Hollywood catalogue, Tiel designed a collection with the theme Fun Hollywood Trash but remarked that "the look is done in very good taste and in the most expensive fabrics." The collection featured backless tuxedo dresses and evening dresses of contrasting colored chiffon layered over jersey, creating an iridescent look. Her description of the development of her perfume could also serve as a description of her clothes: "I wanted it to reek of femininity and sensuality, but to be soft and romantic, with subtle, not overpowering sex." More recent designs continued to reflect this point of view, with a large portion of her collection devoted to eveningwear, especially her signature draped jerseys, often enhanced with appliquéd sequins and embroidery.
Tiel's clothes are sold in her own boutique in Paris and in fine department stores and specialty stores where she often makes personal appearances at trunk shows. Special and custom orders account for a large percentage of Tiel's sales, and her personal style of marketing is consistent with the caliber of these uniquely luxurious, sensual clothes. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s Tiel placed an increased emphasis on eveningwear. She is perhaps better known in many circles for this portion of her business than for the ready-to-wear that made her famous. Her gowns, rendered in jersey, organza, and lace, in a rainbow of rich colors as well as elegant black, are often worn by celebrities to high-profile events. She even designed dresses for several of the politically connected who were invited to the balls surrounding the 2001 inaugural of U.S. President George W. Bush. A significant percentage of her clothing business continues to be custom orders.
While her designs are popular among the rich and famous, they are not for everyone. Tiel favors tight-fitting silhouettes best suited to women in top physical condition. Even among this consumer segment, those who choose Vicky Tiel have the confidence to show their bodies to the world. And with the expansion of her fragrance line, Tiel has become more recognized, to many in the general public, for her scents than for her apparel. Manufactured by Five Star Fragrances and distributed by Riviera Concepts, the Parfums Vicky Tiel Paris label is in upscale distribution in outlets such as Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman stores, which are also key customers for her apparel. In 1998 Tiel launched Ulysse, her first men's scent.
Tiel described her women's scents, which include Originale and Sirene, to Women's Wear Daily in June 1998 as "feminine" and "seductive." These words also accurately describe her apparel designs.
—Alan E. Rosenberg;
updated by Karen Raugust