Oh, the lives she’s lived, and what wild times she’s had. An original Girl on the Go, the easier question about the designer Vicky Tiel is: who hasn’t she known? Hers is a life chockablock with living among the Who and the Who of Celebritydom. From Woody to Warren to Goldie to Coco to best friend Elizabeth and more.
Vicky lets everything hang out in her racy autobiography, It’s All About The Dress: What I Learned In 40 Years About Men, Women, Sex And Fashion. Published by St. Martin’s Press, she delivers a roller coaster ride of a read — her total recall stupefies. “In any town, in any club, in any port, or on any yacht, I was there, cocktail in hand.”
Vicky lit a fashion bonfire during the Swinging Sixties. Her eye-catching sexpot dresses were irresistible. Ahead of their time, with savvy Shirlee Fonda buying more than 60 of Vicky’s come-hither creations, and “keeps them all now on two racks at home … in the event Vicky opens her own museum. The fabric and craftsmanship are marvelous. Like couture.” Although not age-appropriate, as Shirlee says, for her to wear today.
Shirlee and beau Rob Wolders joined Vicky, as did Chris Wilding, Sonia and George Segal, Lilly Reeves and Barbara Davis, at the fannybumper book party Carole Wells Doheny hosted in her condominium building’s party room. Shirlee loved Carole’s hot red shoes, and snapped up 10 autographed copies “for friends,” with Vicky swearing she wrote every word. True, her voice is alive on every page. Vicky’s acknowledgements in the preface read like a Hollywood telephone directory, and include Aunt Dora “who taught me there’s always sex.”
Vicky’s friendship with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton dates back to 1965 and Vincente Minnelli’s The Sandpiper, which Elizabeth insisted on filming in Paris. “I want to eat French food,” was her cri de coeur. Concurrently, Vicky was in Paris, costuming What’s New Pussycat with Peter Sellers, Peter O’Toole and Woody Allen, all the while flashing her daring diamond bras and signature miniskirts up-to-whoopee. (During the shoot Woody won a naughty lottery about which girl working on the film would win the jackpot and hit the sack with him; Vicky won, a rendezvous was arranged, but she never showed, and Woody never forgot.)
One look, and Richard Burton wanted Elizabeth in Vicky’s whoopee dresses. “They look so young,” beamed Elizabeth while sneering at the below-the-knee dress she was wearing. “This is old.” Richard clamed that “Elizabeth presumes I find her knees quite ugly,” and asked Vicky to design a “mini mini dress” to show off “Elizabeth’s magnificent ugly knees.” Vicky’s mini prompted the Herald Tribune’s fashion authority Eugenia Sheppard to declare, “Anyone over 25 in the world of fashion might as well drop dead.”
So it was, as they say in the Bible, that Vicky became Elizabeth’s designer and BFF. During one of the famous Taylor-Burton flare-ups when they were filming The Voyage in Sicily with Sophia Loren, Elizabeth vanished. She was furious about Richard’s lusting for Sophia, who slapped him with a no-no, reminding she was Mrs. Carlo Ponti. Not one to be rebuffed, Richard was aware of Sophia’s liaison with Cary Grant, and drunkenly climbed a hotel wall to slip into Sophia’s bedroom. Peering into Sophia’s window, Richard quickly jumped to the ground. Sophia, he told Vicky, was entertaining a gentleman caller. In bed. So: where was Carlo?
Vicky and Elizabeth became business partners, opening a Paris boutique at 21 rue Bonaparte, where it remains today. The string bikinis, caftans, and microminis Vicky created with designing partner Mia Fonssagrives, daughter of the exquisite Swedish model Lisa Fonssagrives, became the rage. Vicky also has exclusive “areas” at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman-Marcus for her collections, says her 11 fragrances have been goldmines, the latest bestseller being Tickled Pink.
She includes “man-pleasing” tips from Elizabeth, Kim Novak, model Dorian Leigh (“every woman should know how to whip up a good vinaigrette”). Along with favorite recipes from celebrated friends and restaurants, including 100-year-old Aimee de Heeren’s secret for longevity. Vicky admires French women – “They eat less, and sip their wine, and enjoy dessert, too.
Advice to Vicky from Kim Novak: “Never wear a bra if you don’t need one … treat your man like you’re his geisha, learn to give him a good manicure and pedicure and a creamy foot massage while wearing a sexy see-through nightgown. The foot is a hot plate for sex.”
Vicky believes that “the sexual revolution exploded in 1956 with Brigitte Bardot when she starred in Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman. There’s never been another sex symbol like her (Brigitte never wore underwear). Actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow and Renee Zellweger with their weights and muscular exercising miss the boat. How many men want to sleep with a bunch of sinewy muscles?”
Who’s sexy today? Vicky cites Gisele Bunchen, who’s married to football star Tom Brady, the quarterback who won three Super Bowls for the New England Patriots. She nods to beauties of the past Ava Gardner, and Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. Scarlett lived as a free spirit that gave her an empowerment over men, and Ava Gardner knew who she was and what she wanted. Angelina Jolie’s sexy, but she’s too thin and so serious.
“Those borrowed clothes that actresses wear on the red carpet? It’s as if they’ve never worn a gown before. Most are ill-fitting … there’s no turn on.”
Vicky lived with Elizabeth and Richard’s makeup artist Ron Berkeley as his wife for 24 years, and they had two sons Richard and Rex. She later married Big “Hammerhead” Mike Hamilton, a shark fisherman from Key West, Florida. In time, they relocated to the Florida/Alabama border, nesting on a two-acre farm (what the natives call a “plantation”), where they grow organic fruits and vegetables. Vicky keeps her apartment in Paris, and a log cabin on a mountain in upstate New York where she writes.
Speaking of football, as Vicky did about Tom Brady, she recollects her days as a cheerleader at the Bethesda, Md. high school. “I planned a trick to help our team win. Three downs and three yards to go, and you pass a rumor that one of the Bethesda cheerleaders isn’t wearing underpants. Our team was in on the trick. We’d do our cheerleader cartwheels, and distract the rival players who were looking for that girl. And that girl was me!”
Curiosity about the pre-nup keeps continental scenesters gossiping about the pending divorce of Mercedes and Texas billionaire Sid Bass, a board member and former major investor in Disney whose voice still “counts for plenty.” Their wedding was a $500,000 affair, and after 23 years, the split was announced this week. Rumors have been ongoing for more than a year. The Iranian-born Mercedes Tavacoli Diba was wed to Ambassador Francis Kellogg, and Sid’s previous marriage was to arts patron Anne Hendricks Bass, a huge supporter of ballet.
Sources say Sid’s tired of the social rumble and its black-tie events, and wants to concentrate on his art. Attending a black-tie charity party some years ago, we met Sid during a dinner break. He was charming. We mentioned we were bypassing dessert and leaving early. “I wish I could,” he sighed. “Why not?” we asked. With a downcast look, he nodded toward Mercedes. Do too many parties wreck a marriage?