Main Image: Ella Fitzgerald from the William P. Gottlieb collection at the Library of Congress (public domain)
When Annie Leibowitz shot the famous American Express portrait that placed the icon in a tailored tomato-red dress, matching pillbox hat and her own vintage Don Loper leopard coat beside a classic Mercedes, aesthetics collided.
Fitzgerald, as she made her way, learned what worked -– and worked to take what she had and make it an asset. Ella sought designers who understood that glamour and beauty came in all sizes. They emphasized her hips, décolletage and shoulders, using luxury to create delight. For example, the pictures of her and her friend Billie Holiday together in their furs are pure little-girl glee. For Holiday, who brokered pain and sensuality, and Fitzgerald, whose joy cloaked a tough past, the extravagant clothing was as thrilling to their inner children as the grown women they were. As the '40s turned to the '50s, Fitzgerald turned to Zelda Wynn Valdes, a breakthrough African American designer who believed dresses should heighten the woman and celebrate her attributes. The pair forged an alliance of charmeuse, hammered satin, chiffon, burned-out velvet, knits, embroidery, sequins and expert tailoring. Often credited for designing, but certainly sewing, many of Playboy's iconic original Bunny costumes, the woman who created freakum dresses for Dorothy Dandridge, Josephine Baker, Mae West and Marlene Dietrich long before Beyoncé consolidated the concept became Fitzgerald's go-to couturier...
Continue Reading The Joy Of Ella Fitzgerald's Accessible Elegance on NPR.