Rabbits, Rivers, and Wrap Dresses: 5 Life Lessons from Designer Vicky Tiel

Although I hadn’t heard of designer Vicky Tiel before picking up her memoir It’s All About the Dress (which comes out tomorrow), I can now say with certainty that she is a total badass.

It’s All About the Dress goes through Tiel’s life as a Parsons student who got an F in fashion to a promising young designer who traveled the world with friend Elizabeth Taylor to a sex kitten who hooked up or almost hooked up with Warren Beatty, Miles Davis, and Woody Allen. Tiel’s writing style is zesty and spirited, plus contains lots of life advice from a lady who has been there and done that. Here are five of the most valuable lessons I learned:

  • There are three kinds of (straight) men.
    Tiel divides all the men in her life into one of three categories: rabbits, non-rabbits, and snake rabbits. Rabbits are dudes who love you and marry you but screw around when they’re on tour or on location. If you want to stick with a rabbit, you have to be willing to look the other way or have what the French call “an arrangement.” Snake rabbits are guys who are so good at having double lives that you spend 20 years with them before realizing they’ve been entertaining a series of mistresses. Non-rabbits are monogamous dudes. If you find a non-rabbit who likes you, cling on for dear life.
  • Don’t change yourself for a man.
    In one section of the book, Tiel talks some smack about Jane Fonda. She writes that Jane is the sort of woman who takes on a new persona for every man in her life, getting involved in politics because of Donald Sutherland and taking sexually adventurous movie roles because of Roger Vadim. Eventually, all the relationships fizzled because Jane could never be herself. Tiel is much more fond of Goldie Hawn‘s approach, which is to be utterly yourself and then see which men respond favorably.
  • Always take credit for what belongs to you.
    Tiel claims to have invented the miniskirt, although Mary Quant usually gets the credit. She also says that she and several other designers were making wrap dresses before Diane von Furstenberg “invented” them. Tiel points out that no one can give you credit for your ideas if you don’t stand up for yourself, and that you have to be your own biggest advocate. It was this self-confidence that helped her stay a consistently popular and successful designer even as time and her fortunes changed.
  • There will always be another river.
    After a messy divorce, Tiel lost her home and had to deal with the end of a long-lasting relationship and how it affected her two sons. At first, she thought she’d never recover, but she soon realized that her life had taken her from the Left Bank of Paris to a Floridian farm on the Gulf, and there would always, always be another river.
  • The most important thing in life, behind sex, is food.
    Do not read this book on an empty stomach, because the descriptions of marathon French meals and homemade Thanksgiving dinners will make you drool all over the pages. Tiel’s best friend from Parsons and eventual business partner/co-designer, Mia Fonssagrives, was the daughter of supermodel Lisa Fonssagrives and taught Vicky her mother’s famous apple pie recipe. It’s on the next page, if you want to make some while standing around looking fabulous and having perfect eyebrows.
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