Sequins, power Jackets, shoulder pads, big earrings, lipstick and an LBD!: How to be a fashion icon at 85 by Joan Collins
- Dame Joan Collins, 85, is one of the faces of Kurt Geiger’s latest campaign
- She explained how she stamped her identity on Dynasty’s Alexis in 1981
- She says visiting Paris inspired Alexis to be the epitome of haute couture
- She recalls growing up wanting to be a fashion designer and desiring to be a boy
- Joan also shared Christmas party advice including no tattoos and lots of sequins
- She credits her mother for instilling her with basic life principles
The first time I met Dame Joan Collins was a few years ago at, of all things, a political fundraiser.
I introduced myself and said how much I admired her, and then, before I knew it, I found myself rather boldly inviting her to dinner. To my consternation, she accepted. It turned out to be quite a memorable evening, not necessarily for all the right reasons. In a desperate attempt to impress, I decided to serve quail’s eggs with the drinks. Only I failed to cook them sufficiently, with the result that the first one Dame Joan bit into exploded all down her beautiful leopard print blouse.
We were only just recovering from that minor catastrophe when my son, who must have been nine or ten at the time, came down in his pyjamas to say hello to our famous guest.
His opening gambit was: ‘You don’t look bad for 80,’ which, while delivered with the best intent, was not, perhaps, the most tactful thing to say.
Joan Collins, 85, (pictured) who is currently the face of Kurt Geiger spoke to Sarah Vine about her views on fashion and stamping her identity on Dynasty’s Alexis
Sensing this, he tried to make amends by telling her he thought she was brilliant in the Snickers advert (which she was starring in at the time).
I have not seen her much since then, but Dame Joan has gone from strength to strength, seemingly ever more in demand for her inimitable style, class and waspish wit.
Our lunch today — at Claridge’s Hotel in Mayfair (where else?!) — is apropos her latest foray into fashion. She is one of the faces of the latest Kurt Geiger campaign and hard to miss this winter, smouldering on billboards in a cape and a corsage and a very racy pair of red stilettos.
She may be 85, but she has the legs of a 25-year-old.
‘That’s what Percy always says,’ she laughs, handing over her phone and coat to her husband.
We air-kiss. Her lips are red, those famous green, wide-set eyes expertly made-up by her own fair hand. Her ears are extravagantly bejewelled with crimson gems (real or paste, I cannot tell) and her fingers are dripping with rings.
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I compliment her on her dress, a black fitted floral number. ‘Oh, thank you: it’s Erdem!’ she exclaims, as she slides into the bench opposite me, scattering mint-coloured cushions in her wake.
‘I need a light,’ she says. I half- expect her to spark-up a cheroot, Alexis Colby style, but no, she’s just struggling to see the menu in the gloaming of the restaurant. ‘Would you mind if I ordered?’ she says. ‘I’m ravenous!’
Not surprising: I would be too if I had Dame Joan’s schedule. I know women half her age who would struggle to remain upright.
Currently she’s not long off a flight from LA, where she’s been filming for the hugely successful Netflix series, American Horror Story. In the new year she’s on tour with a new one-woman show, Joan Collins Unscripted.
At a time of life when most women could be forgiven for wanting to spend the afternoon snoozing on the sofa, Dame Joan could hardly be busier.
Joan (pictured in 1985 with Dynasty co-star Michael Nader) had just been to Paris when she decided how she wanted to play Alexis
It helps that her uncompromising glamour and dedication to elegance also happens to coincide with the fashion mood of the moment. Our fashion editor assures me Joan circa Dynasty 1981 is the look for Christmas 2018 — think animal prints, sequins, big earrings, shoulder pads.
As iconic as that look is, it might never have happened had it not been for the woman herself who, right from the start, stamped her identity on the character. The show’s stylist, Nolan Miller, had a very different vision for Alexis.
‘Oh, Nolan,’ she says, her eyes lighting up. ‘Nolan was like a brother to me. When I first met him he said: “We want you in little short tweed jackets, with little Peter Pan collars and little pillbox hats like Jackie Kennedy.” And, I said: “I’m not doing that. That character is not like that.” I said: “No, I have to be haute couture, I have to be.”
‘I’d just been to Paris and seen the Pierre Cardin collection, or Yves St Laurent . . . I had a very good idea of how I wanted to play Alexis from the moment I read the part. She is the epitome of haute couture, slightly over the top.
‘But, of course, this was the decade of slightly more than slightly,’ she adds. ‘I mean, people used to wear . . .’ she pauses, searching for the words. ‘Right, OK’ she says, indicating her own outfit. ‘So I’m just wearing this cardigan today, but in the Eighties I would have worn a bra underneath with built-in shoulder pads.’
I can’t imagine Dame Joan in Peter Pan collars and pastels. Although she is feminine, there is nothing simpering or girly about her. All her life, both on screen and off, she has been the epitome of the strong yet sexy woman, confident, empowered, in control.
If she has weakness or moments of self-doubt, she rarely shows them. And as honest as she is about the darker moments in her life, she would never indulge in public displays of self-pity.
Dame Joan (pictured with her daughter Katy) says she was living in a caravan outside the hospital after her daughter was injured by a car in 1980
And there have been dark moments. Four failed marriages; personal tragedy when Katy, her youngest daughter by her third husband, American businessman Ron Kass, was hit by a car aged eight in 1980 and left with brain injuries; and, of course, the death, in 2015 from breast cancer, of her younger sister Jackie Collins.
‘I remember watching Dallas when Katy was in hospital,’ she says. ‘I was living in a caravan outside because she needed me to be there and talk to her.
‘And, every night at seven o’clock, I would say to the nurses, or to Ron: “Right, I’m going off to the caravan to watch Dallas.” And, I watched it, and I had a bottle of wine — which I would swig from the bottle — and I would smoke about ten cigarettes. And I used to think, I would really love to play a role like J.R. Ewing.’
Not long after, her wish came true when she landed the role of Alexis. It was the best and the worst of times.
‘My personal life was a total shambles,’ she says. ‘I had a recovering brain-injured child. I had a husband who had . . . well, it’s not a secret . . . drug problems. I had a lot of financial problems.’
And the role itself was fun, but tough. ‘To be perfectly honest, I hated being painted as this venal, you know, bitch. Alexis wasn’t like that. She was a modern woman, who, today, would have been an empowered woman, a powerful woman.
Joan (pictured with her husband Percy) revealed she wasn’t allowed to keep the clothes she wore for Dynasty
‘She used her sexuality and her brain to get what she wanted. Nobody knew who he was at the time, but I based her on American businessmen like Donald Trump.’
What the 45th President of the United States might make of the fact that one of the most terrifying characters in TV history was based on him is anybody’s guess, but it shows just how ahead of her time Dame Joan was, particularly in terms of equality.
Hers is the kind of feminism I most admire: no excuses, no special pleading, just beat the men at their own game — and use all the means at your disposal, including sexuality, while never losing sight of your identity as a woman.
It’s so refreshingly different from today’s pervasive culture of victimhood. Does Joan have a view on #MeToo?
‘Knee him in the groin.’
Quite. We return to fashion. The clothes she wore for Dynasty, did they let her keep them?
‘Of course not,’ she says. ‘But Linda [Evans, who played Krystle Carrington] and Diahann Carroll [Dominique Deveraux in the show], who is a great friend, and I used to wear them sometimes.
‘I took a lot of the earrings. I think these are from Dynasty.’
She removes a red bejewelled number and places it on the table. ‘I think they’re Dolce.’
Joan (pictured in 1985) says she wanted to become a fashion designer in her teens and would design for her mother and aunt
‘Yes, well, you didn’t steal them,’ she continues. ‘I would say to Nolan: “I love the pink dress, can I have it?”
‘Last night, I wore an Yves St Laurent jacket and I think it was bought for Dynasty. I nicked it. I’ve kept it in the back of my closet. Every Christmas I bring it out for an airing for a couple of days. I have quite a few things like that.’
I suggest that’s one advantage of being Joan Collins — people give you stuff.
‘It doesn’t always happen, darling,’ she says before quipping, in the direction of her agent, and only half-joking: ‘I need some more Kurt Geiger boots, white.’
‘I don’t rely on a stylist,’ she adds. ‘You see a lot of wonderful- looking actresses — and I’m not going to name any names — and they can look wonderful on the red carpet, but they don’t know how to dress themselves.
‘I do my own make-up, my own hair and I know what suits me. I’ve known that ever since I started designing for my mother and my aunts when I was 14 or 15. I wanted to become a fashion designer.’ So why didn’t she?
‘At that age you don’t know what you want to be. I changed my mind all the time; at one point I wanted to be a boy, you know.’
Well, I suggest, things might have been quite different now.
‘I know,’ says Dame Joan, ‘I would have been straight to the hormone place!’
Joan (pictured as a child) credits her mother for instilling basic principles in her for good health including the importance of exercise and good nutrition
But seriously: ‘I remember distinctly thinking Mummy has to put on all these things,’ she says. ‘A roll-on, then suspenders, then stockings which were always laddering, and had to have the seam exactly at the back of her leg. Then this pointy bra, then the slips. And Daddy just put on a pair of slacks and a shirt, and I thought, it’s so much nicer to do that.’
The way she talks about her mother is interesting. It’s clear that she was a great influence on the young Dame Joan and her sister Jackie.
She credits her with instilling in her the basic principles of enduring good health, including the importance of exercise and good nutrition. But there is a bittersweet tone to her reminiscences of a woman who was ‘totally stressed out’ by the war, struggling to raise two children (Dame Joan’s brother was born just after the war) in a climate of insecurity and fear, while her father was a theatrical agent.
They were evacuated ‘at least ten times’ and her mother always came with them.
Perhaps it explains why Joan herself is such a dedicated parent to her three children, why she always assumed financial and emotional responsibility, carried the can when relationships broke down.
Certainly she is not a woman inclined to give up or compromise, hence her seemingly inexhaustible work ethic.
Dame Joan (pictured) believes the women who got us through the war need support today
‘I have a lifestyle that I got very accustomed to when I was quite young, and I want to continue it,’ she says. ‘Robert Wagner said to me once, when I was doing Hart To Hart: “JC — he always called me JC — have you got f*** you money?”
‘I said: “What’s f*** you money?” He said: “Enough to cover you when you’re not working.” So, I made a decision that I had to work.’
Dame Joan is lucky that she lives in an age that seems to appreciate more and more the talents of older women.
Until not so very long ago, an actress was considered washed up after 35. All that expertise and wisdom, wiped out by a few wrinkles. But nowadays, women reach 50 and start to think, gosh, here I am, career of my own, children a bit older — and I have choices.
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘I can have sex without getting pregnant!’
‘I remember Mummy taking me to RADA when I had just turned 16 and looking so mumsy and old. I worked out she was probably in her early 40s, but she’d put on too much weight and she hadn’t changed her style. I think the war had worn her down.’
She pauses, looks thoughtful. ‘Those women, you know, are the people today who need support. They are the generation who got us through the war. Anyway . . .’
Joan (pictured with her husband) advises against wearing jeans or showing tattoos at Christmas celebrations
One last question: Christmas. Given she’s the current queen of fashion, what are her Christmas party dressing tips?
‘No jeans, no tattoos and lots of sequins,’ she replies, quick as a flash. ‘Wear a little black dress, a pair of lovely earrings or a little jacket. Women need to wear more lipstick — women are scared of lipstick.
‘And don’t be a bore if you’re going to a party. I gave a party in LA for Percy’s birthday in October. And somebody said: “My wife can’t come, can I bring da da da,” and it was an actress, and I said: “Well, if you must.” And she didn’t say a word all night and sat in the middle of the room.
‘If you’re going to go to a party, you have to make an effort, otherwise don’t go.’
And with that, I take my leave. I put on my scarf, a ludicrously over-the-top faux fur number and Dame Joan’s eyes light up.
‘Ooh,’ she says, ‘that’s fabulous — where’s it from?’
‘Zara,’ I reply, and she launches into a small monologue about the wonders of Zara. I offer the scarf to her.
‘No, I couldn’t possibly,’ she says, but I insist. She throws it over her shoulders and it is instantly transformed from cheap Zara to haute couture. Class, see: you can’t put a price on it.
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