With The Artist snagging this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture, interest in silent movies has skyrocketed. But for Ralph Auriemma, creative director of Paul Stuart’s younger-themed collection Phineas Cole, the era of silent films has long been a source of inspiration. Take Phineas Cole’s spring collection, which includes a look inspired by John Gilbert, a silent-movie star of the early 1900s whose real-life story parallels that of the The Artist’s fictional George Valentin. Except for the ending — Gilbert’s wasn’t nearly as happy. The one-time lover of Greta Garbo, he failed to make the jump into “talkies,” spiraled into the depths of alcoholism and died of a heart attack at age 36.
Though Gilbert’s life story became movie material, it’s his wardrobe that connects most with Auriemma. “He was an immaculate dresser,” Auriemma says. Silent-era stars like Gilbert were “larger than life, always superglamorous, and they wore incredible tailored clothing, all custom-made for them. What they wore in the movies were their own personal wardrobes. There were no costume designers back then.” Gilbert in particular was “superinspiring” to the designer, with his slicked-back hair and thin moustache. To pay homage to the star and the fashions of the time, Auriemma whipped up a modern interpretation for spring — a pearl gray smoking jacket, patterned vest and tie.
This story first appeared in the March 19, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.