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When Eleanor Lambert, a towering figure in international fashion for nearly 65 years, died last year at the age of 100, she made a singular request in her will. She bequeathed her famous International Best Dressed List, begun in 1940, to Vanity Fair magazine and its editors.

This remarkable, innovative woman, whose creative marketing flair made American fashion and American designers a force to reckon with — even when the ateliers of Paris ruled the world — was confident that the list she had given birth to and nurtured through the years would live on in good hands after she herself was gone. And when she passed the torch to Vanity Fair, Lambert, a sharp and far-seeing woman, knew exactly what she was doing. The magazine, in its current issue on the stands today, has made sure the torch shines on. In a knowledgeable article, Amy Fine Collins, a VF special correspondent, has captured the powerful, personal, velvet-hand-in-a-velvet-glove that was Eleanor, and described how her famous list brought American fashion to the forefront and kept it there. And starring in the story are spectacular photos of some of the most famous fashion plates in the history of recent style. Their allure fairly breezes from the pages, evoking a nostalgia for the days before blue jeans clung to butts from here to eternity.

This story first appeared in the March 10, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Because so many of these decorative women had and have the means vitally necessary to dress like goddesses, maybe even while wearing their nightgowns, the same names continued to appear and reappear on the list for years on end. So the beady Eleanor devised a method for perpetually recognizing these immortals by creating The Fashion Hall of Fame, realizing it was time to make room for other rich and famous deserving birds of paradise that thousands of influential fashion journalists and society observers had voted for and merited a place on the list.

The Best Dressed Hall of Fame still weighs today and Vanity Fair has elevated such paragons to its 2004 list as the shiningly beautiful Nicole Kidman, majestically tall and ectoplasmically slender, who stops traffic in gems of the couture; stunning Susan Fales-Hill, the author and TV writer, whose sense of color never falters; Maxime de la Falaise, a veteran whose rare and indelible sense of fashion makes her a must; Eliza Reed Bolen, who works for her stepfather, Oscar de la Renta, and whose striking mother, Annette de la Renta, graces the Hall of Fame, and the only man to reach the heights, the famous designer, Tom Ford, now seeking a career in the flicks.

Among the 10 women and 10 men who just have been voted in as members of the 2004 International Best Dressed List are Oprah Winfrey, in for the first time, who says Jackie Onassis and Coco Chanel are her fashion inspirations and Gianfranco Ferré is her favorite designer; another first timer, Cate Blanchett, the arresting actress who says it’s all such fun because she “gets to chew the fat” with people like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen; Kate Moss, the famous model, who loves knee-high boots and hates Uggs; Sofia Coppola, who made her mark at the Academy Awards and is considered Marc Jacobs’ muse; Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, who loves SoHo’s antiques shops, sapphires and rubies, and thinks developing one’s own sense of style is a must; Countess Sally of Albemarle, the New York sculptor, who names Audrey Hepburn as her fashion icon and her favorite pieces of clothing as “a John Galliano very Fifties little black dress and my Yves Saint Laurent wedding dress;” Marina Rust Conner of Vogue, who names her boss, Anna Wintour, as her fashion icon; Jemima Khan, the heiress fashion designer of London and Pakistan, who loves “ridiculously high heels, preferably Manolo or Louboutin;” Aerin Lauder-Zinterhofer of Estée Lauder, whose favorite piece of clothing is a pair of white Levi’s and thinks the greatest handbag of all time is a straw clutch from the Bahamas with her children’s names embroidered on the inside, and Princess Olga of Greece, a scientist who says that her yellow canvas haversack, issued by the British Army, is a handbag for the ages, as are shoes designed by Louboutin. It takes all kinds.

The best-dressed men of 2004 are George Clooney; Jude Law; soccer great David Beckham; Sean Combs; Anderson Cooper, the CNN anchor who is Hall of Famer Gloria Vanderbilt’s son; Brian Williams, the NBC news anchor; superhandsome Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece; Lapo Elkann of Siat; Bernard-Henri Levy, the author and philosopher, and photographer Jonathan Becker.

Of course, one can always remark that all this adoring emphasis on what a handful of people in the limelight of style wear is ever so much piffle in the scheme of things entire. “Fashion is spinach,” a style writer once observed. Well, spinach is good for you. Fashion, like beauty, is its own reward.

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Speaking of smart clothes and the elegant women who wear them, Marthe Keller, the German actress, slipped into a simple black knit top and sleek black cigarette pants to take her bows as the director of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” with maestro James Levine on the podium on a recent night. Among those leading the applause were Nancy Kissinger, in a long black dress with a ruffled top and a sable stole with sable tail fringe and a rust-colored paisley lining; Beverly Sills, all in black with a diamond pin as big as a small sunflower resting on her bodice, and Mercedes Bass, in a long black dress with caviar beading and a crimson bow at the waist, all pointed up with diamond chandelier earrings. She and John Richardson stopped to admire the costumes that Eugene Berman designed for Cesare Valetti, Eleanor Steber and Cesare Siepi to wear in the legendary 1967 production of “Don Giovanni,” which were on display in the glass cases outside the boxes. Most of the audience’s cheers were for the young cast of talented singers, which featured such operatic heroes as Thomas Hampson as the irascible womanizer, Don Giovanni; Rene Pape as his servant, Leporello, and the three beautiful women he was juggling: Donna Anna, sung by Anja Harteros; Donna Elvira, sung by Christine Goerki, and Zerlina, sung by Hei-Kyung Hong. An International Best Dressed Singers List.

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