The whirlwind speed of fashion hasn’t deterred the iconic Sixties model Peggy Moffitt from getting back into the game with a signature activewear label.
With her 76th birthday in sight, she sounds spry, punctuating much of what she says — and critiques — with laughter. But Moffitt said she seldom ventures into Los Angeles, preferring that her design team periodically camp out for the afternoon in her dramatic all-white living room overlooking the Hollywood Hills. “I don’t have a general opinion about anything. Give me a subject and I will give you an opinion,” she said.
Feeling “fair-to-middling” on this afternoon, Moffitt touched upon Los Angeles’ changing landscape, “I was born in a Hollywood hospital and I live in the Hollywood Hills, but I traveled a little bit around the world in between. I don’t really go down the hill very much. I do realize there are a lot of freeways, which I don’t like. I don’t drive, so I don’t have to take them.”
Her colorful, intercontinental life inspired the debut collection’s five high-tech groups — Dharma, Freedom, Paris, Grande Prix and Playa. “The lack of not being in things” was reason enough to return to fashion, she said. The collection consists of things that Moffitt and the late fashion designer Rudi Gernreich were interested in — the body, colors and clothes that actually fit. “I always wanted to be a dancer. I have always been interested in movement more than the old-fashioned thing of having to fit yourself into somebody’s preconceived form rather than have your body be the form.”
Studying dance influenced her taste a great deal, as did acting, which led to roles in “Blow-Up” and other films. “I studied ballet, which is what I really wanted to do. But then I went to the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. There, one of our teachers was Martha Graham. There was ballet and there was mime,” Moffitt recalled. “There were also fabulous acting teachers, too — Sanford Meisner, Sydney Pollack, elocution and all kinds of stuff. It was a two-year school.
“I didn’t think Martha Graham was a very good teacher at all, because she was always performing being Martha. She was always sort of, like, ‘This is how you look being agonizing.’ She had no rapport really with a bunch of people who wanted to be in the theater. She just came and was Martha Graham all over the place without teaching,” Moffitt said. “There were other teachers of dance who weren’t very famous at all, who were much better teachers. Isn’t there an expression, ‘Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach,'” she laughs, “which means you understand it but you don’t do it as well as some people.”
As for how Pollack inspired his acting students or helped them along, Moffitt said, “I can’t tell you how gifted people are able to do that. He was terribly, terribly gifted. Sydney Pollack was a genius and he was brilliant. He died so early, which was so terribly sad,” referring to his death in 2008 at age 73.
As an actress, Moffitt also appeared in “You’re Never Too Young,” “Who Are You Peggy Magoo?” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” although the esteemed director was no longer calling the shots when she appeared in an episode of the TV show.
After somebody suggested Moffitt, who always loved clothes, give modeling a whirl, she was hired as a fit model by the designer Gus Tassell. His friend Gernreich came to see one of Tezzell’s shows, and Moffitt became somewhat friendly with Gernreich, partially due to their running in the same circle. “God, it was so long ago. Rudi had a line of clothes that was made in Japan that was considered young. I think that he hired me because I was young, But the clothes that he did, there wasn’t anything childish about them,” she said.
“He once said to me, ‘You inspire me when I don’t want to be inspired,’” she said. “He had been criticized for something from a collection. Well, he couldn’t help being inspired, right? Neither could I. But I was not inspired to go into showrooms with others, because nobody had that kind of talent. I did do photography because that was more important.”
Widely known as Gernreich’s muse, Moffitt’s late husband, Bill Claxton, a well-regarded photographer, also joined in on their collaboration, most famously for images of his wife topless in a Gernreich-designed monokini that were published in 1964. “Everybody published it — to the extent where it drove me nuts. They would choose awful pictures that weren’t good. It was just impossible. I turned to my husband and said, ‘We’re doing this the wrong way.’ Hunting magazines and idiotic magazines were publishing the topless bathing suit photos and the vast amount were choosing dumb pictures, not the ones that should have been published,” she said. “After a while, I said, ‘This has got to stop. I want to choose one picture and that’s it. And do-your-own-fishing magazine will have to have this picture.’ I kind of just stumbled on making something an icon.”
Moffitt oversees Claxton’s estate but current photography and fashion hold little interest. “I like photography, but I don’t think much is happening in it right now. I don’t think anything is happening in fashion really. I think fashion is dead. It’s the way I look at it. I feel that way because of my taste. I don’t think there is any fashion,” Moffitt said. “Right now I’m wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt, and so is the rest of the world. I like whichever brand fits me. I’m sorry to be so negative.
“Fashion fell off a long time ago. I can’t tell you to the minute that it died. Probably when everybody started wearing pants,” Moffitt said. “If you’re going to the Academy Awards, you get all dressed up in a fantasy thing. But just to live, I don’t know what a secretary or someone who works in an office wears, probably pants. Fashion is really dead except for these sort of dream occasions or fantasy.”
That isn’t stopping her from getting into it.
Solely distributed on Moffitt’s e-commerce site, the line ranges in price from $33 to $133 and in keeping with her “freedom, form and function” philosophy is offered in XS, S, M and L. Shoppers will find yoga pants with mesh inserts, color block capri pants, a zip-front white mesh hoodie and silk modal T-shirts, among other options. In the months ahead, swimwear certainly could be an appropriate line extension, said Moffitt, who counts on Arina Gasanova as creative director.
With her severely asymmetrical bob and near-harlequin eye makeup, the whippet thin Moffitt brought more to modeling than an unmistakable appearance. Her arts-inspired approach could be a tutorial of sorts for others. “I don’t think I modeled like other people. I knew how to move in a different way. I used to change the way I walked by what I wore. If it was a little girl dress, I might walk pigeon-toed or I would often spoof it. If it was a men’s gangster suit, I might do it in a very girly way. I liked to have fun with clothes,” Moffitt said. “But most of my modeling was photography, which is what I liked best. I could make different shapes, which you can’t do when you’re walking. I could get in positions that were static positions. That was like dance in photography.
“If you’re on the floor with your knees overhead or something, you’re static and you could compose something in a picture. In a showroom, somebody is looking at the back of you while somebody else is looking at the front of you. Because Rudi’s clothes often had a ‘wow’ factor, you didn’t know until the model turned around there was this whole other thing happening. I would sort of choreograph so that people would sort of gasp when I turned. But you can’t do that in a photograph because it’s kind of like a painting. It’s 2-D.”
A self-described “bookaholic,” Moffitt has “tons and tons of books” and remains very interested in photography. She added, “Across from me is ‘The Charlie Chaplin Archives.’ It’s a great big, huge book that you have to have an enormous table for. I like great big coffee table books — books that remind you. I don’t read novels. Well, it’s visual stuff that I’m interested in.”
In addition to fashion, Moffitt isn’t so high on the state of magazines either. “I read magazines a great deal. I’m trying to fall out of love with magazines because I don’t think they do much. Because I’m very interested in fashion, I take Vogue. There are about 10 pages of editorial and the rest of it is ads,” Moffitt said. “People [magazine] was fun for a while. I don’t think it is anymore, because I don’t think anybody’s interesting anymore. I don’t think anybody’s doing anything anymore.”
Ditto for designers, fashion photographers and actresses with style. Only Audrey Hepburn and Vivian Leigh ranked with Moffitt for their style. “I was married to a very brilliant photographer and he, obviously, was my favorite. I loved [Richard] Avedon. I liked Hiro and [Irving] Penn. I liked the usual suspects like everyone else. The brilliant ones I loved. Did I ever work with Penn? I think I did and he was a jerk. It doesn’t matter. They’re good,” she said.
Apart from being able to live without arthritis or diabetes, Moffitt said her wish list includes a sable brown Burmese male cat with green eyes to replace her last one “Banjo,” which also had a brother, “Bebop,” at one time. “I would like to fall in love again. I miss my husband. That would be nice to have that kind of relationship.” she said of Claxton, who died in 2008.
This spring’s launch of her signature activewear will inevitably remind some of her modeling days. If it does, Moffitt said, “I hope they liked it first of all. Photography and showroom [modeling] are totally different. I hope they recognize the quality, comfort, taste and humor. Humor can be in the garment, in the person wearing it or the way your spirit is. And remember me fondly.”