Lauren Bacall (center) graced the Philadelphia Museum of Art long before her sartorial donations. Here, she views Picasso’s Three Musicians (1921) with Director Henri Gabriel Marceau, in 1958.
Betty Joan Perske’s life changed the instant she met legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland: Seemingly overnight, the Bronx-born beauty went from drama student to Harper’s Bazaar cover model. That first and only assignment became a launch pad for the young actress’s career. She changed her name and transformed into the Hollywood movie icon we recognize today: Lauren Bacall.
She acquired a wardrobe befitting a true star, filled with a veritable archive from the era’s top fashion designers. In later years, she gifted many of these pieces to museums, including a Pucci ensemble to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1970. “Lauren Bacall adored Pucci’s clothes and wore his designs consistently from the mid-1950s through the 1960s,” says Dilys E. Blum, the Jack M. and Annette Y. Friedland Senior Curator of Costume and Textiles for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Bacall donated her favorite Pucci designs to various museum costume collections, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection.”
The outfit given to the Art Museum was part of Pucci’s “Siciliana” Fall/Winter 1955-56 collection and included slim pants, short-shorts, a bikini top, and a tailored long-sleeved shirt in one of the designer’s signature prints. Perhaps it was her 1958 visit to the museum that inspired Bacall’s sartorial gift more than a decade later.
Though little is known of the details surrounding her visit, she spent much of her time wandering the exhibitions with Museum Director and Curator of Paintings Henri Gabriel Marceau. However, her generous donations speak volumes to her character and dedication to the arts. “Lauren Bacall was the woman we all wanted to be,” says Blum. “Intelligent, strong, independent, and sexy. She had a presence and elegance one never sees today.” Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., 215-763-8100