Saturday, February 23, 2013

Journey to Africa and it's influences -

Travilla's love of travel can easily be traced back to his maternal grandmother, Estelle Ryan Snyder, who had done the same with his mother Bessie. Estelle included her daughter at a very early age in her journeys as one of the first female travel journalists, taking her by train to California and then Seattle for the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. The family also traveled to Canada and Germany and many U.S. cities. In the late 1920s, Estelle took an extended trip to Africa where she took thousands of photographs and shot thousands of feet of film. In later years, often accompanied by her grandson Billie, Ryan would give lectures while showing photographs and film footage at churches and community halls around Los Angeles. 

Grand-mama circa 1910
Several years later, she would also take him on a four week vacation to Hawaii and the South Sea Island of Pago, Pago which as stated in the Ann Sheridan entry, got him his job at Warner Brothers. The second woman was Ann Sheridan. "Aunt Annie" had been a long time friend who not only got him established at Warner Brothers, but also helped him launch his private "Travilla" label. In Fall of 1957 Sheridan returned from Kenya where she had been filming "Woman and the Hunter" and began a series of paintings based on what she'd seen. Only reigniting Travilla's desire to experience the Dark Continent for himself.

Flocks of airborne birds create the pattern for Ginger Roger's gown in 1952's "Dreamboat."
Tiger print dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in "The Seven Year Itch" and featured on the side of Soundstage 10 on the Fox lot.
But starting a design house takes time and it wasn't until late 1960 Travilla left for a months-long research trip to both Greece and Africa. Heading to Khartoum and the village of Torit near the Belgian Congo, home of the Letuka warriors,

Travilla poses with natives during trip.
Travilla packed several cameras, and also "loaded up with all the odd costume jewelry in my fitting rooms to barter with the natives in Arica; especially the glitter pieces - an assortment of rhinestones, fake rubies, emeralds, etc." But this created trouble. "I had this junk in small sacks, and it caused a delay at the Greek customs. For a brief time I was suspected as a jewelry smuggler. But it really paid off where I doled it out in exchange for taking pictures. Most of the tribes, even in the remote villages are very hep about revenue of one kind and another."

African inspired fashion sketches circa 1963
From the Samburu tribe in the northern frontier of Kenya, he came back with the "merkcani" a single piece of cotton cloth that "after endless years of practice in draping and the tieing a single piece of the cloth as his sole garment, the Samburu achieves great grace and dignity with his mantle." "They are stunning people with chocolate skin and the women's necks are elongated from wearing many rings of necklaces and they carry themselves with great elegance."

The "Samburu" with earring detail.
Travilla created his version of the "Samburu" for the Spring Summer 1963 collection of which "I have tried to translate into this collection the purity of line and the surprising elegance found in the centuries-old methods of draping fabrics used by the natives of the dark continent." He even created special jewelry, two inch bar-shaped with textured gold and pearl tips which seemed to pierce the ear lobe, similar to the carved spears with which the Samburu actually did pierce ears with.


Various African-inspried fashion sketches 1950s-80s
Travilla again introduced an unusual piece of jewelry in 1968 with his "face leash" - a jeweled, rhinestone band across the chine and forehead, held secure by looping it over each ear.

Face leash in sketch on right, which is a retail version using the same lace as his "Julia" dress, but reversing the placement.
Another Face Leash sketch with model wearing finished garment and jewelry.
Travilla's private label and his work in both film and television kept his busy over the next few years, but he always felt the pull from half-way across the world, telling the L.A. Times in September 1969. "Did you ever hear of Jean Pierre Hallet? If I were anybody else, I'd want to be him--witter, adventurer, explorer, anthropologist. I've met and entertained nearly everybody--presidents, world leaders, great stage and movie figures. I wish I could go to Africa or maybe Pitcairn Island."


"Valley of the Dolls," Diahann Carroll in "Julia," and Jack Cassidy in "He and She."
Actress Julie Sommars from "The Governor and J.J."  in 1970 TV Guide fashion layout.
Travilla would meet Hallet within a year as a January 1971 L.A. Times article states "Travilla introduced his new friend Hallet who brought from Katanga a jewelry collection of 500 hand wrought copper and malachite pieces. He also mentioned his next trip to the Congo to stay with the pygmies along with Hallot, a blood brother to them despite his 6ft 6 inch height."


Outfit from 1971 which is heavily inspired by the intricate collars worn by tribe members.

Two more examples from the late 1960s.
Travilla returned to Africa many times, especially for extended periods during his four-year self-imposed exile from the fashion and film industry in the mid-1970s.

Palm Springs Exhibit 2009
Palm Springs Exhibit 2009
Close-ups of Travilla's artwork on display in Palm Springs 2009
The two gold framed photographs in the middle photo above were proudly displayed in his downtown studio as mentioned in a June 1990 L.A.Times article. And the close-ups of his more personal art shows how much he loved his experiences there aside from his talents as a fine-artist. In fact he told a reporter in September 1990 "I go to really rough places in Africa. The people are beautiful--the colors, the warriors, the beads. The more primitive the people, the better."

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