Don’t ask me how I know, I just know,” says luxury vintage purveyor Marilyn Glass of her ability to spot a couture showstopper. “I wouldn’t know how to buy a regular dress,” she adds in a warm voice with an accent that betrays her New York City upbringing. “I deal in the extraordinary. I find the knockouts.”
Glass settled in Los Angeles 30 years ago, with the aim of building a career as an agent in the motion picture industry. She soon realized, however, that her true interests lay elsewhere and transitioned into fashion, at first designing evening wear for her own label.
Her passion for statement dresses led her to explore the history of couture as well as its role as a powerful means of expression. Having immersed herself in extensive research (“I read every book on every designer I could find!” she says), she gravitated toward styling.
Initially working behind the scenes on film and television productions, she quickly established herself as a secret weapon to the stars, outfitting elite clients and celebrities in flashbulb-worthy gowns. Only yesterday, she reveals, she sold an important evening-wear piece — “a dreamy mermaid dress” — to one of the Kardashian sisters.
They are ongoing clients: Kim famously wore a 1983 Thierry Mugler python-print dress sourced from Glass on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon a couple of years ago. A seductive and subtly futuristic classic by the French designer, it struck the perfect balance between fantasy and wearability.
It is this arena of fashion — one that champions audacious, spirit-lifting glamour — that Glass has made her area of expertise. Her superlative collection of occasion wear is dedicated to the rarefied realm of couture. Some pieces are so rare that they’ve been snapped up by museums and fashion houses looking to strengthen their archives, and her finds regularly appear on the red carpet.
Unlike many fashion connoisseurs, Glass is not era-specific, believing that great dressmaking transcends period and style. Her collection celebrates nearly a century of design, encompassing iconic evening wear by early-20th-century innovators such as Madeleine Vionnet, Paul Poiret and Jean Patou, as well as dramatic ensembles by modern-day magicians like Rei Kawakubo, Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen. “I cater to women who love to dress up, who have a deep appreciation of fashion and understand how to bring a design to life in a way that is unique to them,” she says.
Introspective spoke to Glass about her trove of sartorial treasures and her belief that the right dress can have a transformational effect.
What drew you to this particular niche?
Evening wear is so exciting. It can make you feel glamorous, special and rare. Normal, everyday things are easy to shop for, but when it comes to standout, one-of-a-kind gowns, women like a curated space in which to shop.
What are the rarest designs you’ve ever handled?
I had an absolute killer piece from Jean Dessès [the mid-century Paris-based couturier best known for his draped chiffon gowns]. It was from the late ’40s or early ’50s and was very bouffant in shape, inspired by Dior’s New Look. I also had some incredible Fortuny designs, including some magnificent velvet cloaks.
A few years ago, I helped Tom Ford’s curator put the designer’s archive together. I acquired pieces from his early Gucci years and from his time at Yves Saint Laurent. They weren’t widely available on the luxury vintage market because people weren’t keen to give them up. It was a challenge to find them — it still is.
I sold an amazing Gilbert Adrian to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston — a long crepe dress with a rearing stallion on the front designed in the early ’40s. Rudi Gernreich’s iconic 1964 topless bathing suit went farther afield, to the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia. You wouldn’t believe some of the incredible things I used to find in the attics of some of the large houses in Pasadena. It was a real treasure hunt!
The pandemic changed the way people dress, as we began to place a greater emphasis on comfort. Do you anticipate that the pendulum will swing the other way once we exit lockdown?
Soon high-fashion events will be held in person again, and people will want to see and be seen. Pent-up demand for designer evening dresses and gowns is no doubt enormous. When black-tie occasions resume, there will be a rush for something to wear. Something fresh. Something new. My advice to my fashionable clients is to start buying now.
Are there any pieces that you think are unsurpassed as documents of couture?
John Galliano dreamed up some astounding pieces for Christian Dior. For example, I have the coat that opened his Dior Fall 2004 catwalk — an oversize yellow-and-green-checkered floor-length design, so heavy and elaborate. It’s more of an art piece than a wearable item.
Who are the forgotten or unsung heroes of 20th-century fashion?
The ’70s Italian designer Walter Albini authored some amazing things and worked for a variety of houses, including Krizia. Jacques Fath pieces are also very elusive because he died so young. [The Parisian couturier, noted for his artful gowns favored by the likes of Rita Hayworth and Greta Garbo, succumbed to leukemia at the age of 42 in 1954.]
I’d love to find a killer Charles James piece from the early 1950s, like his famous black and white Clover Leaf gown, which they have at the Met. His coats are out of this world.
Who do you think will be tomorrow’s most collectible designers?
I like Rosie Assoulin. I have a monster piece by her called the Show Me the Monet gown. It’s a voluminous floral-print, one-shoulder dress inspired by Monet’s Impressionist style, as the name suggests.
I love, love, love Gareth Pugh. I don’t mean the regular stuff you can easily find. What I look for are the design jewels. I have two dresses by him — strong, structural evening-wear pieces from recent collections that are traffic-stopping.
I’d also say Romanian designer Maria Lucia Hohan should be on your radar. She dreams up these seductive, fairy-tale evening dresses that are well priced and very popular with women who love to dress up. There’s nothing she designs that I don’t like.
Finally, what is it that makes a dress special?
It’s a combination of style, cut, movement, feel and the confidence these factors provoke or the attitude they bring out in you. A dress is never supposed to wear you; you are supposed to wear the dress. When a woman is wearing a beautiful gown, everybody stops to look. It’s that magic combination. You just have to find it.