Anyone who watched the models lockstep down Marc Jacobs’s runway this past season, with their severe dark pouts and piled-high updos, may have recognized the stamp of a certain iconic fashion editor. And, in fact, Jacobs confirmed that none other than Diana Vreeland — one of the most noted eccentric dressers in recent memory — inspired the eclectic looks.
In an era where high-school-age street-style stars and teens with exaggerated lip liner rule the style world, citing an eccentric as your inspiration is a bit of a Gobstopper-size cocktail-ring-wearing middle finger to fashion’s youth obsession. Jacobs is far from the first designer to call out a kooky gal as his inspiration — while at Dior, John Galliano did collections inspired by the Beales of Grey Gardens and Millicent Rogers. And Gucci’s Hard Deco collection was inspired by Nancy Cunard, the shipping heiress known for wearing generous armfuls of bracelets. Last year, J.Crew even released a perfume inspired by Peggy Guggenheim, while Harper’s Bazaar put Guggenheim’s signature crazy sunglasses on Lara Stone for a Venice-set shoot. And the blog Advanced Style runs on a very specific fuel — eccentrically dressed elderly women in all their couldn’t-give-a-damn plumage.
Emerging New York designer Charles Harbison, who recently dressed Beyoncé for the Yeezy Season 1 show, has devoted collections to a range of muses, from Sade to Pocahontas. His spring 2015 collection was inspired by Nica Rothschild, the heiress who became a patron to jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. When a stylist friend brought her name up, Harbison began to research Rothschild and quickly became obsessed. “I love really forward-thinking, intellectual, eccentric women,” he says. “There’s the reckless abandon with which she attacked the later part of her life that I thought was amazing. I had already been toying around with jazz references or something zoot-suit-like, and then I found her. She had an intriguing beauty that I really responded to.” The result: asymmetrical coats and dresses bedecked with mismatched rosettes worthy of a Jazz Age beauty.
While combing through the archives is one way to find a muse, other designers have forged partnerships of sorts with living eccentrics — think of Tilda Swinton and Haider Ackermann, Björk and Marjan Pejoski, or Daphne Guinness and Alexander McQueen. And the obsession is mutual — Swinton once told W that wearing Ackermann’s designs “is like being cooked for by someone who knows what you like to eat.” Wearing one designer head-to-toe isn’t in line with these women’s M.O.s, however, so they’re always sure to mix it up, whether with an oversize, garbage-bag-style skirt (Swinton) or a ribbon tied around one’s neck (Guinness).
Click through the slideshow to see an assortment of our favorite eccentric dressers, old and new.