Before there were influencers, there were people who acted as “muses” to fashion designers and photographers. Amy Fine Collins is one of those people. Collins worked at House & Garden, Harper’s Bazaar, and finally Vanity Fair, where she spent over 20 years writing about style, culture, and the fashion industry. Designer Geoffrey Beene considered her a close friend and muse until his death in 2004. She’s one of four people Eleanor Lambert bequeathed her infamous International Best Dressed List to and as one would imagine, she’s just as particular about her own personal style as she is about what makes it on the list.
“There’s also something very graphic and definite about my look,” Fine Collins said, backstage just before her live interview with Fern Mallis, the creator of New York Fashion Week and host of Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis at 92Y in New York City.
“It’s not quite severe but it’s not soft and gentle,” she continued. “I’m told often that people find me intimidating. My thought is: Why are you so insecure? It’s just an effect that I can have. But, I often feel like I look like a drawing.”
Fine Collins transitioned her glamorous role at Vanity Fair during Condé Nast’s glory days into an editor-at-large position at Airmail, the newsletter of former Editor-in-chief Graydon Carter. She also wrote a book, The International Best Dressed List: The Official Story. So what happens to the “Best Dressed List” in the age of Instagram? Is it better to just go viral? “I think people want to become memes,” she said. “It happened to me one year at the Costume Institute.”
It was 2017. She was wearing a Thom Browne trompe-l’œil; an illusion of a red evening gown. The other side was a man’s black tux. “This was before Billy Porter did it,” she said. “There was a meme comparing it to someone who was on Drag Race.” But the gown, she reiterated, was exquisite.
As a rule, Fine Collins only wears clothing designed by friends. “Clothing is so personal. The maker has such a connection to his creation. It merges sensibility, stories, and narratives,” she explained. “I know so much what Thom [Browne] feels and what he thinks and why he does what he does.” Browne plays a lot with androgyny; and because Fine Collins has short hair and what she describes as a slim, muscular figure, she said it’s a perfect match.
But only wearing pieces designed by her friends has not cut down on the amount of clothing in her closet. “I ran out of space ages ago,” she confirmed. There are things in her country home, her mother’s basement, and racks where she says they shouldn’t be. She refuses to use a storage unit because she needs to have “pigments on my palette within reach.”
Fine Collins will never reach for sweatpants, though. “If I had to run out and grab a cup of coffee and I didn’t feel like getting dressed, I would get dressed,” she laughed. “Or I would have the coffee delivered and be in my pajamas.”
The commitment to her personal presentation paid off. So much so that she says she was often photobombed when legendary street style photographer Bill Cunningham would take her picture for the New York Times. “It was so important for so many people to be on that page and they never quite understood that it wasn’t about the person,” she said.
The same can be said not just for the International Best Dressed List, but of Fine Collins’ work at Vanity Fair. She hopes as younger people discover her work, they understand how much work went into her larger-than-life stories. “One of the complaints I hear about 18, 19, 20-year-olds, is that they want it right away,” she said. “Everything is work. Part of the skill of being a good anything is doing so much work, but making it look effortless” — not unlike the way Fine Collins gets dressed.
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