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The hunt is on. With vintage dresses hotter than ever, what was once old is now fashionable again. The lineup of distinguished designers is extensive -- Saint Laurent, Vionnet, de la Renta and von Furstenburg -- and the list goes on. First, determine whether the dress is for wearing or collecting. You may choose a dress by a designer that changed fashion history. Conversely, the allure of fashions from film noir may prove tempting. Once you've got the search down to an art form, you'll immediately recognize a stand-out number when you see it.
Yves Saint Laurent
As creative director for Musee-Solomon, Beverly Solomon appreciates the best designers. For her, Yves Saint Laurent epitomizes the designer elite. "He took the greatest art and transformed it into fashion," says Solomon. One of Yves Saint Laurent's inspirations materialized from Op Artist, Piet Mondrian -- bold, geometric-colored designs intersected with black lines. Saint Laurent draped these artistic motifs around the female form until it ignited his creativity. "His style was always simple, elegant, and [he] transformed the wearer into a living work of art," Solomon affirms. "Harper's Bazaar" dubbed Laurent's Mondrian jersey tunic dress "the dress of tomorrow." He's been hailed by his contemporaries as extraordinary for his natural ability to anticipate fashion changes and create dresses that remain relevant.
Among the frocks of top designers, Claudine Villardito, owner of Black Cat Vintage, considers Madeleine Vionnet as the most remarkable. Inspired by the dancer Isadora Duncan, Vionnet "liberated the female form" from the conformity of corsets and hobble skirts, says Villardito. An important force in fashion history, Vionnet was the pioneer of the bias-cut dress; a seemingly effortless number to the casual onlooker. Vionnet's flowing gowns "worked with the curves of a woman's body instead of making the body conform to fashion," Villardito explains. This innovator harmonized shapes and colors to make her creations timeless, not seasonally indicative.
Oscar de la Renta
Oscar de la Renta, according to "Elle" magazine is "a virtual king among designers." With an often-romantic style, his dresses and gowns are bejeweled with elaborate beading and crystals, embroideries and fur. His designs ooze with opulence and luxuries, allowing his passion of designing for women to stand out. His dress collections herald the style of the times -- with a nod to the exotic, socialite glamor, modern and sexy for those in search of femininity. His refined fashion sense remains complementary and ageless. De la Renta is one designer that Solomon would "dress head to toe" in. "His fashion is severely feminine making one feel sensual not sweet. And who doesn't want to feel sensual from head to toe," she exclaims.
Diane von Furstenberg
Diane von Furstenberg has always been a trailblazer. In 1972, Diane von Furstenberg introduced a slinky (now iconic) little number -- the wrap dress. It was an instant sensation. When launched again in '97, the light jersey wrap received another glowing reception. "Her iconic wrap dress was the perfect little work uniform that could easily go to dinner after a long day," says Solomon. Von Furstenberg's fast rise to fame made the cover of "Newsweek" as the model of women's sexual liberation. In that issue, von Furstenberg was said to be "the most marketable female in fashion since Coco Chanel." She envisioned her collections for women like herself -- a woman who wants it all and does it all. So, von Furstenberg's unassuming yet profound mantra, "Feel like a woman. Wear a Dress," should come as no surprise.