In 2000 the queen of scream — screamingly funny one-liners, that is — invited me to tea at her Versailles-like New York City apartment to talk about her latest QVC fashion line. Expecting to meet the Rasputin of the Red Carpet, instead I was greeted at the door by an elegantly dressed, soft-spoken blonde with a strong New Yawk accent.
In person, you see, Joan Rivers was a refined, savvy beauty-and-style junkie who loved chatting and joking about clothes and life after 50.
Here was a woman I could totally relate to. And so too could groups of women as seemingly disparate as the readers of MORE magazine (where I was beauty and fashion director at the time) and QVC shoppers, who bought more than $1 billion worth of her designs.
The reason for the success of her product lines was simple: Joan Rivers (who died Sept. 4 in New York) had a personal style that resonated with millions of women, and she was her own best model and salesperson.
As for me, I’ll never forget The Day I Took Tea With Joan. Here are three lessons I learned from that encounter — and three great buys she inspired:
Create your own spotlight. Joan Rivers was Beyoncé for Boomers. She knew the magic of glitz, gilt and shimmer for aging faces and bodies. From her mirrored and gleaming Louis XIV-style home to her metallic and beaded accessories, Rivers understood the wrinkle-blurring powers of bedazzling anything and everything: As a cover-up for evenings out or holiday parties, for example, her super-sumptuous sequin wraps are a great bargain. And her sparkling scarves, jackets and “statement necklaces” (Joan was never without the latter) make last-minute after-5 e-vites a snap — no change of clothes necessary. Try Joan Rivers Starlet Style 20” Necklace (that’s one on Joan above) or Joan Rivers Cape Style Sequined Pullover Top.
A jacket is a girl’s best friend. Whatever the season, Rivers knew, women
50-plus count on a core wardrobe of updated classics. The famously self-deprecating comedian did, too: Her affordable QVC collection always included slim ankle pants, relaxed “boyfriend shirts” and ponte-knit pencil skirts and sheaths.
Because Rivers knew their versatility and slimming effects would always be in demand.
But that's where functional got fabulous: Leading by example, Rivers would typically add a fitted feminine jacket in an energizing color such as red, pink, raspberry or chartreuse. She made them in our favorite couture-like shapes, notably those featuring:
1. jewel- and V-neck styles
2. three-quarters sleeves
3. fringed, ruffled or metallic trims
And all that for less than 100 bucks! Nothing transformed basics to brilliant better — or guaranteed a skin-brightening, mood-boosting lift in the bargain. Onstage or off, who couldn’t benefit from a dynamic like that? Try Joan Rivers Shimmering Chic Textured Woven Bracelet Sleeve Jacket.
Keep ’em guessing. To my everlasting disappointment, Rivers never asked me “Who are you wearing?” when I showed up for tea at her place. That trademark red-carpet query stemmed from her genius, which was to say out loud what other women were secretly thinking. It landed Rivers a spot on the E! network’s Fashion Police. It also gave rise to a host of imitators, whom I call “Joan-alikes.”
Though Rivers was famous for tweaking her looks with cosmetic surgery — she even wrote a best-selling book about them — she rarely volunteered details about what she wore. In truth, she mixed items from her own low-cost line with those from luxury-brand designers. (FYI, during our sit-down she sported her own brand from head to toe — I know because I asked!)
I'll miss Joan Rivers’s sharp wit and tongue, but also her sharp sense of fashion. I think we all will.
For more beauty and style tips for women over 50, check out my Wardrobe Wakeup: Your Guide to Looking Fabulous at Any Age.