She spent her career sketching for Ralph Lauren, Halston, and others
In her first job out of FIT, Audrey Schilt did freelance hat sketches for Halston. Eventually, he hired her, and tried introducing her to the boldface names of New York—to no avail. “I kissed Salvador Dali’s hand. I met Diana Vreeland. I met all the fashion people, but they were boring. I was too young to appreciate what they were about. What I wanted to do was go to clubs with my friends. I’d say to Halston, ‘Let’s go dance!’” Even the opportunity to sketch Jackie Kennedy left her unimpressed. “She kept smacking her gum while I was trying to draw her mouth. So I had to say, ‘Could you please stop chewing?’ She didn’t reply to me, she just stopped.”
After three years with Halston—Schilt still has sketches she drew for his first clothing collection—he moved his office, and she decided to strike out on her own. She was prepared for the job search. “At FIT they taught us how to get dressed for work,” she says. “We were not allowed to wear jeans or certain hairstyles. It was a very thorough education.”
As a new mom, Schilt designed children’s wear for a while, but she wanted to design women’s wear. She answered an ad for a conceptual artist at Ralph Lauren, but her application was rejected. Some of her sketches, however, found their way into the designer’s workroom, where Lauren spotted them. When she received a second call from the company, Schilt recalls saying, “I’m not interviewing again. Either you hire me, or not.” She then negotiated a salary twice that of the original position.
Schilt worked for 22 years at the firm, and earned the title of creative director of collection, which required her to interpret Lauren’s lifestyle concepts. “Ralph’s like a movie director,” Schilt says, “and he needs a costume designer. He would say, ‘Picture Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly in Lawrence of Arabia. What kind of clothes does she wear?’ So we would sketch, say, tunics draped in gossamer fabrics.” Perhaps her favorite assignment was creating a look for actress Emmy Rossum. The dress won Rossum the title of Best Dressed at the Golden Globes from People magazine in 2005, when she was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role in Phantom of the Opera. Schilt also created a style for Rossum’s appearance at the Academy Awards.
The sketches reproduced here and in the exhibition in the Fred P. Pomerantz Design Center from December to January are called “outs,” the semi-retired illustrator says. In any given collection, illustrators produce hundreds of looks from which the designer selects his or her favorites. The “outs” weren’t chosen. “But I had a lot of sketches that didn’t go down the runway, and they became my intellectual property. We were supposed to destroy them, but I think they’re beautiful.”
We at HUE think so, too, but take a look and judge for yourself.