Rarely do the fashionable engage in hand-to-hand combat. One certainly doesn’t want to sully the Birkin by smacking a foe in the face. But delicate silks, satins and mink never restrained Krystle Carrington and Alexis Colby from going for the diamond-bejeweled jugular. Never have two women looked so glamorous while attempting to maim, strangle and drown one another as these infamous arch rivals. Armed in stilettos, linebacker-worthy shoulder pads and jewel-encrusted battle gear, the two women elevated catfighting to an art, as they fought over hunky Blake Carrington and his mega-million dollar estate on the nighttime soap Dynasty, which premiered on this day in 1981.
Times were good in the 80s. The money was flowing, and the two big Ds, Dallas and Dynasty, were duking it out over ratings like the feuding families on their shows. After the success of TV’s first primetime soap opera, Dallas, ABC wanted in on the action. It tasked melodrama maestro Aaron Spelling with adapting a script by Ester and Richard Shapiro. The show, a tangled triumvirate between Blake, his wife Krystle and his ex-wife Alexis, cashed in on our fascination with wealth and our primal responses to greed, jealousy and passion.
We rooted openly for sweet, wholesome Krystle, but we sometimes secretly delighted in unscrupulous Alexis’ ploys to besiege the Carringtons. Fans all over the world tuned in to watch the rivalry blossom, and women everywhere coveted the lavish looks of the two main stars. So much so that the studio was inundated with letters and calls inquiring about the clothing worn on the show. Costume designer Nolan Miller recalled receiving thousands of letters asking for sketches of his designs. It didn’t take long for the muckety-mucks at Twentieth-Century Fox to see they had a cash cow on their hands. And so, they set about creating a ready-to-wear line based on the fashions of the show.
Linda Evans’ broad shoulders and Nolan Miller’s designer vision coalesced into the wasp-waisted power suit of the 1980s. That androgynous menswear look of the late 70s and early 80s was replaced by suiting with embellishments like lace, brocade, fur and jewels that softened the angular shape of the shoulder-padded suit, a silhouette that, incidentally, saw a fashion resurgence in 2009 collections by designers such as Balmain, Dolce & Gabbanna and Balenciaga. Evening wear was Miller’s forté. Monochromatic columnar gowns with intricate details played to the characters’ archetypes. Krystle typically wore subdued whites, creams and beiges, while Alexis dressed in stunning reds and blacks.
The Dynasty Collection, designed by Miller, hit the New York Bloomingdale’s in 1984, with 20,000 covetous fans swarming about the store, ready to don their alter-ego regalia. Fearing a mosh pit in the aisles, store officials decided to temporarily close the doors. Bloomingdale’s chairman told the press that the store had “not had such excitement since the Queen of England visited in 1976.” Well, Linda Evans, who made an appearance at the event, might as well have been royalty, especially in the adoring eyes of her public. Miller attributed the success of the line to the show’s success and the characters undeniable élan. “I don’t think any other show has ever concentrated . . . on the look.”
Apparel modeled after ensembles worn on the show comprised part of the collection, such as the red silk and rayon evening gown Alexis wore when she was booked on suspicion of murder, labeled, “Designed for Alexis Colby.” As simple as swiping your credit card, you too could decide whether you wanted to summon your inner angel or your inner witch.
Miller recognized the impact Dynasty had on fashion when he saw a young girl at an airport dressed in a white suit and black and white hat with a black veil over her face, “and you knew she thought she was Alexis.”
So, which woman are you: a Krystle or an Alexis? —Kristine Lloyd
Credits: All Dynasty photos courtesy of 20th century Fox Pictures. Runway photos, left to right: Fall 2009 photos of Dolce & Gabbana, Balmain and Balenciaga, by Marcio Madeira.