Even if Alexis Carrington’s looks in Dynasty defined an entire era of fashion, Joan Collins seems bemused when I ask her to describe her style evolution across the decades since. “I suppose I just gravitate towards whatever catches my fancy, it’s eclectic. Why, how would you describe it?” says the 86-year-old actress. “Glamorous, playful, with a bit of sparkle,” I offer. “Sequins! But, of course!”
As the star of Valentino’s Christmas campaign, released today, Collins is capping a year in which her love for maximalist ’80s dressing (and sequins) has undergone a renaissance in the fashion world—whether in the power shoulders and eye-popping glitz of recent Saint Laurent and Versace collections, or the resuscitation of labels that defined the era, such as Mugler and Claude Montana. Then, as if to remind everyone who did it first, there was her instantly iconic red carpet moment at the Met Gala in May. With its theme of camp, all Collins really had to do was show up; thankfully, she went the extra mile, wearing a delightfully frou-frou Valentino confection that was directly inspired by her Dynasty costumes, along with a diamond tiara from her own wardrobe. “Pierpaolo [Piccioli] and I went back and forth with designs for about three months—I wanted feathers, but he didn’t want feathers,” she remembers. “So I said, I really want feathers! We eventually came to an agreement.” (Needless to say, she wore feathers.)
Her relationship with the house of Valentino extends all the way back to the ’60s, when she first visited Signor Garavani’s atelier in Rome. Over the decades, there are plenty of Valentino pieces in her wardrobe that have come and gone. “You can’t keep clothes for decades,” says Collins, firmly. “They just don’t look right.” There is one piece, however, that has stood the test of time. “It’s this beautiful black, shimmery, column chiffon dress I bought from one of his couture shows in the ’80s. I was talking to Valentino a few years ago before I went to some event, and I said, ‘I don’t have anything to wear!’ But he has this amazing memory, and replied, ‘Well, darling, why don’t you wear that black dress you bought from the couture show in 1989?’ And I said, ‘Oh my god—you remember that?’ ”
Her love of Valentino extends to Pierpaolo Piccioli’s vision for the house, too: the video accompanying the campaign sees Joan ring the doorbell to a Christmas house party in London in a red lace dress, opera coat and gloves, paired with the diamond jewelry she wore to the Met Gala. Greeting the guests in brilliantly pithy style—“I see it’s not just the champagne that’s flat,” she quips with a raised eyebrow—things are instantly livened up with a spot of Collins-led dancing and a stack of gift boxes from Valentino’s Dante-inspired holiday gift collection.
It seems fitting that Collins would opt for one of the label’s more classic designs, given her timeless sense of style. On the subject of the ’80s style revival, she observes that it’s never really gone away. “I think that the flamboyance of oversized earrings and ill-fitting skirts might have gone—skirts never fitted properly in the ’80s, by the way—and the huge curly hair might have gone, too. But the sleek style that I wore a lot in Dynasty, the pared-back suits but with definitive shoulders and small waists and embellishments of color and jewelry, I think smart women have been doing that through the decades.”
She does, however, mourn the days when dressing up for the day was more of an event. “I really hope that people will spend more money on clothes, because nobody dresses up anymore. If you do, then people stare at you, or make cutting remarks… well, maybe not cutting, but they’ll say something like, ‘Oh, look at you! You’re all dressed up.’ I find that very sad, because it will be the end of women buying elegant clothes in stores. Everybody’s going to end up in jeans and T-shirts, which I think is tragic.” How does she respond if someone makes a comment like that to her? “Thank you,” she says, drily.
This move towards more casual dressing has created a very specific bête noire for Collins. “I hate jeans. I hate them, they’re so unflattering. And I hate jeans with holes in the knees, or holes anywhere. I’m not keen on T-shirts with logos, either. I like to be comfortable, but I want to be elegant, too.” It’s something that she particularly struggles with in her adopted hometown of Los Angeles, where she has lived since the mid-’50s. “I don’t really fit in with the L.A. lifestyle, because everyone’s in T-shirts and jeans, and I don’t like that look. Oh, and neither does Valentino, by the way. Mr Valentino is always exquisitely dressed, which I love.”
In those sunny Californian climes, she admits it feels strange to already be getting in the festive spirit with a Christmas campaign, meaning she’s not yet ready to start thinking about gifts for the holiday season. “I haven’t really got to that, but I mainly try to tailor the gifts that I’m giving to people to the individual.” As for what’s on her Christmas list this year? “I have so much, I can’t really ask for anything. But I love to read, so I love to get an interesting biography that hasn’t been in print for a while, or a beautiful art monograph.” For those lucky enough to have Collins on their Christmas gifting list: get buying.