Julie Christie and My Basement Apartment


In 1970, fresh from his success with the movie Mash, film director Robert Altman began work on a hillside near West Vancouver, to create his new film McCabe & Mrs. Miller. The well-known critic Robert Ebert included this Altman work in his list of “Great Films” of all time.

Altman was famous for wanting his audience to experience the spirit of the past, in this case the 1890s. He used special techniques to replicate the sepia lighting of archival photos, he asked his cast to remain in the same costumes for the months of shooting.  Ivan Sayers, SMOC’s curator, made a contribution to the film’s verisimilitude by supplying some authentic garments of the period.
The timing of the McCabe & Mrs. Miller was providential for a youthful Sayers as he was short on rent.  The film has strong memories for Ivan and he has been known-- in the course of one of his many fashion shows-- to blandish the petticoats wore by Julie Christie in her role as Mrs. Miller.  These have layers of flounces, decorated with hand-crochet lace.

Ivan in the course of his work on McCabe & Mrs. Miller learned that its female star had an intense interest in vintage clothing and, being hospitable, invited Ms. Christie to view his collection in his extremely humble basement apartment in East Vancouver. This first visit was followed up by a subsequent excursion to local vintage clothing shops and bargain-priced thrift stores.

For a younger audience, it should be pointed out that Julie Christie was one of the major stars of the 1960s and 1970s. Not only had she played the female lead in Doctor Zhivago, 8th highest-grossing film of all time, but she was Warren Beatty’s girlfriend for seven years and the masterpiece of his career, the film Reds, was dedicated to her. Beatty was in fact her co-star in the Altman film.

It was inevitable that the one garment that the charming Julie (a fact-- according to Ivan) wanted to purchase was one of the jewels of his collection. This was a bias-cut black crepe evening dress, heavy with silver beading across the front. Later research has revealed that this 1933 creation was a copy of a Worth design. It looked particularly fine on Ms. Christie’s slender petite figure, but she was graceful is accepting Ivan’s refusal to sell and the episode ended cheerfully.  It still is a fantastic dress.

by Denise Jacques