January 24, 2002
Blackwell Knows Best
Do not envy Anne Robinson.
When Richard Blackwell (ne Richard Selzer), the fashion critic of the rich and famous, released his 42nd annual lists of apparel achievers and fashion faux pas on Jan. 8, the pretentiously garbed British game show host topped his Worst Dressed Woman of 2001 list.
"Anne Robinson, you are fashion's Weakest Link," declared Blackwell. "Harry Potter in Drag -- a Hogwarts horror!"
Juliette Binoche, Destiny's Child, and Bjork, whose infamous white swan gown boggled the minds of everyone who saw last year's Academy Awards, also made Worst Dressed. On the sunny side, actresses Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Penelope Cruz, and Renee Zellweger were among 2001's Fabulous Fashion Independents.
Blackwell told Up Front that his criticisms are "tongue in cheek with a very strong truth behind them. I don't believe in vicious personal attacks of what they're wearing. It's an impression of how it hits me."
He has even pulled some punches.
"One year, the day before my list came out, Judy Garland took sick," says Blackwell, who knew and adored Garland from his child actor days. "I begged the press not to run her name. The entire press, to my knowledge, regarded what I wanted."
One misstep occurred when Carol Burnett made his Worst Dressed roster.
"We all thought she had a sense of humor," Blackwell says. "Instead, she broke down and cried, which really bothered me. I would never have done it had I known that she would take it that way."
Blackwell, who pins his age as "over 60 and under 100," grew up in Brooklyn. He says he has a Russian-Turkish heritage that descends from the Cohen tribe.
When Blackwell signed on at RKO under his real name, the studio's chief, gave him a moniker makeover.
"Howard Hughes said that Richard Selzer would never do," says Blackwell, who remembers the legendary billionaire for "his concern, his caring."
Blackwell's famous fashion do's and don't's originated in a 1960 American Weekly article. Yet he never proclaimed himself the last word on fashion.
"The public did," Blackwell insists. "I just did the list, and their feeling was that I'm honest, direct and outspoken."
Lana Turner, Audrey Hepburn and Catherine Deneuve complete Blackwell's holy trinity of haute couture. Madonna, on the other hand, is a perennial Worst Dressed fixture, save for her 1990s "Dick Tracy"/"Evita" phase.
Jewish entertainers have not escaped Blackwell's radar either.
"She's come a long way and is looking great now," reports Blackwell of Barbra Streisand, once dubbed "Yentl goes mental."
Another Jewish chanteuse, Bette Midler, also ranks favorably, after shedding wardrobe Blackwell once called "Hawaiian bat mitzvah."
Fran Drescher also made Worst Dressed. Never fazed her.
"Oh, Fran loved it," Blackwell says. "We became best friends."
Ditto Whoopi Goldberg, who sent him flowers.
But Phyllis Diller was miffed when she fell off Worst Dressed.
Says Blackwell, "She asked me, 'Where did I go right?'"