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Evita Rules

Myra Magis Steiner, raised in Argentina, remembers the commanding style of Eva Peron. Now the Fullerton boutique owner has created an elegantly understated collection that anticipates a trend driven by Madonna's role in the upcoming movie.

November 29, 1996|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

While most Americans know Evita through the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and the buzz surrounding the soon-to-be-released movie starring Madonna, Myra Magis Steiner still remembers the day in 1950 when she saw the real Eva Peron.

Steiner, a Fullerton resident who grew up in Argentina, was 9. Like most her age, she knew and loved Evita, the first lady of Argentina.

"In my first reading book, when we got to the letter 'E,' the word we learned was 'Evita,' " she says. "There were sculptures of her all over town."

When she heard Evita was coming by train to her hometown of Mendoza on a whistle-stop tour of Argentina's interior provinces, Steiner insisted that her parents take her to the station. There, she saw the woman whose profile she knew by heart.

Evita, her blond hair pulled tightly into a chignon, stood before a noisy crowd and handed out toys to the children. Steiner, who later became a fashion designer, still remembers what Evita wore: a light-colored shirt-style dress with a cinched waist.

"She looked beautiful but very simple and understated," Steiner recalls. Now she has drawn upon her memories to create a collection of clothing devoted to Evita.

"Evita had a great sense of style. Whether she had it on her own or acquired it, she had it," Steiner says. "She wore very tailored suits and full ball gowns."

Steiner, and many in the fashion industry, believe women are ready to copy the look of Evita, as they did in the late '40s and '50s. With the "Evita" movie to be released Dec. 25, fashion retailers are rushing to recapture the style of the woman who, in the words of the musical's lyricist Tim Rice, was "high flying, adored."

Women will be able to imitate Evita from head to toe.

* On Dec. 1, Bloomingdale's will open Evita boutiques inspired by the movie at nine of its stores, including the newly opened Bloomie's in Fashion Island Newport Beach. The boutiques will sell shoes, jewelry and makeup.

* A.B.S. USA--which has a store in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa--unveiled a 40-piece Evita collection with '40s-inspired suits, fishtail evening gowns, Latin-flavored tango skirts and dresses ($90-$240 for most pieces). The collection includes a beige wool crepe jacket with black velvet trim ($240) and long skirt ($84) that closely resembles a suit Madonna wears in the movie.

"This is a fresh look," says Geoff Roiz, retail director for A.B.S.

A sleek, classic hairstyle is also key to copping the Evita style.

"She had several different looks, but most feature the hair pulled back tightly and a chignon in the lower nape area, either with a woven braid or interlocking curls," says Jonathon Poore, owner of Salon Lujon in Fullerton. "It's a pretty classic look."

He predicts women will want the look for proms, weddings, black-tie events and other special occasions.

For her part, designer Steiner has created a collection of dresses, suits, scarves and blouses under her label. Her interpretation of the Evita coronation gown is a striking strapless dress made of bright pink organza (about $800). She designed spring dresses made of vintage-looking floral silks and fine rayons ($200 to $300).

"Everything has a waist with a full skirt," she says. Most dresses have shirt tops with collars that can button to the neck--a signature Evita look.

Steiner also designed suits with fitted waists and feminine details, such as jackets with velvet cuffs and collars or a silk red flower tucked into the breast pocket. The '40s-style skirts are long and fitted but flare at the knees.

She has painted Evita's portrait and scenes of Buenos Aires on silk scarves and blouses.

Price of the collection: $90 to $120 for scarves, $290 to $350 for hand-painted blouses and $400 to $500 for suits.

"This is giving me the opportunity to show Argentine style," she says. "Argentine women are very classy; it's understated elegance."

Steiner will preview the collection from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 7 at her Fullerton store, Myra Magis Atelier de Couture, and will visit Buenos Aires a week later to give private showings. She'll hold an Evita trunk show at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana in January and a talk and presentation on Evita at the Latin American Art Museum in Long Beach in February.

"I'm very curious about Evita," she says.

Eva was born in Los Toldos in 1919, one of five illegitimate children who grew up in a shack. At 14, she ran off to Buenos Aires to become an actress and singer.

"She was young and pretty, but coming from a humble background, she had a dubious history," Steiner says. Webber's musical "shows all that."

Life changed for the ambitious Eva when she met and married Col. Juan Domingo Peron in 1945.

"She was the one who takes Peron to power," Steiner says. "Once he's in power, she becomes a fairy godmother [to the people]. That's her role. She organized a five-year plan to build hospitals for the poor, houses for the homeless and schools. She did do those things, but how she did it was very questionable."

Evita created the Social Aid Foundation, which was supported largely by businesses and unions whose contributions were voluntary in name only, making enemies with Argentina's aristocracy. President Peron and his stylish wife also amassed a personal fortune while in office, allowing Evita to afford her jewels and couture wardrobe.

Evita died at the age of 33 of uterine cancer on July 26, 1952, at 8:25 p.m. Steiner remembers the exact time because "every day for a month on the radio they would announce 'It's 8:25 p.m., the time Evita passed on to eternity.' "

"We didn't have school for a long time after," she says.

Steiner lived in Argentina until 1984, then moved to New York and to Fullerton in 1987 with her husband.

Like many Argentines who lived through Evita's reign, she judges Eva Peron less harshly than Webber did in his musical.

"I don't know if the musical captured the feeling people have for her," she says. "She, for some reason, was adored."

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