Today it's rare to see a piece of celebrity-worn apparel — on screen or off — that can't be identified and even purchased with a few mouse clicks. From politician Sarah Palin's eyeglass frames (Kawasaki 704s) to film protagonist Jay Gatsby's bow tie (Brooks Bros.), the power of the Internet has made the world one great, big clickable catalog.
But what if the jacket you covet was the one Amelia Earhart was wearing on her 1932 solo flight across the Atlantic? Or the dress of your dreams was last seen on Josephine Baker in a 1940 wartime photograph?
That's where an e-tail venture called Phoenix Project comes in. The brainchild of husband and wife Jared and Brooke Zaugg, it's an effort to craft faithful, high-end reproductions of some of those iconic pieces of celebrity-wear of days gone by.
They tested the waters in 2012 with a limited run of 30 jackets inspired by one that James Dean had worn on screen in "Giant," offered through their highly curated, high-end online menswear boutique Bench & Loom.
After selling out in a week and a half, the duo set about looking for other classic, timeless-looking garments with interesting back stories. That last ingredient is something the Zauggs, who have prior careers in marketing and branding, had learned was crucial.
"With Bench & Loom, we'd picked brands with stories," Brooke Zaugg said, pointing to items like a black canvas bag by a company that restores vintage Ferraris, and an ankle boot design originally commissioned by Gen. George S. Patton.
"It's very different if there's a reason and a story behind what you're wearing," she said.
So although Phoenix Project currently offers just a handful of pieces, they are all garments that provide a glimpse into the original wearer, the time period or both. The four pieces paying homage to dancer-singer-actress Josephine Baker (three dresses that range in price from $648 to $875, and a $249 pair of gloves), for example, include a version of the floor-length white silk charmeuse gown that she wore while entertaining British troops in Paris on May 1, 1940.
The three Earhart pieces include the flight jacket (in brown lambskin suede $1,595) as well as a gray silk crepe de chine blouse with a metal clip shaped like plane's propeller ($595) and a white silk dress with blue top and sash ($1,195) that copy an outfit she wore to receive the Gimbel Award in 1932. The Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash jackets (a $1,475 nubuck leather and a $375 blue twill baseball-style, respectively) re-create garments the two wore as they crowded around a piano at Sun Records with Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins on Dec. 4, 1956, the day the Million Dollar Quartet was born.
There are a few other notable things that set the Phoenix Pro-ject apart from a traditional e-commerce venture. One is the availability. Most garments are being offered in runs of 150 to 300. Pieces can only be purchased via pre-order, and customers are required to plunk down 50% up front and then wait four to eight weeks for delivery.
Although the website officially went live last month, the Zauggs are already working to expand their range.
"We're currently working with the estates of Marlon Brando and Cary Grant," Brooke Zaugg said. "And we've been talking to several of the Hollywood studios too."
Some James Dean pieces (a shirt and a pair of boots) are in the pipeline, and Zaugg tracked down an original fabric swatch that allowed her to replicate Olivia Newton-John's white dance dress from "Grease."
It's a dress, no doubt, that the Zauggs hope will have many a Sandy fan softly crooning: "You're the One That I Want."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun