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Tuesday , December 14, 2010
Style Icon: Lisa Bonet As Denise Huxtable
A funny thing happens when you watch "The Cosby Show" on reruns. Everyone looks way dated: Bill Cosby with his brutally awesome Chess King sweaters, Theo with his designer sweatshirts (Benetton, anyone?) and Vanessa and even little Rudy with their bright pastels and shaker sweaters. (Shaker sweaters! Dude, so 1980s!) Everyone except for Denise Huxtable, played by the ever-lovely Lisa Bonet, who looked a little different then and still looks a little quirky now: kind of hippie, kind of preppy but also kind of tomboyish and sporty at times. She wore things like palazzo pants with slippers with a man's tuxedo shirt and a tailored jacket over it all -- combinations that were off-beat but not flamboyantly eccentric. I didn't really know much about fashion at the age of my peak "Cosby"-viewing experience. (Really, all I knew were British Knights and florescent colors, you know?) But I did know that she was cool and smart and she lived in New York and she did things like go to Africa, and who doesn't want to participate in that? Denise got more and more bohemian as both "The Cosby Show" and "A Different World" progressed, but she always had a "twist" in her outfits, making her a sort of mixmaster before "mixing it up" became fashion's biggest cliche.
Now that I've ingested lifetimes of fashion information, I can appreciate how she evokes a strand of late 80s/early 90s fashion, one centered around a sort of global chic -- not really bohemian in the old-school tatty sense of the world, but more embodied by designers like Rifat Ozbek, Romeo Gigli and even WilliWear, who took modes like European couture or American sportswear and spun ethnic and street elements within them. (I wonder if these guys will "come back" -- I was looking at the "sunken crotch" pants I saw on some runways this season and was reminded of Ozbek's "samurai" pants from the early 90s.) Anyway, Lisa Bonet/Denise Huxtable gets on my style icon list because no one could look like her then, and no one can look like her now -- a sort of ineffable mix of elements that looked relaxed and off-hand and hasn't quite been duplicated by anyone since.
It's a bummer that there aren't a lot of stills or even YouTube clips of Ms. Bonet, but you should check out this clip from what is probably my favorite episode of "The Cosby Show" ever. It's the one where Cliff dreams that spores contaminate the water supply everywhere (except in New Jersey) and somehow impregnate thousands of men, including himself, his sons-in-law and Theo. What I love about this is not the fashion (although Sabrina LeBeauf wears a very awesome skirt suit thingie with a shot of yellow -- very now), but how Lisa Bonet, LeBeauf and Phylicia Rashad almost crack up during this entire scene.
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