Barbara Flood—Her Own Best Creation

As an adolescent in Manhattan, Barbara’s European parents sent her to the private, conservative, upper middle class girl’s school, Calhoun. Each day, she’d leave a well appointed, Upper West Side apartment dressed properly in the required uniform. And each afternoon at three, she’d put on heels, lipstick and a brooch. She was ahead of her peers, ahead of her time, and cultivating an individuality which would form her future. “What do you gain by being like other people?” she asks rhetorically, or, as Oscar Wilde said Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. She was emulated.

Barbara’s father was a dapper dresser, a great ballroom dancer, “and a doll.” His business was knitwear—that of Bonnie Cashin and Anne Fogarty among others. She started modeling for him as a teenager, but as Mr. Guttman specialized in sweaters and Barbara “never had any tits,” the job didn’t stick. Her mother was more conventionally stylish than unique in her wardrobe choices. She wanted to be a milliner. Mr. Guttman would not allow her to work. She was “ adoring, but difficult; opinionated, stubborn.” And loved dressing Barbara. Many of their friends were creative. It was a cultured household.

Sent to the Agnes de Mille Ballet School and to Julliard, Barbara enjoyed praise of her skill at both dance and piano. Her preference, however, was to be out and about “with the boys,” not to practice. When she had her tonsils out, her mother asked what treat she would like after it was all over. Most children request ice cream; she asked to stop taking piano lessons. Barbara attended Syracuse University for theater arts with hopes of becoming an actor. Two years later, she transferred to Columbia. Syracuse was simply too unsophisticated for her.

All of Barbara’s girlfriends were getting married. She herself was sure she’d never fall in love and couldn’t imagine living with anyone. Her mother, however, had plans. An Up-State dentist the young collegian met while at Syracuse had told Barbara: you’re a spoiled brat; I’m going to call you in a couple of years and see how you turn out. Like Rhett Butler, he did indeed call and they started dating. Convinced her daughter would end up in a backwater, barefoot and pregnant, Mrs. Guttman swept her away to the social mecca that was then Mt. Washington, upstate New York, in search of someone more suitable.

There, Barbara met Stanley, a kind businessman from a good family. She was seduced by gentility and lifestyle, sporting a large diamond ring before graduation. Second thoughts on the day of her wedding couldn’t compete with her mother’s powerful influence and four hundred wedding guests. The honeymoon took her to Europe for the first time.

Settling on the Upper East Side, Barbara struggled with being a wife-at-leisure. She played bridge and went to The Dionne Lucas Cooking School. Unfortunately, her already established choice of healthy foods caused a breach with Ms. Lucas: If you can’t cook with butter, you can’t cook at all. She dabbled at home, but was never really needed in the kitchen.

Barbara’s new sister-in-law, Joan Kron, took her to Happenings and exposed her to the arts scene. When she went out with girlfriends, they’d patronize the likes of Max’s Kansas City. One night she came home and said to Stanley, “There’s this wonderful artist, he makes soup cans…his name is Andy Warhol and I want to buy one.” “Soup cans?!” he responded. The painting was $150. She had no money of her own. That was it. Barbara decided her husband had no imagination and asked for a divorce. She’d been married six years and had a one year old son. Kron also introduced Barbara to Karl Mann, an erudite artist who worked with Jack Lenor Larsen, the internationally known textile designer. Mann was to be Barbara’s first mentor as well as friend and lover– despite his natural tendencies. Ms.Flood has a habit of breaking molds.

It was time to earn her own money. Barbara started to model again. She was in her twenties, old to be entering the profession, but managed to register with Eva Bernet. Eva changed Barbara’s surname to Flood after an extremely successful model she’d represented earlier. Barbara liked the name immediately. Soon it was on to The Gillis McGill Agency. Barbara was late and short, but Gillis thought she might be good for junior clothes…Capezio, Mr. Mort. Then she met Rudi Gernreich.

Gernreich’s girls were recognizable—lots of eye make-up, thick eyelashes, long fingernails.The image of Peggy Moffet in a bowl-haircut wearing the designer’s bathing suit with crossed straps that exposed her breasts became iconic. Gernreich was worldly. He took to Barbara immediately telling her, based on her own natural style, she’d be good in his clothes because she understood them. At a press show in New York, an elaborate blouse Barbara was wearing “somehow slipped off.” As per the designer’s instructions, the models wore no bras. A stagehand picked up the top. Barbara kept walking. On the microphone, Gernreich commented, You see, ladies and gentlemen, it doesn’t matter whether the clothes are on or off, the ensemble still works. “Rudi took me into sophistication.” He was the second strong male influence on Barbara’s eye.

Work with Stanley Herman, Leo Narducci, Valentino, and Oscar de la Renta followed. Barbara flew to California for Holly Harp and to London for Jean Muir. “The sixties were fabulous.” Divorced at 25, she had a wonderful ten years in print and on runways. At the time, girls received $150-$200 for doing a show, $75 for a fitting. Her son, Jonathan, would come home to the apartment to find himself stepping over bodies in a yoga session or hear monologues from an acting class. Barbara’s living room was a center of activity.

A relationship with a Vice President at Columbia Pictures enabled her to travel all over the world further expanding her horizons. When Timmy Everett, an actor/dancer, her lover, and another, otherwise gay man, died of alcoholism, she quit her own modest drinking entirely, adhering to the resolution even today. Then came Henry Jaglom.

Jaglom, who comes from an extremely comfortable background, has always had the freedom to make the kind of films he wants without outside artistic or financial pressures. He’s accustomed to getting his own way. In one instance, his “own way” involved securing Orson Welles to star in his film, A Safe Place, in which Barbara acted and for which she did the wardrobe . Without announcement or hesitation, Henry escorted her to Orson’s suite in The Plaza Hotel. Much to her astonishment, Welles answered the door. The rest, she relates, was less surprising. Jaglom could convince anyone of anything.

Stories about Welles are much as one would imagine—a terrific raconteur, funny, larger than life. Apparently he and the young Jack Nicholson didn’t get along well on set. “Jack had that smile even then.” Barbara, who maintains her mannequin’s body, carried health muffins wherever she went. She tried repeatedly to get Welles to go on a diet during this and another film, Someone to Love. You can imagine how it went. On this shoot she also met Tuesday Weld who was to become a great friend.

Barbara was cast opposite Dennis Hopper in the film Tracks during the height of his drug use. For some reason, much of the set was an actual train. After what she recalls as a “kinky love scene” in a narrow berth, Hopper ignored the “cut” call and pressed on. He had to be forcibly removed and undaunted, came pounding on Barbara’s door that evening. She says Hopper never missed a cue, though he improvised much of the dialogue. “Even at his worst, he was charming…” Not long ago, Barbara was invited to an anniversary screening of Easy Rider at Hopper’s home in California. They’d traveled in the same group; she’d often been on set. “He looked so clean and healthy…” It was to be the last time they hugged. Hopper died recently.

Like her other men, Jaglom took Barbara traveling. Drawn to artisan markets wherever she went, she resolved to turn her cultivated eye into a business, to buy and sell that which she deemed interesting, unique, aesthetically intriguing. Her first purchase was several large boxes of Bedouin dresses secured in Israel despite warnings that “only maids” wore the costume. (Jaglom facilitated their transport). Friends and acquaintances back home disagreed. The stock sold quickly. When Tuesday Weld lost everything in a California fire, her friend appeared with shopping bags of these dresses. Weld wore them for years. “I think she still has some!”

“I didn’t want to do one thing because, you know, you can get very bored selling pearl necklaces.” Today, Barbara Flood buys and sells vintage, couture and artist designed clothing and accessories; décor and furniture. Often approached on the street, she’s sold the coat off her back to a Japanese rock star. Her taste is elegant, interesting, decorous, original, sometimes ethnic, and always unexpected. “Oh Charles, don’t be such a tourist. What does it matter when it was built, if it’s pretty?” Evelyn Waugh—Brideshead Revisited.

She dresses and sometimes finds furnishings for select members of the entertainment and business communities. Image consultation is available. When a special gift is called for, Barbara is solicited to make a house call with suggestions. She represents a number of artists, often acting as muse. West Coast artists who hand paint on fabric were encouraged to create not only one-of-a-kind apparel but also to cover period furniture in their work. Textiles are collected of which she has cushions made and ottomans upholstered.

“The thing about my life is that I left all the men. I left them,” says this latter day femme fatale, “so I didn’t ever have heartache.” Some years ago, Barbara finally found the man she feels she’ll be with the rest of her life. Stanley Dorfman, director and fine art painter is strong, creative, confident, independent and accomplished. They maintain separate homes “he needs his golf and television,” but are often together. He cooks. She never went back to that. They understand one another’s rhythms.

Barbara Flood is a born curator and her own best creation.

See shopping article to shop in Barbara’s closet

Credit for top photo: W.Q. DeNatale

Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: Orso’s, 46th Street between 8th and 9th Ave. The food is delicious, the atmosphere perfect, filled with theatre people, movie stars, and lots of fun.
Favorite Place to Shop: A place called “If” 96 Grand Street, a perfect mix of glamour and edge.
Favorite New York Sight: Spring in New York, flowers blooming, the Plaza Hotel, the horses and carriages, the sun brightly shining.
Favorite New York Moment: Sundays in New York, going to Galleries, going downtown, seeing what’s new around, all when the weather is nice.
What You Love About New York: Its theatre, its art galleries, its museums, its culture–one can never be bored in New York City.
What You Hate About New York: The Taxi drivers!! I’m in danger of losing my life all the time! Also, the HUGE potholes in the city–why can’t they be fixed???


About Alix Cohen (783 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.