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Why High Fashion Was So Much Better in the 1950s

But another facet of fashion know-how emerges in this documentary: Schuberth understood the importance of appearance, and the power of well-made clothing to improve a person's status in life. He cared -- really cared -- about his clients. "To reach success," he said, "a woman should be always chic, elegant, special, always a la page [French for "with-it"], modern ... because an elegant woman has more chance to have success." He also cared about women who weren't his clients, but wanted to be, opening a boutique that sold lower-priced versions of his heady, movie-set-ready creations (like "Project Runway" alumnus Christian Siriano, a worthy Schuberth heir, who designs gorgeous shoes for Payless and recently opened a retail store in New York City).

And long before today's popular concept of televised makeovers, Schuberth mounted a campaign to improve the appearance of one high-profile woman whose beauty he admired, but whose style he found appalling: Princess Margaret. Newsreels feature Schuberth offering the Princess fashion tips, while archival footage and stills show the designer sketching entire wardrobes of elegant, modern looks just for her. Reality-TV producers would be all over that as a show concept today, to be sure. But watching his repeated attempts to constructively critique Princess Margaret's outdated look, one gets the distinct impression that Schuberth waged his crusade not just for the notoriety of it all, but because he sincerely wanted Queen Elizabeth's kid sister to look her modern best.