Barbra Streisand wore this voluminous, floral Ferdinando Sarmi gown during act two of her A Happening in Central Park concert which was filmed on June 17th, 1967. The free concert took place as part of the second season of the Rheingold Central Park Music Festival was initially estimated to draw 75,000 people. Around 135,000 showed up.
Barbra had initially purchased several Sarmi dresses at Saks Fifth Avenue as a possibilities to wear during her “An Evening With Barbra Streisand” five-city tour. These chiffon gowns were all tent shaped, allowing extra room for her growing pregnancy. In a 1966 interview with Chicago Sun-Times, Barbra mentioned that she liked to wear chiffon for concerts because, “it flows and looks dramatic.” She also noted that she had at least six dresses in mind for each performance and never really decided what to wear until the day of the show.
This selection went unworn on the aforementioned tour, but was kept backstage at Central Park the following Spring as an option.
Initially, Barbra wore a purple and red dotted Brooks gown during rehearsal for act two, but wasn’t thrilled with. This gown was the next best choice and proved to be an incredible one, especially when the wind danced with the billowing fabric. As Barbra noted weeks later, “I’m usually right. It’s my instrument. I’ve always had it.” The vibrant color was a standout and the cape gave Barbra an extra touch of drama to utilize while singing as well as provided a cohesive fashion story with her act one Irene Sharaff cape.
This ethereal sheath gown was made from floral printed silk-chiffon, over a chiffon covered crepe underdress. The floral print features shades of red, pink, orange, brown and black. It has a bateau neckline and a tapered hem at each shoulder which give way to two gathered panels of silk-chiffon on each side. This extra fabric created a split watteau and allowed Barbra to utilize the gown to create a cape like effect onstage. The back of the gown features a deep-V with a large black satin bow and keyhole opening at the lower back. This little detail is seen very briefly in the TV special but must have looked stunning in person.
Ferdinando Sarmi was known for his extravagant evening gowns. He was once the head designer for Elizabeth Arden before he opened his own ready-to-wear salon in New York in 1959. During his career, he dressed celebrities, socialites, and first ladies.
His work often featured intricate embroideries and vivid colors. With Tzaims Luksus, he created the first ever tie-dyed silver chiffons used in haute couture. Sarmi won a Coty award in 1960, but by 1972 his business fell into financial ruin. He retired to Italy in 1977. It is easy to see why his dresses worked so well on Barbra, since they featured some of her favorite flattering shapes and style elements.