Barbra Streisand wore this Donald Brooks gown which she accessorized with a Schreiner brooch on June 16, 1967, (53 years ago today) as she rehearsed act two of her A Happening Central Park concert. She had previously worn the gown onstage for the second half of her “An Evening With Barbra Streisand” concert at Chicago’s Soldier Field on August 9, 1966. Due to the roomy empire cut it transitioned easily into maternity wear.
This gown had been in Barbra’s collection for some time, as we also see it being held up as an option by her dresser in a snapshot from the Color Me Barbra advanced photo session on Dec 29, 1965.
Matt Howe of Barbra Archives’ research found an amazing piece written by Redbook’s Martha Weinman Lear who one of the reporters on hand in Barbra’s trailer at the 1967 A Happening in Central Park Rehearsal. In it, Weinman documented the difficult decision which Barbra was having choosing her gown for act two. “Listen, what the hell am I going to wear?’ She changed into the Brooks and went back to the cameras. “Barbra”-the director’s voice, coming from the mobile unit parked nearby blasted over the loudspeaker. “Barbra, I love that one, dear.” Miss Streisand seemed to sniff the air suspiciously. “Better than the pink one?” she asked. “Yes, I think so.” She looked momentarily confused. “I want to try on some others,” she said. The director suggested they finish rehearsing first.”
Barbra instead ended up choosing a beautiful Sarmi chiffon gown for act two.
Barbra wasn’t new to wearing Brooks. She had famously worn one of his beautiful pink and green gowns on the cover of Life Magazine in 1964. His empire-waist, flowing chiffon creations embodied the signature Streisand look of the 60’s.
This vibrant purple, orange and red halter gown featured one of Donald Brooks’ unmistakable bold colorful prints. There is a high jewel neckline and low open back which has a row of rouleau buttons. A ruched purple band sits at the empire waistline and circles the gown. Printed-chiffon cascades downward into sweeping layers which end in a rolled hem. The bold pattern covering the entire gown features dots encircled in teardrop motifs and larger circles.
Barbra placed a statement Schreiner brooch at the center of the purple waist band. She has always been fond of adding brooches to gowns and this one worked so perfectly you would never know it wasn’t originally attached. The piece is is 2 ½ X 3”. It features Schreiner’s signature upturned rhinestone setting along with kite shaped, teardrop and round orange glass stones in various sizes. The central green, emerald cut gem sits in an ornate, and intricate gold four claw setting. This brooch sold at auction in 2004 for $930.00 including the buyers premium.
Donald Brooks (1928-2005) was born in New Haven CT, as Donald Blumberg. He studied at Yale school of Drama where he first decided to become a costume and clothing designer. He went on to study fashion at FIT and Parsons in NYC. His first job in the industry was as a window designer for Lord & Taylor. This job brought him some acclaim and the store’s president, Dorothy Shaver, quickly hired him to design a collection. By the 60’s The New York Times had cited Brooks as one of the 3 B’s of fashion including Bill Blass & Geoffrey Beene. He began designing his own collection from 1964-1973. During his career he was honored with three Coty Awards. Brooks also designed costumes for Broadway and film, earning an Emmy, Tony, and several Academy Awards nominations. His designs were noted for their simplicity and use of bold prints. His dresses were easy fitting and made in distinctive fabrics with surprising colors.
He once said, “You can turn an absolute whore into a lady by just putting pearls around her neck.” The boldness about a Brooks design that made an impact also made his contemporary dresses for the stage particularly successful. His designs have been showcased in The Met Museum, The Smithsonian and more.