Barbra Streisand wore this exquisite gold gown by Ray Aghayan to accept the Scopus Laureate Award on December 3, 1984, which was presented to her in honor of “excellence in her chosen profession and for devotion to Jewish education.”
The Scopus Award is presented annually to an individual or to an association who have excelled in their respective fields and whose humanitarian endeavors and outstanding commitment contributed to the betterment of the Hebrew University, the State of Israel, the Jewish people and the Humanity. It is the highest honor the American Friends of the Hebrew University can bestow. The award is named after the ancient Hill of the Watchmen where Roman legions camped when they destroyed the Second Temple.
Prior to this honor, in Spring 1984 Barbra had established the Emanuel Streisand Building for Jewish Studies at Hebrew University in memory of her beloved father, whom she praised at the time as “a teacher, scholar and religious man who devoted himself to education.” She returned to the campus in 2013 when she was honored with the prestigious “Doctor Philosophiae Honoris Causa” award.
Barbra first worked with Ray Aghayan (1928-2011) back in 1963 when he and his partner Bob Mackie designed the red and white outfits for the “Hooray For Love” Medley segment of The Judy Garland Show. Aghayan designed his first dress at age 13 for a member of the royal court of the Shah in Iran. He and Mackie won the first ever Emmy Award for costume design in 1967. They would go on to work with Barbra again when designing her costumes for Funny Lady in 1975. At the time, Aghayan noted “We’re working well together. She’s like most women. She knows what is best for her.”
Barbra’s appreciation for art and eye for fashion led to the creation of another Aghayan masterpiece in 1984, when she reached out to him asking if he could create something in the style of the ornate gold gown in the Gustav Klimt painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (also called The Lady in Gold or The Woman in Gold). The 1907 painting is composed of oil paint with silver and gold leaf on canvas.
It is said that the erotic symbols in the golden gown such as eyes, eggs and triangles reflect the intimate relationship Bloch-Bauer was having with Klimt. Art historian Gilles Néret considers that the use of gold in the painting “underlines the essential erotic ingredient in … [Klimt’s] view of the world”. Néret also states that Klimt used the gold to give subjects a sacred or magical quality. This painting was purchased in 2006 by Ronald Lauder for $135 million, which was the highest price ever paid for a painting at the time and now resides in the Neue Gallery in Manhattan.
The details in Aghayan’s gold gown are equally as stunning as the detailed mosaics in Klimt’s painting. You could stare at both all day and still find something new.
In a Dec 14, 1984 Los Angeles Times article sourced by Matt Howe of Barbra Streisand Archives, Aghayan discussed the gowns creation. The piece read: “It’s not just a dress-it’s a piece of art.” That’s how Emmy-winning designer Ray Aghayan described the empire-style gown he created for Barbra Streisand when she received the Scopus award from the American Friends of the Hebrew University recently. Streisand asked Aghayan to create something in the style of Austrian Art Nouveau painter Gustav Klimt. Referring to a book of Klimt’s paintings, Aghayan layered gold lamé and embroidered it with five shades of gold beads, pale transparent sequins in peach, lavender and green and faceted stones for an overall Egyption “mystic” pattern. “She’s very inspiring,” said Aghayan of his client, with whom he has had a long association, having created her costumes, with collaborator Bob Mackie, for the movie Funny Lady. As for the gown’s price tag, Aghayan insisted: “It’s not as much as you might think.”
This gown piece features a defined square neckline and cold-shoulder cap sleeves. The décolletage area is edged in gold and copper bugle beads and gold sequins, forming a repeating box pattern which continues around the sleeves and back of the bodice.
Thousands of hand sewn bugle beads in multiple shades, along with round sequins form the repeating triangle motif which covers the dress. Scattered throughout are Eye of Providence symbols which feature pupils filled in with round sequins in various colors. This symbol represents the eye of God watching over humanity.
The empire bodice of this dress extends downward into four 47 inch long panels which have slits around the hips and drape flawlessly to the floor. The back panel forms a breathtaking square sweep train. There is an invisible zipper, hook and eye closure at the back.
Barbra mirrored the Klimpt painting by pairing her gold gown with an antique René Lalique collier de chien (dog collar) featuring an openwork floral design with art neauvou enamel mounted in 18k gold. The gold chatreuse velvet band surrounding the plaque is not original and was likely added at a later time. It is very rare to find these pieces fully intact with their original gold or seed pearls bands.
In Klimpt’s painting, Adele Bloch-Bauer also wears a dog collar which had a detachable multi-row seed pearl band. She wears this same necklace in a second portrait which Klimt painted of her in 1912, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II. The dog collar craze began when Alexandra, Princess of Wales began to wear them to cover a scar on her neck. The trend caught on as a status symbol. The pieces were generally crafted with many diamonds and pearls which only the wealthy could afford. These faded from popularity in the 1930’s.
Barbra also wore a gold bracelet which has appeared on and off again throughout the years, notably on the album key art for A Collection: Greatest Hits…And More (1989) and during her 2006 Streisand Live tour.
Barbra and Ray Aghayan’s golden collaboration sold at auction in 2004 for $4,900 including the buyers premium.