Before her brutal murder in 1969, 26-year-old beauty Sharon Tate had a prolific albeit brief career working with many fashion icons and Hollywood legends. In the new book Sharon Tate: Recollection, Sharon's sister Debra Tate celebrates her sister's life, career and enduring beauty that continues to inspire today.
I had always wanted to write a book about my sister, for many reasons. Primarily, I felt it was my obligation to help preserve her considerable photographic legacy, but also to try and redefine how Sharon was remembered.
For many years she had been in the public’s consciousness because of a specific event – and then I noticed a change. New generations began to appreciate Sharon for who she was. Fan websites started appearing, fashion blogs regularly featured her as a '60s fashion icon, and major celebrities even referenced Sharon as the style inspiration for their magazine editorials and red carpet appearances. Today she is everywhere. The idea for the book was not to present a traditional biography, but to carefully assemble photographs and pair them with recollections from myself, Sharon's friends, costars and work associates, and even Sharon herself.
What amazed me when researching for this book was her extraordinary productivity — the immense and diverse body of work in such a relatively brief time. Sharon was photographed by some of the greats of the 20th century – Richard Avedon, Bert Stern, David Bailey, Milton Greene, Terry O’Neill, Philippe Halsman, Shahrokh Hatami. She also had the opportunity to act opposite such screen legends as David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Kim Novak, Tony Curtis, Orson Welles, Dean Martin, Patty Duke, Lee Grant, and Claudia Cardinale.
Working on the book was emotional, but also a lot of fun. I think my favorite part was reconnecting with some of the people who were close to Sharon, who wrote such lovely things about her specially for the book. There was also a wonderful sense of accomplishment in preserving her achievements. I also loved going back to 20th Century Fox, so many years later, to explore their archive for the chapter on Valley of the Dolls.
Sharon always had an innate sense of style, even as a teenager, and of course was aware of how extraordinarily beautiful she was, but I think for this very reason she never flaunted her looks. She sometimes even went out of her way to downplay them. Sharon could turn heads wearing jeans, a t-shirt, no make-up and her hair pulled back in a ponytail. That said, she adored designer clothing and frequently wore Dior, Chanel, Pucci, Rudi Gernreich, Betsey Johnson, Ossie Clark and Paco Rabanne. Her favorite designer was Thea Porter.
"I think people today love Sharon for many reasons – her beauty, her sweetness, her diverse style. There was a light about Sharon, almost a fourth dimension if you will, that transcended the limitations of photography. It is almost as if you can see into her soul and know who she was just by looking at her picture."
As a fashion icon, it’s difficult to single out one representative style as she looked spectacular in everything – traditional couture, mod, “Hippy Chic,” even a simple bikini. I will say, if there was one “Sharon Tate” look that most fans seem to adore, it’s her high fashion appearance in Valley of the Dolls – the gowns, the false eyelashes, the hairpieces, the camp. That film seems to become more popular with each passing year.
When I first approached Roman [Polanski] about writing something for the book, he was a little reserved and asked to see a final version before committing. After I sent him the initial layouts, he saw how unique and positive the book was – a true celebration of Sharon’s life. He was very pleased and promptly sent back his beautiful foreword.
I think people today love Sharon for many reasons – her beauty, her sweetness, her diverse style. There was a light about Sharon, almost a fourth dimension if you will, that transcended the limitations of photography. It is almost as if you can see into her soul and know who she was just by looking at her picture. She really captured the essence of the '60s.
As a direct result of losing Sharon, we became the founding family of Victims’ Rights – a cause that through the continued hard work of now legions of people continues to save lives and ease the pain of those left behind. My mother, Doris, is actually often referred to as “The Mother of the Victims’ Rights Movement.” For this we are, of course, very proud.
Ultimately, I always felt it was very unfair for Sharon’s life to be remembered primarily for its final moments. My sister had a magnificent life, charmed even, and I hope this book enables her current and future fans to celebrate that.
Debra Tate is the author of SHARON TATE: RECOLLECTION (Running Press), available everywhere books are sold.