ursula andress, queen of power dressing
Alex Ronan shares a lesson on confidence and coats from a 60s film siren.
Photography Pierluigi Praturlon/Getty Images
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It was, she later said, the bikini that made her a star. When Ursula Andress emerged from the ocean in Dr. No — tossing two conch shells to the shore and shaking the water from her hair — the world took notice. Sales of bikinis skyrocketed; Andress became an instant sensation, and the Bond franchise took off. After starring opposite Sean Connery, Andress shared the screen with Elvis, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. She met the Queen of England and dated James Dean just before his death. Her characters were named Astrid, Aphrodite, or Athalie; she appeared nude or nearly nude in so many films she was teasingly called Ursula Undress.
But whenever I watch the scene, the one with the cotton bikini and the conch shells, I find that Andress looks kind of uncomfortable. It's as if she doesn't quite know how to stand or what to do with her hands. Later, she talked about herself as someone possessing almost no self-confidence at that time; she'd hoped her first role would be in a "tiny" film with limited distribution. Things didn't quite work out that way for Dr. No andsince women have rarely been the arbiters of sexiness, that scene has gone down in cinematic history as one of the hottest.
After Dr. No, Andress could pick and choose her roles; choice brought about confidence and also lots of cash. I was delighted to discover that Andress was subsequently known as an Ice Queen, which means only that she didn't care as much as men wanted her to, but looked so good doing it they couldn't stop paying attention.
I didn't even realize Andress was the Bond girl when I first noticed her while scrolling through archival paparazzi shots online. Who is that?? I thought, taking in the high half-ponytail, kohl-rimmed eyes, and big fabulous coat. Once I eventually put it together and tracked down more photos of her, it became clear that, like me, Andress views a coat as more than just a means of warmth.
A really good faux-fur coat in college pushed my appreciation for outerwear into a full-blown obsession. As I stalked around I hoped people who didn't know my name might simply think of me as the girl with the great coat. Andress was probably known most for her leopard-print ones, which she paired with matching boots and wore on motorcycles, stepping out of cars, and even, once, waiting impatiently at Heathrow Airport.
My inventory of her on and offscreen inventory accounts for a classic trench, a silky bomber, all that leopard print, plus one long, black suede coat with shearling trim. In the 60s, Andress seemed especially partial to a sequined jacket with furry cuffs that she wore in a variety of countries and on a number of different sets. Filming Anyone Can Play (1968) she stands in the coat with her hands tucked forcefully in the front pockets, staring right into the camera.
I've had one coat for years without a properly working zipper, but the suede is this perfect dusty red color. And anyways, who needs a zipper when there are four front pockets? The first two are best for the traditional and slightly angled hand warming, the latter pair essential to standing glumly, hands straight down and balled into fists, waiting for that always late friend who's really pushing it this time.
A few years and a few other coats later, I find the last thing put on to be one of the most important in shaping how I feel about myself on a given day. There is nothing quite like a long suede coat brushing the back of my calves when I'm wearing a seasonally inappropriate miniskirt or shrugging off a pink leather racing jacket to reveal a really great tee. I'd wager that the only woman who hasn't stood before a mirror in underwear, boots, and a coat draped around her either lives in a climate where coats are wholly unnecessary or just hasn't found the right one yet.
When asked why she posed for Playboy, Andress responded, "Because I'm beautiful." The bikini defined her career, but a symbol of leisurely beach vacations hardly feels right for the fast paced, jet-setting star. Even before she found fame, she was moving quickly. She had to be tracked down by INTERPOL after running away from boarding school at 17. A year later, she left the small Swiss city of her birth for Rome. She later described herself as "a former Bond girl who from seven a.m. until late is go, go, go."
Most icons of style have certainty in spades and it comes out in how they dress and choose to spend their days. But, there is something to be said for not quite knowing where you're going, but feeling the urge to go anyway. That's why I love Andress so much. Often, she was more curious than confident, but even later on when her utter confidence manifested as icy coolness, she didn't revel in it so much as let it carry her for a bit before she chose where to go next. She's a good reminder that you don't need to be all confidence to commit to forward motion.
I can't think of a better power move than attending a party without taking off your coat, as if certain you'll leave any minute for something bigger and better. Even if she was likely unsure what her next step would be, Andress mostly moved with the ease of someone who knew where she was going. It's how I always imagine her; coat on, hand slipped under the collar, impatiently and absentmindedly drumming on her clavicle. Ready for the next role, the next ride.
Text Alex Ronan
Photography Pierluigi Praturlon/Getty Images