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Nora and Delia Ephron swear up and down they’re not fashionable.
Nora: “Style? What style?”
Delia: “I make thousands of fashion mistakes. Every single thing I bought last year was a mistake.”
Nora: “We are not into fashion. We are not into fashion.”
And yet. On an early fall morning, the sisters and sometime-writing partners sit down in Nora’s office on the Upper East Side, looking perfectly pulled together and wearing exactly the kinds of labels (Chanel, Prada, The Row) that very fashionable women wear. This, it seems, is not unusual.
“Every time I see them they look so chic,” says actress and comedienne Samantha Bee. “When I stand beside them I feel like a hillbilly.”
Whether or not they’ll admit to being into fashion, the Ephrons are talking a lot about clothes these days — their own and other people’s. Their new play, “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” based on Ilene Beckerman’s best-selling book of the same name and starring a rotating cast including Bee, Rosie O’Donnell, Rita Wilson and Jane Lynch, opens at the Westside Theater on Oct. 1. As the title suggests, the vignettes the Ephrons have written address love, loss and what women wore, but it’s not all Manolos and LBDs. The play also discusses the big, capital-L Life stuff, such as death, illness and even rape. (A portion of ticket sales benefit Dress for Success.)
“When you ask people about their clothes, what they do is tell you about their lives,” Delia says. “Someone will say, ‘My husband was wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt when he told me he didn’t want to be married anymore.’ For some reason, that’s what they remember.”
Like the book, the play begins with Beckerman’s mother and the Brownie uniforms, taffeta party dresses and Easter Sunday outfits she sewed for her daughter. “My mother made this for me,” Beckerman writes about a black ballet class ensemble. “I liked it very much, but what I really wanted was a store bought outfit.”
It’s a logical jumping off point, Nora says. “If you just say to anyone, point blank, to talk about their clothes, they start with their mothers. It’s so loaded with mother stuff.”
The Ephrons’ own mother, Phoebe, a screenwriter who lived in Beverly Hills, wore a uniform of skirt suits that she bought at Matthews and Amelia Gray. Nevertheless, “she didn’t think about clothes in any real way,” Nora says, “and in sort of a good way — except if you were a teenager and she didn’t understand why it mattered so much to you that you have a reversible Pendleton pleated skirt.”
“My only memory of shopping with her is trailing her through some children’s store on Wilshire Boulevard,” says Delia. “I fell in love with a dress with pineapples on it. She said, ‘I’m not buying you a dress with pineapples on it.’ I don’t think I ever said another thing about clothes to her again.”
And so growing up, questions such as “does this look OK?” were left to Nora and Delia’s younger sisters, Amy and Hallie. The four were too far apart in age to share (or fight over) clothes, but Delia did end up with Nora’s hand-me-down prom dress: a bubble-gum pink, strapless, “sort of lacy” confection with a matching chiffon scarf. “I feel bad about that,” Nora says, “but then I remembered the dress, and it was really cute.” Neither woman remembers her date.
Later, Nora and Delia experienced their fair share of sartorial triumphs and tragedies. The dresses they chose for their first weddings were fabulous, they say, even if the marriages weren’t.