Life Lessons from Elizabeth Taylor on Men, Sex, Food and Thanksgiving

There weren’t many best friends like Elizabeth Taylor. For fashion designer, Vicky Tiel, she was a teacher, a mentor, and a fellow lover of fried chicken.

“Elizabeth taught me so many things,” says Tiel, 75, who shares her stories of the screen legend (as well as those from her many celebrity clients, from Oprah to Kim Kardashian) in her new book, The Absolute Woman: It’s All About Feminine Power.

Here, she shares some of the life lessons (and funny moments) from her decades long friendship with Taylor.


“The number one thing I learned from Elizabeth was marry the man who loves you the most,” says Tiel. “Don’t chase after men. Don’t marry a man for money. You know who is madly in love with you. And for Elizabeth, that was Richard Burton.”

Opposites Attract

“Richard was a complicated person,” says Tiel. “He would read two or three books at a time. He traveled with a trunk of books. Elizabeth was the opposite. She really loved food and sex. She loved to hang out with her girlfriends and talk about who’s hot and who’s not. She had a crush on Marlon Brando and she thought Warren Beatty was hunky. But it was Richard with whom she was madly in love.”

Buy Your Own Shoes

“Elizabeth taught me to make your own money and buy your own shoes,” says Tiel, who launched her design business in Paris in 1965. “She always had her own resources. When she found out a man got a million dollars for a movie, she went to MGM and demanded a million for Cleopatra. She was the first woman to get a million. She loved her independence but at the same time, she wanted a man to show his love by buying her jewels!”

Show off your assets

“When my partner (Mia Fonsagrives) and I were making clothes for the film What’s New Pussycat?, Elizabeth was in the film studio across the hall. She was wearing a full-skirted suit and we were wearing mini dresses. She said, ‘I look so old in this. Can you start making my clothes too?’” Taylor eventually backed Tiel’s fashion business but refused a share of the profits. “I asked Elizabeth how she wanted to be paid and she said, ‘Dresses for life.’ And that’s what we did,” says Tiel, who designed many of her dresses including the gown she wore for her party after her wedding to Larry Fortensky. (Tiel says her favorite style was an African-inspired caftan. “They were comfortable and showed off her best asset, which was her bust.”)

Ditch the sweats

“Elizabeth always pranced around the house in fabulous nightgowns,” says Tiel. “You never saw her in a t-shirt, jumping into bed. Three quarters of her closet was filled with nightgowns and things for underneath. She always smelled good and had her lipstick on. She always maintained her feminine power.”

Fried chicken with fine wine

“Elizabeth made sure that everywhere we went in the world, the five Grand Crus, from 1961 and 1964, were served,” says Tiel. “The five Grand Crus were the greatest French wines. She liked to match them with hot dogs, hamburgers, even peanut butter and jelly but her favorite food was fried chicken, which also went well with Dom Perignon. Only in crystal glasses.”

Thanksgiving is good — in multiples

“Elizabeth loved Thanksgiving,” says Tiel. “We used to have Thanksgiving dinner contests where all of us in the entourage (there were about nine of us) would each cook a whole Thanksgiving dinner. They would be laid out on a table in the studio and she’d go around and taste each dish. It was a bake off! And she’d judge us on who made the best gravy, the best mashed potatoes, the best turkey and the best pie! We were like family.” (Her favorite dish? Mashed potatoes and gravy.)

Everybody is equal

“Elizabeth hated snobs,” says Tiel. “She thought everyone was someone you can talk to. Everybody is equal. At dinners in her hotel suite, she’d seat her driver next to Princess Grace of Monaco and then he’d dance with her at the after party. She was one of the most famous people in the world, yet she was totally accessible. She taught us to see everyone as equal and she taught us acceptance.”

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