Only some of Love, Loss, and What I Wore—a new evening of monologues by Nora and Delia Ephron that will star a rotating cast of celebrities as varied as Tyne Daly, Rosie O’Donnell, Rhea Perlman, and Samantha Bee—comes directly from the best-selling memoir by Ilene Beckerman. After falling in love with the book, the sisters sent their friends a questionnaire, collecting stories purportedly about clothing—but really about mothers and daughters, death and dating, humiliation and empowerment. They then fashioned a show that’s part Vagina Monologues, part Sex and the City, and all Ephron. Which is what they spoke about to Boris Kachka.
Like the book your show is based on, your play has a lot to do with growing up—and with mothers. What is it about clothing that brings out these issues?
Delia: It’s about your fantasy life from a young age.
Nora: There’s almost no article that a woman wears that, if you talk about it, you don’t eventually get to her mother. It’s either something her mother wouldn’t let her wear or a version of something she wore. And it’s one of the earliest ways you can separate from your mother.
So what did your mother make you wear?
D: She was obsessed with mandarin collars.
N: She what? Mandarin collars?!
D: I have photos of myself in mandarin collars and these really strange little pants.
N: Every so often [our parents] would go off on vacation and bring us back twin costumes from whatever country—horrible little Mexican ensembles. But the truth is, she wasn’t particularly interested in our clothes. It’s one of the things I feel sad about.
D: She just said, “Go to Saks and charge it there.” I think her idea was “pick one look and stick to it.” Her hair didn’t change for 40 years.
N: But she expected us to have a look at the age of 7 or 8. We’re still looking for our look, is the truth. Delia has this brilliant thing she always says, which is: One out of every three things you buy is a mistake.
I notice you’re all in black, Nora, which you’ve written about—specifically the reliability of it.
N: I just bring a black turtleneck sweater everywhere—it’s the greatest purchase of my life. Period. I bought it in Las Vegas.
D: Black makes everyone look better.
N: There’s a million ideas of black. You can write about black forever.
It’s sort of the anti-fashion, though, isn’t it?
D: The truth is, fashion is for people who are 30.
N: When you’re young, you think that clothes are almost magical, and that if you wear the right thing—to school, to the prom, on the date, etc.—something’s going to happen. Black, it’s the anti-magical thing. It comes from the recognition that it is not going to be the dress. It’s sad, but it’s also a breakthrough into some higher plane of knowledge. Because your biggest clothing mistakes always involve colors.
D: They involve prints.
So this show isn’t about fashion?
N: Fashion is the opposite of this. It makes clothes more trivial than they really are.
D: Models in gorgeous clothes have this kind of blank face. But clothes are all about your emotional life, from beginning to end. It’s about outgrowing things.
Is it about outgrowing your mother?
N: This red coat that I bought … Our mother always said, “Never, ever buy a red coat.” It was one of her rules for living, like “never use too much butter” and “veal must be pale.”
D: And “never marry a man with fat ankles.”
N: I don’t remember that one. But she said, “People will see you coming and they’ll say, ‘There she is in her red coat.’ ” And I thought that was so hilarious and brilliant. I did buy a red coat, just to tick her off really, even though she’d been dead for almost twenty years. I don’t wear it that much—I think red is almost always a mistake.