Hollywood glamour in the 1980s was extraordinary—the glitz, the vibrancy, and the stars who made the looks famous formed a powerful elixir that American culture was eager to consume. In the middle of it all were Randy McLaughlin and Jerry Skeels, life partners for nearly 30 years and founders of Jeran Designs.
McLaughlin and Skeels created some of the most iconic fashions of the 1980s, including the sparkling red gown worn by Joan Collins on her December 1983 Playboy cover and the wedding dress with a 10-foot train worn by Nikki Reed Newman (Melody Thomas Scott) on The Young and the Restless. But without a doubt, the most revered of the duo’s works is the Hollywood Graffiti Gown—a German velvet couture dress adorned with more than 350 hand-beaded signatures of some of the most famous women in entertainment and other fields, including Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Bettie Page, and even Mother Teresa. (A recent addition: the cast of Desperate Housewives.)
Now McLaughlin (Skeels died in 2007) is putting the Hollywood Graffiti Gown, three decades in the making, up for auction, and donating the proceeds to HIV and AIDS organizations including Project Concern, AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Academy of Friends, and TV Cares.
The idea of the dress first came to McLaughlin in 1980. “I closed my eyes and had this vision of a gown,” he says. “I told [Jerry] it had a high neck, dolman sleeves, and a long train, and it had signatures on it. All I knew is that it was going to be the most famous gown in the whole world, and it was going to represent something for a good cause that will help people. Then in 1982, I remember reading the L.A. Times. In big bold letters on the cover, it said, ‘The Gay Plague.’ I thought, Oh, my God, what is that? Later they gave it the name AIDS.”