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.”
Pictured: Randy McLaughlin
Since 1984 the Hollywood Graffiti Gown has been a symbol of love, support, and hope for the thousands affected by the disease. Every signature collected has brought more awareness to the cause, especially during the height of the epidemic. It has been displayed around the globe from La Paz, Bolivia, to the Hollywood Museum in Los Angeles.
Now the Graffiti Gown will fulfill its ultimate purpose when it goes up for auction later this year. The bidding is expected to begin above $1 million.
“I’m hoping that the Graffiti Gown will be sent to the Smithsonian so it can live on long after I’m gone,” says McLaughlin. “It needs to be in a place where people can see it in person.”
Once the gown is sold, McLaughlin plans to finish his latest project, the Hollywood Graffiti Tails — a formal tuxedo version of the Graffiti Gown. Graffiti Tails already boasts more than 200 signatures from celebrities, including Ryan Seacrest, Bob Barker, Tom Bosley, Tab Hunter, and Johnny Mathis.
Skeels and McLaughlin’s efforts — and the gown’s eventual sale — prove that in difficult times, art can be a salve.
To see the Hollwyood Graffiti Gown and more work by McLaughlin's Jeran Designs, click the next pages.
The Hollywood Graffiti Gown, to be auctioned off at the end of this year.
Nikki Newman's famous Young and the Restless wedding dress
The infamous Marie Antoinette come to life in Jeran Designs
McLaughlin and Florence Henderson attend a viewing of the gown.