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Ephron's fashion choices; a 2011 interview

Nor(left) DeliEphron

Nora (left) and Delia Ephron

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♦ Sept. 14-Dec. 4

♦ Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut

♦ Tickets: $68-$78

♦ (800) 775-2000;

Updated: June 26, 2012 10:47PM

As every woman will tell you, certain items of clothing can assume the quality of sacred objects.

There is that perfect black dress that makes you feel like a million bucks every time you put it on. There are those boots you bought on your first trip to Italy that make you feel like an honorary European. There is that perfect leather bag that has always had its own special swagger, or the shawl or necklace that is forever infused with memories because they were passed down from a mother or grandmother, or were gifts from someone special.

And then there are the clothes to be loathed: the catastrophically awful outfit you wore to a posh party that made you feel like a total outcast; the suit you bought for your first important job that was totally at odds with your personal style; the oversized purple blouse that hints at a bout of temporary insanity.

Clothes play a crucial role in a woman’s psychological, social and emotional well-being. True, some women simply give up on it all at one point or another in life. But the fashion industry — from designer labels to the cheapest knockoffs — is a testament to the fact that most of us are hooked forever on what the title of Ilene Beckerman’s 1995 best-selling book so succinctly defined as Love, Loss, and What I Wore.

Beckerman’s small, poignant, beguilingly self-illustrated little book was initially adapted by those witty sisters, Nora and Delia Ephron, for use at a benefit event. But the emotional impact of its monologues about women, their wardrobes and their personal relationships was so palpable that in 2009 it morphed into an Off-Broadway production. Produced by Daryl Roth and directed by Karen Carpenter, “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” became a long-running hit featuring an ever-rotating series of actresses, and it has subsequently been staged in cities around the world. It will receive its Chicago debut Sept. 14 at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place with a cast that includes Nora Dunn, Barbara Robertson, Felicia Fields, Emily Bergl and Katie O’Brien. Taylor Miller (of “All My Children” renown) will join the rotating cast on Oct. 25, and Loretta Swit (of “MASH” fame) will begin Nov. 8.

In a joint phone chat with the Ephron sisters recently, Nora Ephron recalled she was sent a copy of Beckerman’s book when it was still in manuscript form.

“It came with a note from the publisher saying, ‘We’ve bought this odd thing that is not quite like anything else, and I think it needs an introduction,’ ” Nora said. “But I began reading it, and by the time Ilene [Beckerman] tells us she was 12 when her mother died, I burst into tears. And I called the publisher and said, ‘This book needs no introduction. It will be a best-seller.’

“One thing I know about me is that the word ‘fashion’ doesn’t make it onto the list of the 500 things I am. Sometimes I’ll put something on and it is me. Sometimes I buy mistakes and look in the mirror and think, ‘OK, I bought something Delia might buy.’ The material in Ilene’s book was just so magical — all the things about the clothes her mother made for her, and what she wore in high school and when she got married. And I remember saying to Delia almost immediately: ‘What if we could do this as a play’?”

The Ephrons knew they would need additional stories to expand the time frame (Beckerman grew up in Manhattan in the 1940s and ’50s), so they sent out questionnaires to all their friends and the daughters of their friends, and some of those responses have been incorporated into the show.

“I can look back and recall things I wore in my life that I looked great in,” Nora said. “In the ’60s, Rudi Gernreich made wonderful knit dresses that were so comfortable and brightly colored and just adorable. I couldn’t wear them now as I’m in the black world where I just freshen things up with the occasional burst of white.”

As Delia observed: “We both understand black now. But there is a period when your body, your clothes and your life all go together. And I still remember a wonderful little store in New York called Paraphernalia with clothes that had a little Beatles flair, and I found a magenta crocheted dress I even wore to work, which was probably insane. And then there was my raspberry silk sweater with the very low V-neck I was wearing when I met my husband. I’ve spent my life looking for a replacement.”

“I do love clothes, though not ‘fashion’,” said Delia, who admits to having a particular passion for shoes — especially a “smashing pair of red high heels I can’t even walk in.”

“And what is so powerful about this show — and you can hear the little eruptions and shrieks of recognition in the audience — is to see how clothes are so wrapped up with the emotional moments in life. Sometimes it’s funny, too. Remember those pants with stirrups under your feet? We all wore them, even though they looked so stupid.”

“I now wish I could wear things that show my arms, and my chest and my legs,” confessed Nora, author of the essay collection, I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, as well as a slew of hit screenplays. “Instead, I practically go out wrapped in a burqa unless it’s a dark restaurant and I can wear something sleeveless.”

For Delia, the worrying words these days are “Mom jeans.”

“I heard that term and really panicked,” she said.

From the start, the “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” production has partnered with Dress for Success, the nonprofit organization that provides suitable interview clothing and career development help to low-income women in more than 75 cities worldwide.

“My nieces have walked off with whatever clothes I didn’t donate,” said Delia, whose new novel, The Lion Is In, debuts in July 2012. “They just love those 1970s shoulder pads.”

About the matter of a possible movie version of “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” the sisters agree: “We really love it the way it is, and we’re not sure we know how to make it into a movie. The charm is that it is not a movie.”

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