Remembering Marlene Tarbill

One of my most influential mentors was the late Marlene Tarbill of Sao Paulo, Brazil. I met Marlene in Boston while her American husband was working for a company that was building the now infamous road project that came to be known as The Big Dig.

She stood less than 5 feet tall but had a presence bigger than life. She loved to brag that she didn’t have to wear high heels to make her look taller. She packaged herself perfectly from her head to her toes every day of the week and she taught me so much about color and personal style that being with her was like a master class. We’d go shopping at Sak’s and Neiman’s “just to look”. Not to buy. She only rarely ‘bought’. But when she did it was because she had found the perfect color, silhouette, style, and fabric for her compact and curvaceous body. She would pay “whatever it costs” if it was right. And she would keep her clothes for a very long time. She once told me that she never packed a certain knit criss-cross top she owned in her regular luggage. Always in her carry-on. Because if she ever lost it she would be devestated.

She was an expert color consultant and she walked her talk every day. I remember one day, about 20 years ago, I went to see Marlene wearing something in a color that I had comprimised on. I comprimised color for price. It was a terrific deal, but the color was just off. The first thing she said to me was “That color has nothing to do with you!”.  Since English was her 2nd language, she often had interesting ways to get her point across. But I knew what she meant and I knew she was right. I love that she never took the position that you can and should wear any color. She knew that wearing colors that didn’t relate to your body did an injustice to your natural beautiful design.
I miss you Marlene. Your words come back to me over and over. If there is a heaven, I’m pretty sure you have got all the angels wearing their best shade of white. Below are two pictures of Marlene wearing prints combining black with another color. Can you tell which of the two color combinations are right for her?


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