July 23, 2014  |  Film
Tiger Morse: Fashion Guru and Andy Warhol Star
Tiger Morse (Reel 14 of ***). 1963. USA. Directed by Andy Warhol. © 2014 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved. Image courtesy of The Andy Warhol Film Project, Whitney Museum of American Art

Tiger Morse (Reel 14 of ***). 1967. USA. Directed by Andy Warhol. © 2014 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved. Image courtesy of The Andy Warhol Film Project, Whitney Museum of American Art

I have a vague recollection of attending a classmate’s birthday party when I was about six or seven and in the gift bag there was a paper dress perfectly sized to fit me! The dress was neatly folded in a flat plastic package; it was a simple, A-line, sleeveless shift dress with brightly colored circles. I can’t recall the manufacturer, but the material was something like a thick, stretchy paper towel. I don’t think I ever wore the dress. Not too long ago there was an adult version of a paper dress appraised on Antiques Roadshow and it turned out to be both rare and valuable. What brought back this long-ago memory of the birthday party paper dress was a recent screening of the 1967 Andy Warhol film Tiger Morse (Reel 14 of ****).

Joan “Tiger” Morse (American, 1932–1972), a New York socialite, was a mod fashion designer in the mid 1960s. Her fellow fashion innovators included Paco Rabanne, Mary Quant, Betsy Johnson, André Courrèges, and Rudi Gernreich, though those names have been better served by histories of the international sartorial world. But here in Manhattan, if you needed a silver mini dress made out of Mylar and wired with pulsing lights, you went to Morse’s Teeny Weeny. As the proprietress of the Teeny Weeny, her pop boutique located on Madison Avenue at 73rd Street, Morse sold mini dresses and other fashion oddities that used primarily man-made fabrications. With her frequent collaborator Diana Dew, Morse turned out illuminated mini dresses that would glow in myriad colors, all powered by a small battery pack worn at the waist.

In Tiger Morse (Reel 14 of ****), Morse, a known amphetamine addict, delivers a 33-minute monologue that touches relevant issues of 1967 and the marvelous, party-filled, mod world in which she lived. Driven by her own fabulousness and outrageous, amphetamine-fueled motormouth, Morse opined on the wearisome trio of love, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll that other, similarly doomed Warhol divas preached. With one exception, Morse was obsessed with mirrored disco balls, and in her monologue she natters on incessantly about the reflective orbs that were hanging from the ceiling in her shop and strewn about the floor.

With Andy Warhol behind the camera in the tight confines of the Teeny Weeny, Morse, smoking a cigarette through an exaggeratedly long holder, prattles on about designing dresses in the modern age. (Ever the fashion trailblazer, the platinum-haired Morse was always shielded by a pair of extraordinary sunglasses, whether indoors or out.) She holds up a panel of what appear to be flat, mirrored tiles to her body and models for the camera—in Tiger’s world, these unlikely materials could be turned into the bodice of a dress or embellishments on a gown. One thing is certain, though: if the color of the materials was silver, Morse would just swoon!

Claire K. Henry of the Andy Warhol Film Project wrote in 2013, “Warhol’s late camera work is also highlighted: the film contains many interruptive pans, rapid strobe cuts, and focus pulls, and is shot on jewel-like Ektachrome reversal stock. The footage was later inserted as Reel 14 into Warhol’s epic 25-hour film **** (Four Stars).” Never screened between 1972 and MoMA’s 2013 To Save and Protect festival, Tiger Morse (Reel 14 of ****) was preserved with a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation by The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, as part of the museum’s larger mission of promoting and safeguarding Andy Warhol’s legacy.

Evidence of Tiger Morse’s influence in the fashion world remains, even if her name is unfamiliar today. In 2010 pop singer Katy Perry wore a gown, designed by CuteCircuit, to the Met Costume Institute Gala that could have been hanging on a rack at the Teeny Weeny. Perry’s gown, designed in a traditional couture mode, was made of multiple yards of flowing chiffon hiding many miniature wires and lights. The gown was a virtual rainbow of color and movement when the lights were fired up for full effect. So thank you, Tiger Morse, for showing us the way in the once-dark arena of fashion!

Tiger Morse (Reel 14 of ****) is available for rental through MoMA’s Circulating Film Library.