Fashion critic Mr. Blackwell dies at 86

Jewish fashion designer Mr. Blackwell, whose annual worst-dressed list skewered the fashion felonies of celebrities from Zsa Zsa Gabor to Britney Spears, died at age 86 on Oct. 19 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles of complications from an intestinal infection, a publicist said.

He once said of Barbra Streisand, “She looks like a masculine bride of Frankenstein.”

When he issued his first tongue-in-cheek criticism of Hollywood fashion disasters, in 1960, Blackwell was a little-known dress designer.

Born Richard Sylvan Seltzer in 1922 in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in the borough’s Bensonhurst section, Blackwell grew up in the tenement. Years later, he recounted in his autobiography, “From Rags to Bitches,” a troubled, poverty-ridden childhood in which he was variously a truant, thief and prostitute.

He became an actor in his teens and appeared in the original 1935 Broadway production of “Dead End.” His Hollywood career was limited to bit parts, including “Juvenile Court” (as Dick Selzer).

He abandoned acting in 1958 and switched to fashion design. He claimed to be the first to make designer jeans for women, and his salon had begun to attract a few Hollywood names when he issued his first list covering the fashion faux pas.

Year after year, he would take Hollywood’s reigning stars and other celebrities to task, and the list quickly made him a favorite on the TV talk show circuit. He also hosted his own show, “Mr. Blackwell Presents,” in 1968. During Blackwell’s heyday, the release of the annual list was an eagerly anticipated, lavish media event. By the turning of the millennium, however, the list had lost its juice and Blackwell took to issuing it by e-mail.