Hollywood costume designers seldom get a book length biography, unless their name is Edith Head, in which case even book editors have heard of them. And in these days of a retrenched book market, it’s a miracle that one is coming out on Irene, after several attempts by different authors to pay tribute to the amazingly talented but ultimately tragic figure of Irene Lentz Gibbons.
Irene: A Designer from the Golden Age of Hollywood, the MGM Years 1942-1949, by Frank Billecci and Lauranne B. Fisher offers a winning combination of insider information from Irene’s own sketch artist Virginia Fisher and her secretary Chrys Carter, along with scores of costume sketches illustrated by Virginia Fisher herself during many of the years in question, and supplemented by costume sketches from Irene’s previous sketch artist Katy Bill.
Irene had been the designer at Bullocks Wilshire’s The French Room, where she dressed many of the leading stars of screen and society in the 1930s. She designed gowns for Marlene Dietrich that Dietrich wore for years, even taking them on her USO tours on the front in WW II. She was free-lancing as a costume designer as well before MGM hired her to replace Adrian in 1942. Irene designed for many of the major stars of the 40s, but the glamour years of the 30s were over. Irene never quite found her rhythm with the historical films, musicals, and the lower budgeted films of the mid-40s. Then when she made enemies with Katharine Hepburn, things really turned bad.
The book is not just an homage, but presents Irene as a troubled person. Just after a year of marriage to film director F. Richard Jones, to whom she was deeply in love, he died of tuberculosis. Irene developed a melencholia that ultimately turned to alcholoism. It was amazing that she could remain so creative under an increasingly gripping addiction. Her condition was not without its problems, however, as her time at MGM is elucidated in this book. Irene went on to start her own very successful line.
Based on inteviews, institutional research and containing some 150 costume sketches and photographs, this book is well worth its place on the book shelf of those interested in Hollywood lore and costume design history.
ISBN13: 9780764345555 $50 Schiffer Publishing