Tag Archives: Irene

COSTUMING FRED ASTAIRE’S DANCING PARTNERS

 

Fred Astaire danced with the best dancing stars of classic Hollywood. And while they danced with him they were dressed by some of the best studio costume designers. His dance partners have included Ginger Rogers, who he danced  with in several movies: Rita Hayworth;  Eleanor Powell; Judy Garland; Vera-Ellen; Cyd Charisse, Leslie Caron; and Audrey Hepburn, and he even partnered with Gene Kelly in Ziegfeld Follies. 

Fred & Adele Astaire in Smiles (Broadway) 1930-1931 Photo courtesy Photofest

Fred Astaire was born to entertain. He and his older sister Adele began a Vaudeville act when he was 7. Fred met George Gershwin in 1916 and they remained friends for the rest of George’s short life. The Astaires were on Broadway by 1917. They performed in several musicals that took them to London. There, Adele was wooed and wed by Lord Charles Cavendish. Along with his natural grace Fred picked up the impeccable style of the British upper class. But now he was without a partner and his act fell apart.  He managed to find himself in another successful Broadway musical, Gay Divorce (1932-1933)with dancing partner Clare Luce, with Cole Porter’s music including the catchy number, Night and Day. After closing the show he went to Hollywood with a contract at RKO Pictures.

David O. Selznick was the head of production at the time, with Pandro Berman a leading producer. Fred’s first screen test for the studio didn’t bring down the house. According to Fred Astaire’s later memory, it summarized him as, “Can’t act. Slightly bald. Also dances.” But all Fred needed was a dance partner. Yet RKO’s first role for him wasn’t ready so he was loaned out to MGM for a role starring as himself with a dance partner not quite up to the task: Joan Crawford, in Dancing Lady (1933).  But lightning sparked when Fred was paired with Ginger Rogers in RKO’s Flying Down to Rio. Ironically, the future dancing dynamos were not even top-billed. The stars of the movie were Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond. Fred and Ginger had smaller parts, especially Ginger, but they smoked the floor when they danced to “The Carioca.” They stole the show, as they say in show business.  Dolores Del Rio was a big star at the time and used her favorite designer Irene (Lentz Gibbins) to design her wardrobe for the film. Walter Plunkett was RKO’s costume designer and he designed Ginger Rogers’ costumes and those of the chorines.

Flying Down to Rio. Photo courtesy Photofest

RKO realized they had something special with Fred and Ginger, and when Broadway’s Gay Divorce was turned into RKO’s 1935 film The Gay Divorcee (a gay divorce could not possibly happen according to the censor), the studio realized they had gold. This movie musical launched something different: Fred insisted on the cameras shooting Ginger and him dancing full bodied cross the studio floor. No jump cuts or edits of close-up foot-work or head shots would be used until they were finished. Plus they smiled as they danced, looking like they were having the greatest time.  Deep in the Depression, this was a winning combination for the audience. Fred’s early screen test meant nothing now, especially with his chemistry with Ginger Rogers. As someone said about the duo, “He gave her class and she gave him sex.”

Their dancing was infectious to look at, a symbol of the romance that was always bubbling as part of the plot. And a plot that became a standard with RKO’s Fred and Ginger movies. They meet seemingly by accident, and while there’s attraction, things go wrong and keep going wrong until they finally unite at the very end.

Walter Plunkett designed Gay Divorcee, and with his first two RKO movies he set the pattern for her dance dresses: a tight fit at the waist and bodice that showed off her gorgeous figure, and a flowing skirt that twirled as she danced with Fred.

Walter Plunkett’s costume sketch below shows the  costume worn by the chorines (the white version, there was also a black). The ruffles at the elbows were brought up to the shoulders.

By the time  Fred and Ginger’s third film Top Hat (1935was being made, Walter Plunkett had left RKO due to a salary dispute. New York fashion designer Bernard Newman had been brought on and was given the choice assignments and that didn’t please Walter. But Newman’s designs for Ginger became more eye-popping, and she became more involved in the designs. Newman’s famous light blue “Feathers” gown for Top Hat  was a good example. It was made of silk satin with ostrich feathers at the skirt and shoulders. It became a bit of a battle between the Astaire camp and the Rogers camp as to whether it would remain in the movie. The issue, unresolved to the end, was how to keep the feathers from coming loose when Ginger danced with Fred. Even after some hand-re-sewing of individual ostrich plumes, they can still be seen flying about in the “Dancing Cheek-to-Cheek” number, which irritated Fred to no end. But what a magnificent scene. My great-aunt was irritated too. As the head cutter-fitter at RKO wardrobe, she didn’t have to do the sewing, but she had to supervise the process. Fred made light of the whole matter afterwards. He made a present to Ginger of a gold feather for her charm bracelet.

 

Top Hat (1935) Courtesy Photofest

Follow the Fleet followed Top Hat, and Bernard Newman followed his knock-out gown for Ginger with another one. The stellar gown in this movie was made entirely of silver bugle beads, trimmed with a fox collar. The gown weighed about 50 lbs. The bugle beaded skirt was translucent so you could see her figure against the light. But once again, Fred was not happy. The bell-shaped sleeves were heavy too, and when she twirled around in early takes her sleeves would slap up against his cheeks.  But again, the resulting “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” Irving Berlin number has to be their most beautiful (below). It was shot in in one take.

 

Swing Time followed, which many consider the best of the Fred and Ginger movies (though closely matched by Top Hat).  Bernard Newman again designed Ginger’s wardrobe although there were no over the top gowns. At this point she didn’t need them to get noticed in a movie, as all eyes were  frequently on her. The usual plot-line of the rough meeting, sudden attraction, then roller coaster road to a relationship is layed out again. And there are the dances – always sublime.

 

Swing Time (1936) Photo courtesy Photofest

When they first meet, Ginger is a dance instructor and Fred pretends not to know how to dance (at first). For the scene she wears a simple black dress with white pleated Peter Pan collar with bow. The full pleated skirt is designed to flow as she dances.

 

Swing Time (1936) Photo courtesy Photofest

The climactic dance is the “Never Gonna Dance” number, Jerome Kern and Dorothy Field’s song written for the movie. Bernard Newman’s design for Ginger was a beautiful flowing backless  decollete gown with criss-cross straps decorated with rhinestones. This gown too is translucent, as was the detachable cape. The dance number was the highlight of their partnership.

 

Fred and Ginger made Shall We Dance in 1937 and Carefree in 1938 but their movies weren’t as popular as before. America was slowly coming out of the Depression and movie audience expectations were changing. A theater magazine had just listed several actors as “Box office poison,” and among them were big stars like Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, and Fred Astaire. Bernard Newman had just left RKO. While his designs were stunning, he couldn’t keep up with the pace of work at a Hollywood studio. Howard Greer, formerly of Paramount Pictures filled in to design Ginger’s wardrobe for Carefree. He had opened his own fashion business in Beverly Hills and was doing rather well. After he finished this film Edward Stevenson, with years of experience going back to First National, assumed most of the design duties at RKO. A Howard Greer costume sketch for Ginger in Carefree is shown below. Fred and Ginger’s final movie at RKO was The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. As the studio wanted, this would be a departure from their usual boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back story. It was based on the real story of the once very famous dance team of the Castles.  But problems began early. Vernon had already died and Irene wanted the movie to be very exact in its portrayal of them – down to story line, dance steps, costumes, and their likeness. It’s still a mystery who designed the costumes. Walter Plunkett, who had come back to RKO, stated he bowed out when Irene Castle became so rigid in her demands. The costume sketches themselves are unlike any done by the regular sketch artists at RKO. In any event, the movie was not a success and while Ginger stayed on at RKO to win an Oscar for Kitty Foyle, Fred’s contract was up and he moved on.

 

Howard Greer costume sketch for Ginger Rogers in Carefree

Fred was not quite the box office poison the article made him out to be. MGM, Paramount, and Columbia all wanted him to do movies for them. MGM came in first with Broadway Melody of 1940, made in 1939, which was followed later by a long term contract. In this movie he more than met his match in tap -dancing: the incredible Eleanor Powell. When the two danced in the Begin the Beguine number, it was introduced years later by Frank Sinatra for That’s Entertainment!  He stated,  “You can wait around and hope, but you’ll never see the likes of this again.” But In the photo below, they dance in Eleanor’s favorite, the “Jukebox” tap dance number. They are both having fun with this one.

The costume designer for this film was Adrian, and while all Eleanor’s costumes move well while she dances ( and they don’t bother Fred) he adds whimsy with the Cossack accents.

Fred moved to Paramount Pictures where in 1942 he made what would become a classic,  Holiday Inn (along with it’s sequel)or as it was fully titled: Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn. Here he was joined by Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds. And while Fred dances Marjorie Reynolds around the floor (at one point on the floor when he plays drunk), it’s when Bing sings “White Christmas” to Marjorie, and then they sing in duo, that music history is made.

Edith Head designed Marjorie Reynolds’ costumes. Allthough the movie was black and white one of the costumes was made of gold beads. The costume sketch below (shown with Fred as the dance partner) was modified somewhat in the film as an embroidered silk gown. The signature on the sketch is that of director Mark Sandrich.

 

The photo below shows Marjorie in her gold beaded gown.

 

Fred made a couple of movies at Columbia Pictures after talking to producer Gene Markey. He would star with the daughter of an old dancing Vaudeville friend of his, Eduardo Cansino. His daughter was Rita Cansino, now known as Rita Hayworth. Their first movie together was successful: You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) but their second movie You Were Never Lovelier (1942) was a hit.  The music was by Jerome Kern and Johnnie Mercer. Here Fred courts Rita, but her Argentine father disapproves.

 

The two photos above and below show Fred and Rita dancing in You Were Never Lovelier promotional photos. Rita’s beautiful wardrobe was designed by Irene (Lentz Gibbons), who was designing for Bulluck’s Wilshire at the time. Irene frequently freelanced for studio work for stars that demanded her services, as she had for Dolores Del Rio.  This gown had embrodered sequins at the bodice and skirt, with an illusion top. It flowed beautifully as can be seen in the bottom photo. Unfortunately, while Fred sang the “You Were Never Lovelier” song to Rita, the dance scene was cut from the final film.

 

Fred Astaire had achieved an enviable career in his first decade in Hollywood. But much more was yet to come. More of his films, dance partners, and their costumes will be covered in Part II of this blog.

 

 

 

 

HOLLYWOOD GLAMOUR BY IRENE GIBBONS

 

There was a time in Hollywood when any star would recognize the name Irene. And in greater Los Angeles any woman of means would buy their custom-made clothes designed by her. Long before movie stars borrowed or were given couture designer gowns for their award shows, they’d flock to Irene at Bullock’s Wilshire in Los Angeles.  In the 1930s and 1940s, Irene’s gown prices equaled hose demanded by the Parisian couturiers. And since Irene designed for the custom trade at Bullock’s as well as designing free-lance for the stars at their home studios, the celebrated name of Irene was known by all. But now several people including her grand-niece Karlyn are trying to keep the  legacy of Irene Lentz Gibbons alive. It is a rich and visually stunning one – unique to its time but an inspiration for today.

Irene-Dietrich 1

Marlene Dietrich was completely focused on her image. She knew exactly where to stand under the lights when being  photographed.She would patiently wait through exacting fittings for her custom clothing. She always dressed when going  out and always demanded that her gowns be “a la Dietrich.” For her personal wardrobe she turned to Irene, and after Banton left Paramount, she had Irene design her film costumes as well. One such design is shown above, and Marlene looked fetching in this Irene-designed beaded outfit in The Lady is Willing1942


Irene designed devastatingly glamorous gowns. She had studied couture in Paris after her first husband, the movie director F. Richard Jones, died in 1930. She had closed her small dress shop and packed her bags to spend time with a friend. After she returned to the U.S. Irene combined those  skills into her own look of glamour, mixed with elegance and sexual allure, looks that Adrian and Travis Banton had pioneered in Hollywood. Such combinations of strength, sex, and style had not yet become acceptable in continental couture.

.Irene Bullocks3a

Beginning in 1933, Irene designed with her own label for The French Shop at Bullock’s Wilshire.The costume sketch above was for an Irene creation for Bullock’s Wilshire, the art deco palace of shopping and fashion in Los Angeles. Irene was also simultaneously designing the movie wardrobe for many of her customers. The costume sketch below is also an Irene design for an unknown production, circa 1940. 

Irene Unknown 4a

Irene designed the gown below for publicity photos for Paulette Goddard’s appearance in Second Chorus1940. Paulette was photogenic, but she never looked more alluring than in this gown.

Irene Paulette Goddard 1

Before Jean Louis came to the U.S. and began designing for Rita Hayworth at Columbia, Irene designed the glamorous gowns for Rita in the films You Were Never Lovelier in 1942, below, and You’ll Never Get Rich in 1941. Irene could always be counted on to provide both elegance and sex appeal. She often used nude souffle and lace to provide that eye-catching balance between exposing and concealing the figure that stimulated the eye.

Irene-Rita 1

After Adrian left MGM in 1941 to open his own fashion business, Robert Kalloch designed for the studio for a brief period. But soon thereafter MGM hired Irene to become its executive designer, at a salary she couldn’t refuse. Even as MGM lost Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, a new stable of stars was being groomed. One of them was the beautiful champion swimmer Esther Williams. Irene designed the gown below for publicity photos for Esther in 1942, showing off MGM’s newly-signed star. Irene was the perfect designer for Esther, accentuating her athletic physique in her suit designs and gowns. Helen Rose who followed Irene prefered the New Look, which I believe was not as flattering to her.

Irene Esther Williams 1

Irene designed the costumes for Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Lana Turner makes her entrance in the movie bare legs first. She’s dressed in white shorts and a white halter top. Janine Basinger describes the scene as “…one of the iconic showstoppers in modern motion picture history.”   Irene designed an almost all-white wardrobe for Lana, wanting to emphasize her sun-tanned California look in her crisp white Twin Oaks uniform. Irene also wanted to help create that heavenly vision of Lana first coming down the staircase. The contrast of her platinum blond hair and white outfits with co-starJohn Garfield’s darker complexion makes for the perfect film noir atmosphere. As Lana was described in this film, “a black widow in white shorts.”

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) Directed by Tay Garnett Shown: Lana Turner (as Cora Smith)

Irene also designed the costumes for Katharine Hepburn, who was also new at MGM. Below is a costume sketch for Kate in State of the Union, 1948. Irene designed for several of Hepburn’s films co-starring Spencer Tracy. Irene and Hepburn never got along, and Hepburn had her favorite designer of historical costumes  Walter Plunkett, brought in to MGM, he of Gone With the Wind fame. They had worked together at RKO and were close friends.

Irene - Katharine Hepburn in State of the Union 2 copy

Irene is pictured below in her MGM office with some costume sketches from Easter Parade, 1948, The movie starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire was a festival of period costumes. In that same year she started her own fashion label and fashion design business. She used the hobble-skirt silhouette from Easter Parade in her own slim designer label skirts and suits.

Irene & Easter Parade sketches

The costume sketch below was a design for Patricia Vanever in, Easter Parade. She  was seen in the movie as one of the fashionable ladies strolling down 5th Avenue during the “Easter Parade” scene.

Irene - Patricia Vanever in Easter Parade 2 (1)

The costume sketch below was an Irene design for Ginger Rogers in The Barkleys of Broadway from 1949. This was the last film in which Ginger Rogers appeared with Fred Astaire. This design shows Irene’s flair for designing suits, which she would include regularly in her own label. Along with those from Adrian, there were no better suits ever designed.

Irene Barklays of Broadway 2 copy

Irene left MGM in 1949 after problems due to her drinking. She could now concentrate on her own fashion business. Her line was carried by the leading department stores across the country. The stunning ball gown below was designed by Irene with white silk illusion fabric (normally used for bridal veils) over yellow, accented by a black velvet waist girdle and streamer and long black gloves. One can imagine the gasps heard when the woman wearing this creation made her entrance.

Irene-velvet and tulle

A classic Irene suit is shown below featuring a row of seven buttons on a peplum jacket with diagonal buttons on the flap pockets.  Irene loved using buttons of distinction, often using buttons made of special materials and semi-precious stones. Her revers cuffs were another trademark. Irene’s suits could be worn for years and often were.  They represented the pinnacle of women’s design and tailoring. Irene’s gowns also stayed fashionable for years, Marlene Dietrich took several of her Irene glamour gowns, purchased in the 1930s, to entertain the American troops during World War II.

Irene suit

Irene also loved floral prints. The bold print of roses on this column dress – with its open neck and bodice was perfection, heightened by the exact matching of its floral print on both sides of the bodice.

Irene-floral print dress

Irene returned to do a few more movie costumes, notably for Doris Day in Midnight Lace and Lover Come Back in 1960 and 1961. While her designing talents stayed at the top of her form, her personal life was plagued with anguish and melencholy. On November 15, 1962 she took her own life at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood.

 

 

FABULOUS 1950s IN FILM FASHION

The 1950s are presented in various and changing images as the years go by, bolstered by films and TV shows: suburban growth; stereotypical families; mass consumerism; the cold war and the threat of the atomic bomb;  rebelious rockers; and a seemingly simpler even idyllic time. In Hollywood the Production Code was still in force, and therefore the censor still prevailed in what was shown on the screen and how far a screenplay could go in subject matter and treatment.

In the post-war 1950s, the combined restrictions from film censorship and the lagging societal constraint on sex in general had the effect of unleashing an ever-present focus on the image of female sexual attraction on film. While beautiful movie stars with sex appeal had been around since the silent screen, the overt sexual magnetism of the 1950s stars is contrasted and often made contradictory by the wholesome image of the star. This role was played by several stars including the beautiful Esther Williams, and was perfected by Doris Day.

 

Sophia Loren (circa 1950s)

Photo Courtesy Photofest

 

The European movie-stars on the other hand provided the desired amount of foreign, and a perceived lack of restraint to play daring roles in film, while wearing provocative costumes and fashions. American G.I.s during World War II  already had a taste of their appeal. Sofia Loren, beginning her film career in Italy in 1950, virtually defined the post-war look of continental sexual allure. Such a look is not based on showing a lot of skin, nor is it entirely based on the French New Look in fashion. But in the dress above worn by Sofia Loren, the style shows off the contours of her body perfectly, and it does share with the New Look a reliance on corsetry to pinch the waist in order to accent the hips and bust, the latter the particular sexual fetish of the 1950s.

Another European bombshell exploded on the scene in the 1950s: Brigitte Bardot. She began making movies in 1952, but her beauty and looks typecast her in lightweight eye-candy roles. Her then-husband Roger Vadim, part of the French New Wave, cast her along with Jean-Louis Tintignant in And God Created Woman (Et Dieu Crea la Femme) in 1956, and an iconic star was born. Bardot was very much  a portent for the look of the coming 1960s (and later decades). She is pictured below in a costume from And God Created Woman. The outfit was designed by French couturier Pierre Balmain. It is a simple black shirt with a long center-buttoned skirt. Later in the film she dances in the outfit with the buttons undone to her waist. Brigitte Bardot had previously popularized the bikini bathing suit on the French Riviera.

 

Fab 50s Bardot God Created Woman Balmain

 

America’s swimsuit goddess was Esther Wiliams, a previous National champion swimmer who became a movie star at MGM. The studio created the wildly popular genre of “acqua-musicals” based on her skills and personality. Following years of the Great Depression and WWII, the smiling face and healthy physique of Esther Williams combined with the sunny skies of California made for a popular series of films. The costume and fashion designer Irene dressed Esther Williams in her early MGM movies, although Helen Rose designed for her 1950s films, including the classic Million Dollar Mermaid, 1952; Easy to Love, 1953; and Dangerous When Wet, 1953Both designers designed Esther’s unique swimsuits for the films.

 

Fab 50s Esther Williams

 

The fashion trend that defined the basic look of the 1950s started in Paris with the couture creations of Christian Dior. Following years of deprivation during World War II, French couture went on a splurge in the use of fabric, which had previously been rationed. The
“New Look” as it was dubbed by Life Magazine in late 1947, was based on a pinched waist, a full skirt with layers of petitcoats, and a full breasted-bodice, the whole based on foundation undergarments. The style was a return to the hourglass silhouette popular during the 1860s and earlier.

The model below shows a Christian Dior fashion. During the 1949-1950 period, both the New Look and the broad-shouldered, pencil-skirted look of the 1940s could be seen side-by-side. There were some groups of women that demonstrated against the New Look, asking why was Dior trying to hide women’s legs.

 

Fab 50s Dior new look

 

As would increasingly be the case, youth, led the way in starting the trend in the U.S. The movies continued to have a major impact through the combination of costume designer and star they dressed. One such combo was Elizabeth Taylor and Helen Rose. Helen Rose had been dressing Elizabeth since she was 15 and starring in A Date with Judy. Her violet eyes, dark hair and prominent eyebrows made for a beautiful impression on screen – and a star was born. Rose designed the Father of the Bride movie in 1950, and subsequently Elizabeth’s real wedding gown, and then the movie sequel. This was followed by Love is Better Than Ever, made in 1951 but released in 1952. In this film Rose dresses Elizabeth Taylor in New Look dresses. Elizabeth had become the model for teenage girls, and both the New Look and Helen Rose became hot.

 

Elizabeth & Helen LoveIsBetterEver_1952

Elizabeth Taylor in Love is Better Than Ever. In the film she plays a dance teacher. Photo courtesy Photofest

 

The New Look with its petticoats and prim attention to proper dress seems foreign to the last 30 years of teenage styles, but it was the trend of the day. As ever, teenage girls wanted to look different than their mothers. Shown below is a costume sketch designed by Mary Wills for the movie Teenage Rebel, from 1956. This design was for the teenager played by Betty Lou Keim, the “rebellious” daughter of the character played by Ginger Rogers. A teenage girl yearning for womanhood and showing decollete was the height of fashionable statements of the day.

 

Mary Wills - Teenage Rebel

 

Elizabeth Taylor matured quickly. The red dress that Helen Rose designed for her in The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), caused problems with the on-set fiilm censor because of the amount of cleavage that was displayed. This caused a work stoppage and loud arguments by the director Richard Brooks. Brooks ultimately won.

Elizabeth-Helen-Last-Time-I-Saw-Paris

 

Elizabeth Taylor and Helen Rose teamed up on the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1958. Helen Rose created a dress that would become the fashion rage. The “Cat” dress it would be called, and garment manufacturers were knocking it off all over the world. The chiffon cocktail dress with full skirt and Grecian bodice became so popular that Helen Rose decided to start her own fashion line, and continued selling it in various colors for years. When dressing Elizabeth Taylor, her shoulders and chest were always emphasized to good effect.

 

Liz - Cat Dress

 

Another screen goddess from the 1950s was Grace Kelly. Her smashing entrance into Jimmy Stewart’s apartment in  Rear Window (1956) dressed in Edith Head’s stunning black and white evening outfit is unforgettable. The costume is a simple black decollete top and a full white chiffon skirt decorated with beaded twig decorations in black. It was one of Edith Head’s best designs. Grace wears black strappy heels with the outfit.

 

Grace Rear Window2

 

Edith Head also designed Grace Kelly’s costumes for To Catch a Thief (1955). Grace Kelly was the perfect embodiment of the 1950s sexual image: the wholesome and proper young woman with a lurking sexual appetite, waiting for the right occasion. “Do you want a leg or a breast” she asks Cary Grant as they go out on a picnic. Her rose-colored skirt and white-embroidered sleeveless top shown below is a beautifully-designed outfit for the occasion.

 

Fab 50s Grace-to catch a thief

Grace Kelly had worked as a model in her acting student years, and her poise shows in the photo below, wearing an Edith Head gown for the 1955 Academy Awards, where she won Best Actress for Country Girl.

Fab 50s grace-kelly-life-cover

Doris Day seemed to represent the ethos of the 1950s in America. She had started as a singer with big bands and became a hit with the movie Romance on the High Seas, in 1948. U.S. G.I.s in Korea voted her their favorite movie star in 1950. Her movies in the 1950s often had songs that became hit singles, and her teamwork with co-stars Rock Hudson and Tony Randall started in 1959 with Pillow Talk and continued into the 1960s.  Doris Day was always a great dresser in her roles, and she worked with the best: Jean Louis; Edith Head; Helen Rose, and she was especially close to Irene, with whom she worked on Midnight Lace, and Lover Come Back, two of the last three movies Irene designed before her death.

In the photo below Doris Day wears a popular leisure outfit of the 1950s, capri pants, called pedal pushers in the day, along with a long-sleeved, collared blouse.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett/REX_Shutterstock (1897985a) Doris Day, circa 1945 Doris Day, circa 1945

Photo by Everett/REX_Shutterstock (1897985a)

 

Some actresses were more daring in their looks on screen, and film directors and producers pushed to accent their beauty and sexual appeal. Martha Hyer is shown below in 1957, showing the silhouette that emphasized the then-popular missile-cone bustline.

Photo courtesy of Photofest

Photo courtesy of Photofest

 

The movie star looks of Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, and Kim Novak in the1950s created a huge demand for a moulded silhouette emphasizing curves and a prominent bust line. What was achieved through foundation undergarments on film was now becoming increasingly available to the average woman consumer. Nylon was making bras lighter and cheaper, and conical stitching was providing that perfect “missile bra” look so desired in the mid 1950s.

The “Sweater Girl” look had also became popular, starting with the films of Lana Turner. In the 1950s there was a competition for the title of “National Sweater Queen.”  In the early 50s the tight sweater was worn with the very full circle skirts made popular by the New Look. Later in the decade and into the early 1960s, tight pants were joined with tight sweaters to make the very hot look as shown below by Kim Novak.

KimNovak001c1

 

And of course what would the 1950s be without Marilyn Monroe, star then and everlasting star. She had so many looks, but costume and fashion designer William “Billy” Travilla dressed her best in her films for 20th Century-Fox. Below she wears a gold lame gown from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Travilla knew how to accentuate Marilyn’s curves while providing her glamorous and beautiful costumes. He was also daring with such outfits as the one below.

 

Marilyn Monroe wearing a gold lame gown by Travilla from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953)

Marilyn Monroe wearing a gold lame gown by Travilla from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953)

As the 1950s rolled into the early 1960s, fashions made no particularly big swings. The “revolutionary” styles were around the corner in 1963 and beyond. The sexual revolution of the 1960s was concentrated on the young. By then the sexual tidal wave in film fashion had already been crashing on the censor’s gates for years.

 

 

SKIN & BEADS IN FILM AND FASHION

Skin and beads, the name I gave this post, is based on what Marilyn Monroe called her Jean Louis-designed gown from 1962, the one where she sang Happy Birthday Mr. President to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden. Indeed, the main advantage of a dress made of glass bugle beads is that their weight presses against the skin. You either see the skin left exposed, or you clearly see the contours of the wearer since the beads hug the figure with from the gravity of their weight. And the beads not only reflect light, but are themselves translucent, and sewn onto the sheerest of silk chiffons. They are made of cut glass, an can be colored or lined in silver or gold. Marlene Dietrich below knew how to pose in a gown made of bugle beads. This one was designed for her by the costume and fashion designer Irene. Little skin actually shows, yet you feel that all of her is showing.

 

Beads Marlene_Dietrich_Irene

 

The tubular bugle beads can be sewn solidly on a dress, or they can be used sparingly for decoration. Bugle beads shared the same limelight as sequins in the 1920s, when glitter was in favor (did it ever go away?). Sequins don’t let the light through, and they are much lighter in weight, an advantage in cost of production and wearability. But sequins don’t flatter the screen figure like beads do. Below a young Joan Crawford wears a fur wrap and nude souffle (not pronounced soufflay) dress bodice, both decorated in bugle beads and sequins, here in a photo by Ruth Harriet Louise from 1926.

Beads Joan-Ruth Louise 1926 classicfilmheroines

 

With Jean Harlow, Adrian had the perfect figure on which to mold a nightgown made of bugle beads, accented with ostrich plume sleeves. The contrast of the shiny, reptilian skin of the beads, along with the fuzzy-nest sleeves of the nightgown, provided the perfect symbolic duality of the good-bad girl that was Jean Harlow. The photographer Harvey White captured this essence perfectly in the photo below from Dinner at Eight

 

Harlow Dinner at 8

 

While rarely paired on film, Jean Harlow and Clark Gable made a compelling couple in films like Red Dust. The chiaroscuro of black and white photography by Hurrell captures their radiance. The Adrian-designed gown of bugle beads reflects the light as it reflects her figure.The two stars are perfectly comfortable with each other. This type of dual portrait photography is a lost art. The photo below is from Saratoga, her last film.

 

Beads Harlow_Gable

Photo by Photofest

 

Adrian designed another knock-out gown of solid bugle beads for Joan Crawford in The Bride Wore Red, 1937, It was made of red bugle beads, and provided a key role in the plot of the film. Vintage beaded movie gowns rarely survived.  Due to their weight, they would rip apart if left on hangers for long. This one miraculously survived at MGM because a wardrobe lady had placed it in a drawer where it was forgotten for decades. It is now in the collection of  the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

 

Joan Red Bride

The Bride Wore Red gown in all its red glory is shown below in London at the V&A Museum’s Hollywood Costume Exhibition from 2013. The exhibition went on the road and finished its tour in 2015 at the future site of the Museum of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

 

Hollywood costume V&A Bride Wore Red

 

The photo  below shows Carole Lombard in a beaded gown designed by Robert Kalloch for Brief Moment, 1933, from Columbia Pictures. Travis Banton had designed her Paramount movies and then Irene took over her wardrobe designing until Lombard’s untimely death in 1942. She was always photogenic and looked great whether in glamour or everyday clothes.

 

Beads Lombard - Brief Moment

 

The bugle beads these fabulous gowns were made from were usually silver-lined, which gave them their highly reflective quality. But the beads could be made of colored glass. Jeanette MacDonald below wears an Adrian designed gown of blue bugle beads in the film Sweethearts in 1938. The back of the gown shows just enough skin to be tantalizing, and with Jeanette’s back framed with a yoke and swags of beading, it emphasizes Adrian’s favored V-line silhouette. The front was very close-fitting like Joan Crawford’s red-beaded gown in The Bride Wore Red.

 

Jeanette MacDonald 5 JPG

 

Lana Turner, another platinum blonde, always looked smashing in black. Irene designed her wardrobe after Adrian left MGM, including this black bugle-beaded gown for Slightly Dangerous in in 1942.

 

Slightly Dangerous (1943) Directed by Wesley Ruggles Shown: Lana Turner

Photo by Photofest

 

Things became more colorful in the 1950s, especially when Marilyn Monroe was on the scene. Blonds were still popular, which Marilyn cast in cement for several more decades, especially in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953. Jane Russel was the brunette serving as contrast. The gowns were designed by Travilla. Marilyn’s gown sold at the Debbie Reynolds auction in 2011  for $1.44 million.

 

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) Directed by Howard Hawks Shown: Marilyn Monroe (as Lorelei Lee), Jane Russell (as Dorothy Shaw) Song: A Little Girl from Little Rock

Photo by Photofest

 

Marilyn Monroe had some fabulous designers working with her: Charles LeMaire, Travilla, Orry-Kelly, and Jean Louis. The black souffle dress below is decorated with strands of bugle beads. It was designed by Orry-Kelly for her in Some Like it Hot, 1958.

 

Beads Marilyn Orry-Kelly

 

Pictured below is the famous 1962 Happy Birthday Mr. President dress designed by Jean Louis, otherwise known by her as the “skin and beads” dress. Actually it was made of a flesh-colored souffle, and decorated with rhinestones, not beads. But Marilyn’s point was that it was tight enough to be her skin. It sold at auction at Christie’s New York for $1.2 million in 1999.

 

Beads Marilyn birthday dress

 

Glass beads are expensive but ever in style. The famous model Verushka of the 1960s wears this outfit in the legendary film Blow Up, in 1966. In this outfit, which is actually a short nightgown with open sides, Verushka poses for the photographer played by David Hemmings.

Beads Blowup Verushka

The glamour of beaded gowns has moved from the screen to the red carpet in recent years. Two striking examples are shown below.

 

Beads Selena Gomez 2014

Photo courtesy WENN

Selena Gomez wears a gold beaded Pucci at a 2014 Oscars after-party. The Pucci runway gown was modified to add the cutaway at the bust and to reveal more skin along with the beads.

 

Beads Blake-Lively-Beaded-Zuhair-Murad-Couture-Gown

Photo by Tinseltown/Shutterstock

Blake Lively wears a figure-hugging Zuhar Murad Couture nude- colored gown with black bead stripes  at the movie premiere of Savages. The stripes are wild and not many could pull off this look but Blake Lively is one of them.

Glamour never dies, nor does the influence of classic Hollywood costume and fashion design.

 

This post was modified from the 100th post of my former Silver Screen Modiste blog. It’s now my 48th of Silver Screen Modes.

BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE OLD MGM WARDROBE

At the biggest and busiest movie studio of Hollywood’s Golden Age, hummed the most productive studio wardrobe department in movie history. At its most complete in the  1960s, it had some 300,000 costumes in its wardrobe storage – not counting those it had already dicarded in previous decades. MGM regularly produced over 40 moves every year, with its costume designers and wardrobe department producing the costumes for most of them. By comparison, today’s studios make 10-15 movies a year, and of course studios no longer have in-house costume design and fabrication capabilities.

 

MGM facade

The facade of the old MGM Studio and its original entry gate on Washington Blvd as it looked in 1936 is seen above. The Wardrobe Department was located near Washington Blvd and what the studio called 1st Street. Men’s Wardrobe was located elsewhere and costumes were also stored in various locations.  The Wardrobe Department had a manager who ran its day-to-day operations, separate from the costume design staff.  A view to the three-story department is seen in the photo below. In addition to the glamorous part of movie costumes, post-production they would have to be laundered or dry-cleaned, and then inventoried and hung up in the high racks. Bolts of fabrics of all kinds would have to be kept on hand or custom ordered.

 

MGM ladies wardrobe 1

MGM went through several designers after its beginning in 1924-25. The studio hoped to capitalize on the name of Erte in 1925, but he didn’t last. Andre-Ani, Max Ree, and Rene Hubert all did fine work but none lasted long at the studio. Gilbert Clark managed to last longer, but was as temperamental as the divas he dressed. This didn’t work for Garbo. So when Cecil B. DeMille came to make movies for MGM and brought his costume designer Adrian, he soon found his designer under contract to MGM. Starting in 1928, every movie that Garbo starred in was designed by Adrian, as was every Joan Crawford movie until 1941 when Adrian left to start his own fashion line. He also designed the costumes for Jean Harlow, Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, and Katharine Hepburn.

 

MGM+Adrian

Adrian liked to paint his costume sketches on his sofa, using the end table to lay out his water colors.

 

Seen below is a group of MGM wardrobe ladies at work.  The Adrian sketch shown and the costume on the dress form are for Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel. As was the case for all leading ladies, Garbo had her own custom-sized dress form (padded to her dimensions).

 

MGM Wardrobe_Garbo Sketch from Grand Hotel

Hannah Lindfors, a cutter-fitter, is shown below. She  translates the designer’s costume sketch into muslin pattern pieces, which are then used to cut the chosen fabric. In this case its for a Dolly Tree design for Rita Johnson. When Adrian left to start his own fashion business, Hannah Lindfors left with him as his cutter-fitter.

 

MGM Cutter-Fitter

Several lace-makers are at work below on the bridal veil for Helen Hayes for the movie White Sister, 1933. It took two weeks to make.

 

MGM lace workers

Two Wardrobe ladies are working on the embroidery for a costume for Romeo and Juliet, starring Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard and John Barrymore. Adrian and Oliver Messel designed, and Wardrobe fabricated , some1250 costumes for the film.

 

MGM+Romeo

Cutter-fitter Inez Schrodt is seen below working on a gown for Marie Antoinette, 1938. The film starred Norma Shearer and Tyrone Power. Some 2500 costumes were used in the film, and Adrian designed 36 costumes for Norma, which was a long-standing record until Cleopatra of 1963.

 

Inez Schroedt & Marie Antoinette gown

Jane Halsey is seen below resting on a “leaning-board” during the filming of The Great Ziegfeld, 1936. The costume was made of bugle-beads and weighed 102 pounds. The leaning boards were heavily padded with cloth – less for comfort but as to prevent snags to the costumes.

 

MGM 8

Wardrobe ladies below are at work on Lana Turner’s costume in Ziegfeld Girl, 1941. The film had completely different but equally magnificent costumes as The Great Ziegfeld, which Adrian also designed.

 

MGM 7

Greer Garson has a stitch repair done to her costume by Vicky Nichols on the set of Mrs. Parkington, 1944. Her costumes were designed by Irene, who had taken over as head designer from Adrian. Irene was at MGM from 1942 until 1948. She was joined by Helen Rose and then Walter Plunkett. Irene Sharaff and Robert Kalloch also worked there for a period, and Gile Steele and  J. Arlington Valles designed men’s costumes.

 

MGM+Greer+and+wardrobe+lady

The Wardrobe Department kept most all of the costumes it made. These were re-used in other films, and often modified. Costumes are being pulled here and placed on a rack for some film. All of these costumes were sold in the MGM auction of 1970.

 

 

MGM Wardrobe racks

This section of shelving shows Roman style helmets, most likely with other armor pieces further inside the shelves. Similar but smaller shelves housed thousands of shoes.

 

MGM waedrobe helmets

Lana Turner is shown below with a costume sketch for one of her costumes and the actual costume from The Prodigal, 1955. Herschel McCoy designed the costumes for the film.

 

MGM+Lana+and+fitter

 

By 1955 when The Prodigal was produced by MGM, the heyday of the studio system was over. Leo B. Mayer had been replaced as head of the studio by Dore Schary. The Consent Decree forced by the US Court over an Anti-Trust suit had made studios divest their ownership of movie theaters, and television viewing had decimated movie audiences. Costume designers like Walter Plunkett, who had been working since the late 1920s, had gone from designing for over 20 movies a year back then to designing just two movies  for MGM in 1957.

Fortunately, the legacy of MGM, its movies and the work of its costume designers and makers , and the other artists and artisans of the studio are preserved in the movies for all of us to see and enjoy. These behind the scenes photos show that the work of producing glamour was not glamorous. And in those days film credits did not acknowledge the work of any of them in wardrobe except for the costume designer. This is a small tribute to their work.