Edith head is known internationally as the epitome of the classic Hollywood costume designer. Her costume design sketches, however, were done in a variety of styles depending upon who her sketch artist was at the time. That she had her own flair and could produce beautiful costume renderings is little known, mostly because these sketches are very rare, and the ones that are often seen are largely based on black and white photographs.
The story of how Edith Head got her job as a sketch artist at Paramount is famous. She interviewed with Howard Greer, then Head Designer, and wanting to make a good impression, she borrowed art pieces from several fellow art students at the Chouinard Art School for her portfolio. The portfolio really impressed Greer by its variety, so he hired her, even when she admitted that not all the pieces were hers. Designer Travis Banton soon after replaced Howard Greer and it was by him that Edith learned costume design. She also learned to replicate his costume sketches. especially the facial features and body postures of the models. Not having had the anatomy and life-drawing classes in art, however, Edith never did learn to properly draw hands and feet, the most difficult feature to draw or paint. It is with these features that one can recognize the difference between a Travis Banton and an Edith Head sketch. Theses costume sketches are very lovely nonetheless.
Shown below are several costume sketches that she illustrated herself.
The sketch above by Edith was done for Mary Martin in the film The Great Victor Herbert, 1939, a musical based on the songs and operettas of Victor Herbert (Babes in Toyland, Naughty Marietta, Little Nemo). Mary Martin played the lead role opposite Allan Jones and Walter Connolly. The hands are awkwardly drawn, but Edith kept the Howard Greer/Travis Banton tradition of drawing three fingers (the middle fingers were actually joined) and the use of bright red finger nails.
The sketch above is from an unknown film and actress, beautifully rendered. A period costume, likely from the Civil War era.
The costume design above was done for Barbara Allen in Kiss the Boys Goodbye (1941), a movie about musical theater and rivalry between actresses based on the play by Clare Booth. The approval initials of the director and producer are on the sketch.
The costume design sketch above is also unidentified, although it has the approval initials of a director or producer. The style is clearly from 1942 – 1943 The smaller drawing at the top shows an alternate look with a vest. Women’s suits were popular in the 1940s and the broad shoulders were not just a military influence but had started earlier as a technique of giving women an air of power, athleticism and independence.
Edith Head became famous for her sarong designs for Dorothy Lamour in several films starting with Jungle Princess in 1936. The design above is for Miss Lamour in Aloma of the South Seas (1941). Producer Monta Bell’s signature is at left bottom.
Barbara Stanwyck was a favorite star for Edith Head to dress. Here is one of Edith’s design sketches for a ski outfit for the film You Belong to Me (1941).
The glamorous gown design above, in another sketch by Edith Head, was done for Margery Reynolds in the classic Holiday Inn (1942), co-starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby. Although the film is black and white the gown was made of gold bugle beads.
The costume sketch by Edith above was a design for Virginia Field in Crystal Ball (1943). The film also starred Paulette Goddard as a rival in a fortune-teller scheme co-starring Ray Milland. The sleek but broad-shouldered silhouette of the gown with its décolleté illusion top is very chic.
The costume sketch above by Edith Head was done for Betty Hutton in the Preston Sturges film The Miracle of Mogan’s Creek (1944) This is one of Sturges’ best screw-ball comedies co-starring Eddie Bracken. The coated outfit is very smart as worn by Betty Hutton in the film.
The sketch above is another design for Betty Hutton in the same film. She wears it in the famous all-night party scene.
The costume sketch below was not done by Edith Head, but rather was illustrated by Grace Sprague for Edith’s design forNatalie Wood in Sex and the Single Girl (1964). Ms. Sprague was the sketch artist that was most identified with Edith Head. She illustrated Edith’s book The Dress Doctor, as well as many of her newspaper and magazine articles in the late 1950s and early 1960s. She was a prolific sketcher and would turn out dozens of sketches for each film, many of them unused for any costumes.
Sketch artist Richard Hopper illustrated the sketch below for Edith’s design for Elke Sommer in The Oscar (1966). He took over most of the sketch artist duties after Grace Sprague died, and remained with Edith for many years until he too became a costume designer.
The notes on the sketch are in Edith’s own hand. Costume sketches were working tools and part of the production process, handled by producers, directors, actors/actresses, and wardrobe workers.
Many of the iconic Edith Head designs for such stars as Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, and Audrey Hepburn that are seen today were done years after the movies were produced. Edith Head did not keep these sketches after she left Paramount but had them reproduced (several times) later for her fashion shows. As such they are not really costume design sketches and not a part of the production of a movie, but rather are movie art pieces or costume illustrations. We can see in the examples above that with either the production of the illustration, or with the notes on her designs, that Edith Head was very involved in all stages of the process.