{The Costume Design of Edith Head: Part Two}

When I last wrote about The Dress Doctor, I had gotten through four full chapters and was about halfway through chapter five. Since then, I have not had much reading time, but I managed to make it through a few more chapters and have plenty more to write about!

When we pick up the book again, Edith Head has become the head designer at Paramount Pictures. Her first movie under this new title was Cafe Society with Madeleine Carroll, which I found difficult to find pictures up but a google search scrounged up a few. Head’s main comments in this section are about working with an international star for this film (no fun side facts about the costumes here really, but they are still fun to look at!).

She goes on to talk about stars who transform, such as Veronica Lake, with the ability to become every character she plays, and stars who always retain a little bit of themselves no matter what character they are playing (Ginger Rogers). Also while talking of Ginger Rogers, Head describes a transformation that takes place on camera, in which Rogers goes from being an adult into a child It happens through a lot of transitional costumes and making small changes to the clothes she is wearing to create a different age. This is her after making the transformation:

One of my favorite costuming details comes in chapter seven, “The First Oscar.” Before discussing the elusive award (although I suppose for Head, who won eight of them over the course of her career, it wasn’t so elusive), she talks about Ilka Chase, and how she designed a dress for her with two watches in the lapels, one set to New York time, one set to LA time, to represent the character always going back and forth between the two.

In 1948, the first Oscar Award for Costume Design was introduced. Head describes how she was certain The Emperor Waltz would win, believing the clothes to be some of the most beautiful she had ever created.

However, after the loses, she learns:

…the basis for the Academy Award is not how beautiful the costumes are, but how much they contribute to the picture, how integral a part they are of telling the story.

The Dress Doctor, page 89

Is the above still true for Oscars today? Sometimes I don’t think so, but that’s really a completely different issue outside of this book! Head’s first Oscar came the following year, for The Heiress when she purposely made her main character unattractive for most of the movie, then changing it up for effect later on. Head writes, “the fabrics were harsh serge, stiff wools, uncompromising as to color, severe as to neckline…then, towards the end of the picture, when she wished to get revenge on Montgomery Clift, we made a complete transition into softer, more feminine colors and fabrics” (The Dress Doctor, page 89).

Also included in the section I read for this post was an amusing interlude of Head actually appearing in one of the movies… and having a horrible time! I always say “techs don’t appear onstage,” and it’s mainly true. The crew is crew for a reason: they love the process of creating movies, shows, theater, but they are not the actors and are generally more comfortable in the background.

In chapter eight, Head outlines some of her work outside of movies: television, nightclubs, and even dresses for various actresses to wear to award shows and the like (including maternity dresses for Rosemary Clooney!). She talks about how the main thing to consider in all these various productions is the lighting: it’s the one thing that’s done differently depending on the medium and can affect how a costume is seen and experienced.

I was going to end there, but then the next chapter started with Head talking about the one and only Audrey Hepburn. I absolutely adore Audrey Hepburn (I mean, who doesn’t?!), so naturally I had to keep reading. Head writes about how they worked together for the first time on Roman Holiday (which both Hepburn and Head won Oscars for).

One of my favorite things about Roman Holiday is how Hepburn’s look transforms as she loosens up and loses herself in the city, all without ever changing clothes, just modifying what she had on:

Though the chapter does not end here, my reading for the evening did. Head will go on to discuss other iconic actresses she got to work with early in their careers, so I’m looking forward to googling all their costumes (Elizabeth Taylor is coming soon!).

I do still want to watch all these movies, but until I can do so, it’s been great fun looking up pictures from the various movies being discussed!

One comment

  1. Pingback: {What I Read: November 2019} |

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