Friday, February 26, 2010

Silver Screen Modiste: DESIGNED BY EDITH HEAD

Silver Screen Modiste: DESIGNED BY EDITH HEAD


It's ironic that the costume designer whose name virtually everyone would recognize lacked a fashion style with any signiture. And few would be able to identify her costumes save for a few movie costume aficionados, researchers, and the fashion savy with long memories. Regardless, Edith Head was the ultimate costume designer. She could be a strong-willed promoter of herself, but never so at the expense of the costume she designed nor of the star she was to dress. Her costume designing was fully engaged in furthering the role of the actor and the needs of the scene. Her dresses and gowns needed to catch attention certainly, but Miss Head was not intent on creating a fashion statement. Look carefully at the stars wearing her designs. They look all-of-a-piece. No garment jars unless it is meant to. None is flashy unless the role is. When the role dazzles so do the gowns. She often bent to the desires of the stars, just as she did to that of the directors. After looking at scores of her costume sketches, I can attest that many of the actual costumes were changed by the time the actors wore them on screen. She did not hold a rigid idea of what the design should look like. Yet many of her costume designs have become as memorable as the roles portrayed and the stars that wore them. As examples, look back at Liz Taylor wearing the white gown with a big tulle skirt and white violets covering her bodice in A Place in the Sun; Kim Novak in the blue-gray suit in Vertigo; Bette Davis in the brown satin coctail gown with off-the shoulder, fur-trimmed sleeves in All About Eve; Gloria Swanson in the black dress with white fur muff and white fur-rimmed hat and white plume in Sunset Boulevard: Barbara Stanwyck in the white belted dress and house pumps with pom-poms in Double Indemnity; and any of the costumes Grace Kelly wears in To Catch a Thief or Rear Window. These are a few of the thousands of costumes she designed in a career that spanned nearly fifty years.

Edith Head is pictured above wearing her favorite necklace made of antique French theater tickets carved in ivory. She willed the necklace to her friend Liz Taylor at her death.

Susan Claassen as Edith Head

We no longer have Edith Head. We are very fortunate however, to have Susan Claassen, who has brought Miss Head back to life in her one-woman show, A Conversation with Edith Head. Susan Claassen is the Managing Artistic Director of the Invisible Theatre in Tucson, Arizona. Paddy Calistro, author of Edith Head's Hollywood, and Susan Claassen co-wrote the play that A Conversation is based on. The play begins late in Miss Head's career, as she reflects on the accomplishments and defeats of her life, and her eight Oscars. Miss Claasen brings it all back to life. You share Miss Head's life-story monologues like a guest in her own studio. You laugh and cry with her. Should Susan Claassen and A Conversation with Edith Head come to your town, don't miss it. If it comes to the region, make the trip. It will be worth it."