This icy blue confection worn by Grace Kelly in 1955 is one of the most memorable Oscar gowns of all time. And it wasn’t created by a fashion designer, but a costume designer.
And not just any costume designer, the legendary Edith Head, who helped create some of the most enduring style images in American film from the 1930s through 1960s.
For the record
1:20 p.m. Feb. 25: The caption for a photo accompanying an earlier version of this post misidentified actor Edmond O'Brien as George Seaton.
As lead costume designer for Paramount, Head created Dorothy Lamour’s sarong in the 1937 film “The Hurricane,” Elizabeth Taylor’s sweetheart gown in the 1951 film “A Place in the Sun,” Kelly’s tulle ball gown in the 1954 film “Rear Window,” Audrey Hepburn’s summer play clothes in 1953’s “Roman Holiday,” the perfect black dress worn by Kim Novak in 1958’s “Vertigo” and the pale green suit worn by Tippi Hedren in the 1963 film “The Birds.”
(You can see the “Vertigo” ensemble in the “Hollywood Costume” exhibition on view at the Wilshire May Co. Building through March 2.)
Head’s costume classics — and Kelly’s Oscar gown — are as incredible as anything that’s ever come down a fashion runway, especially because in the golden age of Hollywood, the workrooms in Los Angeles rivaled Paris ateliers.
Like many costume designers today, Head also crossed over into the world of fashion, offering style advice in regular appearances on daytime television in the 1950s, and designing Vogue patterns and airline uniforms. Her talent as an image-maker on and off the screen made her popular with film directors and with glamour girls like Kelly whom she dressed for their film roles and private lives.
In 1953, the first year the Academy Awards were televised, Head was named the Oscars’ first fashion consultant and charged with making sure the stars dressed modestly enough to not run afoul of the censors. “I was appointed guardian of hemlines and bodices,” she said. And she was that backstage guardian at the ready with panels of lace and bunches of flowers to cover up décolletage until 1981.
Today, more costume designers are dipping into fashion than ever before. The Arianne Phillips-designed “Kingsman” menswear collection is one example. Another is Prada’s latest installment of its collaborative the Iconoclasts series, for which Phillips and costume designers Michael Wilkinson, Tim Martin and Milena Canonero were enlisted to design installations for the New York, London and Paris Prada stores. So it’s worth remembering one of the greats, Edith Head, and her place in Oscars, fashion and Hollywood history.
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