Theoni Aldredge dies at 78; costume designer


Theoni V. Aldredge, a preeminent costume designer in theater and film who created wardrobes for more than 300 productions over nearly 50 years, died Friday at a Connecticut hospice, said her husband, actor Tom Aldredge. She was 78.

Know for her versatility as a costumer, Aldredge received an Oscar for her work on the 1974 film “The Great Gatsby.” She also won three Tony Awards for designs for the Broadway plays “Annie,” “Barnum” and “La Cage aux Folles” in the 1970s and 1980s.

Her costumes inspired many fashion designers, including Ralph Lauren, who assisted on “Gatsby.” The lavish, 1920-influenced designs on that film — including Robert Redford’s dapper white suits, and Mia Farrow’s romantic drop-waist dresses — jumped off the screen, according to Times fashion writer Booth Moore.

A line of clothing based on the “Gatsby” designs was sold at Bloomingdales.

Aldredge also designed high-fashion costumes for the 1978 thriller “The Eyes of Laura Mars,” in which Faye Dunaway plays a fashion photographer wearing a plaid cape and fedora. “Laura Mars” has become such a cult fashion film that designer Marios Schwab cited it as an influence for his fall 2010 collection for Halston.

On Broadway more than a thousand Aldredge designs appeared simultaneously in 1984 in five musicals: “A Chorus Line,” “Dreamgirls,” “La Cage aux Folles,” “The Rink” and “42nd Street.”

For many years, she was the principal designer for Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival.

Papp once observed that Aldredge did not create costumes so much as “real clothing that develops out of character.”

In Hollywood she oversaw the costumes for nearly 40 feature films, including “Network” (1976), “Ghostbusters” (1984), “Moonstruck” (1987), “Addams Family Values” (1993) and “The First Wives Club” (1996).

When “Addams Family Values” came out, Aldredge said in The Times of her costumes: “I envisioned a family who digs into old trunks and graves for their clothes. … Everything should look just a little dusty. We’d throw some buff powder on the edges of a lapel … and rub it in.”

Her work also encompassed ballet, opera, television and Las Vegas stage shows. She might create an Elizabethan period costume for one and contemporary street fashion for another.

Period costuming was easier “because no one knows enough to complain,” Aldredge told the Toronto Star in 1995. “A hoop skirt is a hoop skirt.”

She was born Theoni Athanasiou on Aug. 22, 1932, in northeastern Greece. Her mother died when Theoni was very young. She was raised, along with three brothers, by her father, Athanasios V. Vachliotis, a surgeon general of Greece who was active in politics.

As a child, she learned to sew and decided to become a costume designer after viewing the 1946 film “Caesar and Cleopatra,” according to biographical sources.

At about 17, Aldredge came to the U.S. to study theater at the Goodman School of Drama, then a division of the Art Institute of Chicago.

At the school, she met Tom Aldredge, whom she married in 1953.

She also became friends at Goodman with Geraldine Page, who helped Theoni get her first big break. In late 1958 — after being cast with Paul Newman in Tennessee Williams’ “Sweet Bird of Youth” — Page persuaded director Elia Kazan to hire Aldredge.

“We opened in Philadelphia,” Aldredge later recalled, “and Mr. Kazan said, ‘You done good, kid.’ ”