Celebrating Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer: New Edith Head Series Begins Tonight

Edith Head’s Hollywood begins January 3rd with THE LADY EVE and continues through January 31st. See the full line-up and showtimes here.

You learn a lot of names in film school: Godard, Garbo, Griffith. But, regardless of the talent of these towering figures, the one name associated with nearly every iconic film of the twentieth century is one you rarely come across but that changed the history of cinema forever: Edith Head. Even with the foresight that her career spanned over 400 films, when you truly break it down, it is staggering the impact Edith made on Hollywood and the individuals who at one point in their career were fitted, seen, and admired in an Edith Head original. Ruling the Costume Design departments at Paramount and Universal Studios for nearly 6 decades and garnering 35 Oscar nominations and winning 8 — the most of any woman in history — Edith Head is not only the most influential costume designer of the twentieth century but one of the most influential artists as well. Fashion would simply not be what it is today were it not for Edith and her tirelessly inventive and sophisticated palette.

Barbara Stanwyck wearing an Edith Head original in THE LADY EVE

Our Edith Head’s Hollywood series begins (tonight, January 3rd) with THE LADY EVE, starring Barbara Stanwyck. Preston Sturges’ deliriously inventive 1941 screwball comedy allows Stanwyck the perfect opportunity to show off her virtuosic talents by playing two wildly different characters: con artist Jean Harrington and aristocrat Lady Eve Sidwich. Regardless of Stanwyck’s talents, pulling off a double performance in 1941 was a difficult task and, at that time, there was only one person capable of providing the necessary materials: Edith Head. Stanwyck elegantly drifts from Jean to Eve while draped in Edith’s marvelous costumes and spouting out the kind of lines only Sturges knew how to write. Stanwyck insisted to producer Samuel Goldwyn that Edith Head be commissioned to create her costumes and, years later, would continue to request that Edith be loaned out to work for Warner Bros. Though these later collaborations produced interesting and certainly worthwhile designs, their initial work on THE LADY EVE remains the benchmark for what can be done when comedy, charisma, and craftsmanship are blended to such perfection that anything seems possible.

“From then on I had Edith Head’s name written into every contract, no matter what studio I was working for.”Barbara Stanwyck

Edith Head on The Lady Eve:

“THE LADY EVE changed both our lives. It was Barbara’s first high fashion picture and her biggest transition in costuming. She was already a top star and had an image long before I got to her. She was always playing plain Janes, women to whom clothes meant nothing. Yet Barbara was quite trim and had a better shape than most of the other actresses around. She possessed what some designers considered to be a figure “problem” – a long waist and a comparatively low rear end. By widening the waistbands on the front in her gowns and narrowing them slightly in the back, I could still put her in straight skirts, something other designers were afraid to do, because they thought she might look too heavy in the seat. Since she wasn’t the least bit heavy, I just took advantage of her long waist to create an optical illusion.”

“For her gambler character I had used sharp contrasts – black on white, all black, all white, to make her appear a tad coarse. Naturally I chose much richer, more luxurious fabrics (later in the film). I left the sequins and the glitter to the lady gambler in the beginning.”

“I had used Spanish motifs on much of THE LADY EVE wardrobe… Barbara looked sensational in poncho and serape styles and she was so sexy in the clothes that suddenly Latin American fashions swept the country.”

Edith Head’s Hollywood runs January 3-31 at AFS Cinema. Get tickets today.
  • Contributed by Davis Rivera

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