Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Adrian - Image Maker

Originally published on the Coletterie blog.

Adrian (1903-1959) American

Joan Crawford, 1932.

Born Adolph Adrian Greenburg, the designer would eventually change his name to just Adrian. In 1922 a meeting with Natacha Rambova, the wife of Rudolph Valentino, resulted in him designing costumes for the silent film star. In 1928 he was hired by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer as chief costume designer.

Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story.

During his time at MGM he created costumes for the female studio stars such as Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, Norma Shearer, etc. He dressed Crawford in twenty-eight films in which he defined her look.

Joan Crawford

The wide padded shoulders atop a slim-hipped silhouette associated with her would also become his trademark. Designer Oleg Cassini considered Adrian the only designer powerful enough to impose his taste on a film’s director and therefore influence the style and look of a film.

Cubist dinner gown, 1948. 

Adrian also dressed Greta Garbo in seventeen of her twenty-four American films. He considered her to have the ideal body with her square shoulders and proportionate figure. In fact, Adrian adored Garbo so much that he resigned from MGM in 1941 over the studio’s desire to Americanize Garbo’s celebrated sophisticated look. He was quoted as saying, “When glamour is over for Garbo, it is over for me.”

Marlene Dietrich in Mata Hari, 1931.

After leaving MGM, he opened Adrian Ltd. in Beverly Hills. There he produced made-to-order and ready-to-wear clothing under the Adrian Original label. He also produced several menswear collections along with two perfumes, Sinner and Saint. After a health scare in 1952, he and his wife, actress Janet Gaynor, retired to Brazil. He returned to Hollywood to create costumes for a 1960’s stage production of Camelot, his last project before his death in 1959.

Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, 1940.

His films: Dinner for Eight (1933), Grand Hotel (1932), Camille (1936), Anna Karenina (1935), Wizard of Oz (1939), and The Philadelphia Story (1940).

Suit from a Pola Stout textile, 1948.

Home Sewing Connection: Adrian lent his name to some Advance American Designer patterns.

Advance American Designers 6100.

His style, innovations, and influence on fashion:

Adrian and Garbo.
  • Adrian designed the signature styles for actresses Jean Harlow, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, and Joan Crawford.
 "Modern Museum" collection, 1945.
  • His designs include the triangular silhouette created with wide, padded shoulders tapering to a tiny waist which dominated fashion from the mid-1930s through the 1940s.
  • Adrian was known for elements such as diagonal closings, dolman or kimono sleeves, dramatic animal prints and stripes arranged in opposing directions.
  • He would embellish his clothing with symbols of Americana such as patchwork, “Wild West” symbols, military motifs and the use of gingham fabric in different sizes, sometimes even quilted and sequined.
  • Adrian created clothing using exclusive fabrics from New York textile designer Pola Stout. Her use of  horizontal and vertical lines and his love of diagonals influenced many of their unique collaborations.
The Letty Lynton gown.
  • Adrian was known for sleek and modern designs but he also created romantic evening gowns. He most notably designed the dress Joan Crawford wore in Letty Lynton (1932) which was widely copied, selling 500,000 copies at Macy’s.
Crawford and Norma Shearer in The Women.
  • He designed the costumes for the actors and the Technicolor fashion show sequence in the 1939 movie version of The Women.

Images: Metropolitan Museum of the Arts collection,

Sources: The World’s Most Influential Fashion Designers (2010) Noel Palomo-Lovinski;  ”Remembering Adrian” (2001) Mary Elliott in Threads magazine; In My Own Fashion (1987) Oleg Cassini.

Text by Lisa/lsaspacey

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