Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Travis Banton - Taste Arbiter

Originally published on the Coletterie blog.

Travis Banton (1894-1958) American

Carol Lombard

Travis Banton worked briefly in New York before arriving in Hollywood in 1924. Once in the city, he made his name by designing the wedding gown that actress Mary Pickford wore to marry Douglas Fairbanks.  He was promoted to head designer in 1927 after working as an assistant designer to Paramount head designer Howard Greer. During his time at Paramount he designed for more than 160 movies. While there, he created the costumes for the difficult Claudette Colbert in the 1934 version of Cleopatra, devising ways to hide her perceived figure flaws of a thick waist and a short neck.

Claudette Colbert in Cleopatra, 1934.

When his contract expired, he moved to Twentieth Century Fox in 1939. He then worked for Universal Studios from 1945 to 1948 as head stylist. During his career, Paris was succeeded by Hollywood as the Western world’s fashion capital. This period peaked in the thirties and forties, declining around 1950 as television began to compete with film. Around that time Banton began to design ready-to-wear clothing outside of the studio system.

Rosalind Russell In What A Woman, 1943.

In 1956, he designed eighteen costumes for the lead actress (both Constance Bennett and Rosalind Russell played the title role) in the stage production of Auntie Mame. Fellow designer Orry-Kelly would costume the fabulous 1958 film version. Banton also designed clothes for Dinah Shore’s personal and television appearances.

Claudette Colbert in Bluebeard's 8th Wife, 1938.

Remembered for the “Paramount look,” Banton produced clothes of high quality with his superb use of fabrics, workmanship and fit. Usually cut on the bias, his clothes were elegant and understated.

Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express, 1932. 

His films: Shanghai Express (1932) with Marlene Dietrich, Devil and the Deep with Tallulah Bankhead (1932), My Man Godfrey (1936) and Made for Each Other (1939) with Carole Lombard, and Cover Girl (1944) with Rita Hayworth.

Gown in Limehouse Blues, 1934.

His style, innovations, and influence on fashion:
  • He held a crucial role in the evolution of the Marlene Dietrich image, designing her costumes in a true creative collaboration with the actress.
  • Banton began using crepe, satin, and silk chiffon when talking pictures arrived because the previously used taffeta and stiff moirĂ© were too noisy for the new medium.
  • Movie fittings for the wardrobe-heavy films of the period would sometimes last up to 120 hours per film for an actor.
Banton and Lombard
  • He dressed actress Carole Lombard for both her film and personal  wardrobe
  • Despite his talent and popularity, Banton’s career was frequently hampered by his drinking problems. He would later be replaced by his assistant Edith Head.
Sources: The World’s Most Influential Fashion Designers (2010) Noel Palomo-Lovinski.

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