Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Irene - Californian Elegance

Originally published on the Coletterie blog.

Irene Lentz-Gibbons (1900-1962) American

Doris Day in Midnight Lace, 1960. 

Irene Lentz-Gibbons designed for many Hollywood stars off-screen, such as Claudette Colbert, while also freelancing for many of the film studios. Her reputation was made when actress Dolores Del Rio requested all of her film costumes in 1933′s Flying Down to Rio be designed by the unknown Lentz-Gibbons.

Loretta Young in Bedtime Story, 1941.

Her designs developed a reputation for epitomizing Californian elegance with her daywear suits being described as “slim, curvy and tailored” and her eveningwear as “lavish and dramatic with feathers, frills, and sparkle.” At this point, Irene, as she billed herself, was freelancing for both independent producers and working at various studios. Her work was seen in Paramount, RKO, Columbia and United Artists films.

Beaded rhinestone crepe gown, 1940s.

In 1942, she took Gilbert Adrian’s place after he resigned as Executive Designer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. She inherited a staff of over 200 employees. During her time at MGM she met and married writer Eliot Gibbons, brother of MGM’s art director Cedric Gibbons.

Silk dress, 1935.

Over her ten years at MGM, Irene worked as costume designer and costume supervisor on more than a hundred and fifty films.  She designed for stars such as Hedy Lamarr, Ginger Rogers, Marlene Dietrich, Jean Arthur, Loretta Young, Carole Lombard and others. She costumed them for appearances in all the heady dramas, frothy musicals, hilarious comedies and Esther Williams swim movies that MGM released until the end of the 1940s.

Elaine Barrie in Midnight, 1939.

Two years before leaving MGM, in 1947, the studio allowed Irene to open her own ready-to-wear fashion design company, “Irene, Inc.” It was closely tied to the studio and over 20 high-end stores had exclusive rights to her designs.

Silk brocade and chiffon, 1958.

In the early 1960s, she returned to films to work with Doris Day in Midnight Lace (1960) and Lover Come Back (1961). In 1962, not so long after her return, she took her own life by jumping out a window in the Knickerbocker Hotel.

Ginger Rogers in Shall We Dance, 1937. 

Her films: Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman; Meet Me In St Louis, The Harvey Girls and Easter Parade with Judy Garland; and Midnight Lace and Lover Come Back with Doris Day.

Her style, innovations, and influence on fashion:
  • She herself was an actress, for a time, in early 1920s silent films.
  • She earned an Academy Award nomination for B.F.’s Daughter in 1949, the first year that costume design was made a category. She was again nominated in 1961 for Midnight Lace.
Lana Turner, 1946.
  • Notably famous for putting “hot pants” on the big screen with her entrance-making white shorts for Lana Turner in 1946’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.
  • She was the first leading costume designer to have special boutiques inside twenty leading department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Marshall Field and Neiman-Marcus.
Sources: Stanwyck: A Biography, (1994) Axel Madsen; Irene; “Irene, Inc.” (1947) Time magazine; Vintage Fashion Guild.

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

Friday, February 11, 2011

Inspiration For Even More Clothes

From Talbot's of all places!

Remember my gray gathered skirt? Well, I couldn't handle that elastic waist, the skirt was too full and the gathering of all that fabric made my waist look the same size as my hips. So I took the elastic out and was going to construct a waistband for it. However, now I think arranging the skirt into big tucks like these may be the way to handle all that mass.

This picture is the one that caught my eye. I have already made two shirts very similar to this so I think I'll make a few more with this neck detail instead of the gathered neckline. I also love the jewel-like color...I need more color in my wardrobe, at least up around my face.

I love this outfit completely, especially the chunky necklace (also seen above)! Next time I find a great patterned, medium-weight fabric I will try to make this. Look familiar? Yes, I will use my still unused coat pattern but of course that first one still needs to be made.

Of course, all of these ideas are for AFTER I finish the outfits in this post, my 2010-2011 wardrobe.


Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Edith Head - Dress Doctor

Originally published on the Coletterie blog.

Edith Head (1897-1981) American

Grace Kelly in Rear Window, 1954.

Edith Head taught art at the Hollywood School for Girls before applying for a job as a sketch artist at Paramount Pictures under Travis Banton. After years working as assistant to Banton at Paramount, she eventually succeeded him as head designer. She eventually moved to Universal Pictures where she stayed until her death. She would become one of the last great designers to work under the studio contract system before it was disbanded in the late 1940s.

Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve, 1941.

Head was responsible for the on-screen looks of Barbara Stanwyck, Dorothy Lamour (she designed her first sarong), Gloria Swanson, Grace Kelly, and Elizabeth Taylor. She was famous for catering to the more difficult actresses and was a genius at coping with figure problems. For instance, the actress Barbara Stanwyck was thought to have a long waist and a lower rear end than the average female. Head devised a solution by fashioning jet waistbands wider in the front then tapering them narrower at the back creating an illusion that her proportions were correct. Examples of this can be seen in Stanwyck’s first high fashion picture, The Lady Eve (1941), in which Head created 25 separate costumes for the actress.

Edith Head

Head would become almost as famous for her own personal look of jet-black hair, severely cut bangs and thick black rimmed glasses, as for the costumes and wardrobes that she designed. In the early 1930s stars paid the studio wardrobe departments to make their off-screen wardrobes as well.  Her forte was simplicity and elegance as epitomized in her famous full-skirted ensemble for Grace Kelly’s character in Rear Window.

Ginger Rogers, Lady In The Dark, 1944.

Her films: Double Indemnity (1944), Roman Holiday (1953), White Christmas (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), Sweet Charity (1969), and Sunset Boulevard (1950).

Advance 9291

Advance 9292

Home Sewing Connection: She designed patterns for the Vogue American Designer collection and for Advance American Designer patterns when she was at Paramount.

Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief, 1955.

Her style, innovations, and influence on fashion:
  • She was the first female head designer at a major studio.
  • Head applied for her first sketch artist job with a portfolio consisting of her student’s sketches mixed in with her own after hearing that Paramount was looking for someone capable of variety.
Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.
  • She fought to get sole designer credit on all her movies with Audrey Hepburn despite the star being primarily dressed by Hubert Givenchy. This point and the above one about obtaining her studio job  by plagiarism has made her my least favorite of the movie designers.
  • She received more than 1,000 screen credits, 35 Oscar nominations, and won the Academy Award eight times for costume design.
Edith Head sketch.
  • Her most popular success was the lilac blossom-covered tulle ball gown worn by Elizabeth Taylor in 1951’s A Place in the Sun. Copies of this dress flew out of the stores for that year’s prom season.
  • Published two books, The Dress Doctor (1959) and How to Dress for Success (1967).
Sources: Edith Head’s Hollywood (1983) Edith Head; The World’s Most Influential Fashion Designers (2010) Noel Palomo-Lovinski; Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer (2003) David Chierichetti.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Flora, Food, and Fantastic Oolong!

My birthday flowers! Along with the beautiful lilies, daises and crysanthemums from a dear friend, my boss ordered a truly delicious gluten-free pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting from Ellwood Thompson. A huge hunk of it is now in my freezer and I am so tempted to defrost it already!

But, what do you say? Did I finish the dress? Well...


Worn with brown fishnets and my superstar brown suede 1940's-inspired shoes.
Yes, those are criss-crossed ankle straps!

Detail shot.

Moody film-noir shot.

Monday, February 07, 2011

New Skirt - Maybe?

I don't know what happened. I made the skirt with the same pattern as the A-line Built By Wendy (Sew U) one in black corduroy. I only tapered the bottom in, I did nothing to the waist or hip area. So, why when I tried it on did it not fit? And no it's not because I gained weight. I can still wear the other skirt; however, when I laid the new one on top of the old one it was almost 1 1/2 inches smaller! How?!

I used the same pattern. Now, this piece of corduroy is twice as thick and I did underline it (with lining material) but still? That's a big difference that can't be because of fabric thickness, right?

I will try to decrease the darts and the side seams but I just don't know if that will be enough. I was so excited about this one. Again, it was corduroy that I've had in my stash for years, I didn't think I had enough but I made it fit on the pieces I had. The lining material along with the zipper was also in the stash, so I didn't spend any money on it. However, I'll still be really disappointed if this doesn't work out.

I finally discovered what the fitting problem was. When I started tapering the skirt for a straight silhouette instead of an A-line, I had forgotten to include the widest point of the skirt and then start tapering, therefore it's too small just because of that inch-long area I forgot to take into consideration. Ugh!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Another Year Older...

It is my birthday today! And what a day it's going to be...a full day at work and then a three-hour class on Medieval Art & Architecture. Do I know how to party or what?

No, I am not wearing my Colette Oolong dress today but the goal is for tomorrow! I finished the lining hem a day ago and am attempting the dress hem tonight. However, because the dress is bias there was a lot of distortion and the front of the dress is a full 1 1/2 inches longer than the back!

My obstacle is that I don't have a dress form or someone to mark the hem for me. I had planned on buying one of these but it won't help me tonight. I think I will do a little creative cutting and put in a temporary basted hem just so I can wear it now and of course photograph it. I will be a bit dressed up for casual Friday but that's the way I roll!

I know this dress has taken a long time to finish (start date: October 2009!) and its completion has missed a lot of my self-imposed deadlines, but it WILL make this one. In addition to being finished on my birthday I had also proposed that it be finished in time for Chinese Lunar New Year, since I had missed two New Years opportunities. Luckily, it will and it might also help that the dress is red, which I heard stands for prosperity.

Come on, prosperity!

By the way, a floral delivery place just called and they have a delivery for me! I have no idea who it could be from but my day just got 50% better.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Travis Banton Visits Colette

Claudette Colbert in Travis Banton

This month at Colette Patterns I get to write about my favorite subject: Hollywood costume designers of the 1930-50s. Designers such as Adrian, Orry-Kelly, Travilla, and new ones I've just been made aware of. Please check out my columns each Wednesday at the Colette Patterns blog.

First up is Travis Banton, head costume designer at Paramount Pictures who was responsible for the "Joan Crawford Look".* The shoulder pads and elegant long look of the gowns even started to effect what the average woman was wearing too. Here are just a few pictures that I had to leave out of the profile because of space.

His first costume picture, 1925's Dressmaker from Paris.

Joel McCrea and Kay Francis in Girls About Town (1931).

*Now remember, he did the clothes NOT the hideous makeup she started to wear in her later years in film.

Images: Silver Screen Modiste and Arts Meme

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.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Vogue Special Design S-4305

UPDATE: This pattern has now been reissued as Vogue 9106! I may have had a little bit to do with that...

Months ago I bought something decadent and uncalled for. I bought a pattern that isn't even in my size for an occasion it may never be worn to. But I've been obsessed with it for months and the fact that it was still there since summer just meant it was supposed to be mine. Right?

Vogue Special Design S4305 (now Vogue 9106)

I found it at Halcyon, a local vintage store, during the summer and amazingly, it was still there in December when I had a little cash from some Etsy sales*.

There once was an entry on the Vintage Pattern Wiki but it's since been removed, so here is a scan of my pristine original...complete with the original Vogue Special Design label that Vogue used to supply to their home sewers! Can you believe it?!

Yes, this dress may be made for other occasions but my first thought is in white voile, lightly patterned cotton lawn, organdy, or dotted Swiss. Something light as cotton candy and with a feeling very similar to this:

or to these:

Can't you just see it? And believe it or not this dress only has four pattern pieces! Here's a better look at the design:

The ideal situation is that this dress would be graded up two sizes and sewn not by me but a professional seamstress. Otherwise, I would freak out on it having to be perfect and that would stress me out.

This pattern is from 1952, when Vogue Pattern Service was still a part of Conde Nast Publications Inc, the publisher of Vogue fashion magazine. I would love to find a photographic spread of this dress from its pages!

*That and AdSense revenue is the only money I am allowed to use for fun.