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.

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