How Edith Head’s determination led her to costume the A-Listers

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During Hollywood’s Golden Age, a handful of costume designers were as recognizable as the stars they dressed. At the top of the stack is Edith’s headan icon in its own right, and the woman whose name goes with Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor (to name a few). With over a thousand films to his credit, two books, a few columns, and US Coast Guard clothing, there’s no denying the scope of Head’s sketchbook; however, there remains a healthy debate as to the validity of her status as Grand Dame of Costume.

By enrolling at Chouinard Art College in an effort to stay one step ahead of the students she taught at the Hollywood School For Girls (yup, a real place), Head became the guardian of countless hefty offspring. Hollywood heavyweights, making their way through a society once out of reach. Encouraged by her new husband, Charles Head, Edith drifted into the world of art and design, eventually applying for the role of Sketch Artist at Paramount Studios. Clearly not one to be fazed by intellectual property law or the bizarre case of copyright infringement, Head passed off her art classmates’ sketches as her own, impressive Paramount designer Howard Greer, and begins his journey through the ranks of the studio. For his part, Greer recalled his first encounter with Head as an impressive encounter, having been taken by the sight of “a young girl, with a face like a kitty crossed with a drawing of Fujita (who) appeared with a bag carpet full of sketches. “

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Although her deception was revealed quicker than you can say “it sounds vaguely familiar,” her personality and the aforementioned act of chutzpah had charmed the leaders enough to keep her on board. Duplicity was not a sore point for Head, who refused to be shy when it came to anecdotes involving acts of trickery and the highlighting of his own shortcomings. Such confessions only promoted her image as an intelligent and ambitious woman, a force to be reckoned with. For Head, his lack of creative prowess was also overcome by supreme language skills: illustrious university degrees that included a Bachelor of Arts with distinction in French, as well as a Masters in Romance languages ​​during his time at the University of Stanford, which cemented its value. as someone who could correspond with international stars and foreign executives.


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Cutting her teeth on Westerns, Head was responsible for outfitting some of Hollywood’s best-dressed horses, while Travis Bantonanother Paramount darling and a man who these days Marlene Dietrich would have considered an “essential worker” assured that the A-listers were at their best. It’s said that during those formative years, Head rarely designed costumes (and to be fair, there’s not much you can do with a saddle). However, she was making a name for herself as a hard worker eager to learn and rise through the ranks from tailoring cattle to styling supporting roles, male actors and, eventually, actresses. After Banton left Paramount, the search was on to fill his role, with Head ironically do not be ahead of the pack. Bovin wasn’t Balmain after all, and Paramount wanted a name synonymous with the Parisian catwalk. Nevertheless, her perseverance paid off and within a year she was chief designer (in role and in name), becoming one of the few women to hold such a prestigious position and, by her own admission. , the first designer “with a mining camp instead of a European origin.”


Head’s lack of personal flamboyance and her preference for sleek sophistication over more elaborate designs set her apart from her contemporaries who were quick to add another flourish or develop a new signature style. It’s his indescribable nature (the iconic blue-lensed glasses notwithstanding) that has contributed to his reputation as a designer. for actors, prioritizing their vanity and securing friendships for life, not to mention work. Ensuring his subjects (as opposed to style, fabric, etc.) were at the center of every fitting, Head’s hallmark of craftsmanship continued into his studio layout, with mirrors positioned from way to eliminate any distraction from the model, emphasizing their importance. It was a stroke of genius to satisfy the egos of some of Hollywood’s most notoriously difficult women, even in the dressing room, a decision that Head says was part of his knowledge that she was a better politician than a creator. His pared-back designs were also an act of safeguarding his reputation as a future critic, with the understanding that simplicity would never go out of style, while more “talk about the town” fashion would become obsolete. In other words, if she wanted to stand the test of time, her costumes had to be just as durable. Namely, who has already seen Grace Kelly in low-rise jeans?


Head has also been outspoken when it comes to dress form. To remain the A-list go-to, it was imperative that her costumes be flattering above all else. A thorough examination of the shape, warts and everything else of his subjects meant that Head would design to disguise the less attractive elements of his subjects and enhance their assets. Short waists, chunky legs, and any minor remarks from an actress were addressed.

Head continued her charm offensive by ensuring she became a name in her own right, leaving the needle and thread at the studio to embark on multiple extracurricular projects that would see her mingling with the public. Radio and TV spots, columns and books became part of her oeuvre, putting aside the unfathomable bust lines of Hollywood royalty and instead helping Ms Jones camouflage her short legs. Aunt of sartorial agony, Head’s appearances were regularly the most-watched/listened-to segments, resulting in insurmountable fan mail and style-centric SOS’s from an audience anxious to look sharp.


A self-proclaimed success, Head knew how to make friends and with whom, eschewing indulgent design for classic, timeless silhouettes that would flatter his clientele and cement his own reputation as a style guru that would never go out of style.


Legally Blonde with Reese Witherspoon lying on a chair.

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