Film Costume – Susan Perez Prichard (1981)

  • Film costume, an annotated bibliography
  • Susan Perez Prichard
  • The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Metuchen, N.J., & London 1981

Millions of people in audiences all over the world have been dazzled by the work of the film-costume designer, captured “forever” on celluloid. Twentieth-century fashion, manipulated by skillful designers who tailored it to the camera’s eye, was influenced by the motion picture as by no other medium.

Because the techniques of theatrical and retail fashion design were often inappropriate for motion-picture needs, film-costume designers originated solutions to problems posed by the camera and by the industry itself as they evolved. The literature documents how greatly film costume affected, and was affected by, for example, changing silhouettes and hemlines, and the transition to pants in the 1920s through the 1970s. Technological innovations in fashion, such as mass-produced clothes, synthetic fabrics, and the zipper, also greatly influenced film–and in turn received much support through the designers’ endorsement. The film-costume designers also adapted well to such innovations as sound and color films.

Lillian Gish mentioned in press and books

Burroughs, Annette. “Erte Speaks His Mind.” Photoplay. 29 (3): 32-3, February 1926.

Erte, who found film actresses no more attractive or inspiring than other women, discusses designing for Renee Adoree in “The Big Parade” and Lillian Gish in “La Boheme. ” Both women, among other factors, were enough for him to quit gladly and return to Paris.

“Movies Inspire Designs for Living.” Hollywood Reporter’s 48th Annual, [1978], p. 119-22.

Discussion of the impact of film makeup, settings, and ideas on American lifestyles. The influence of film costume on American fashion is mentioned in quotes from Gloria Vanderbilt on jeans and on “Annie Hall,” which brought about renewed film-fashion influence; from Andy Warhol, on John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”; and from Erte, on freedom and happiness in Hollywood (he mentions that Lillian Gish would wear only silks due to allegedly delicate skin).

Things I Remember: An Autobiography. New York: Quadrangle/New York Times, 1975.

Erte was commissioned to design the costumes for Cecil B. De Mille’s “The Prodigal Son, ” but William Randolph Hearst learned of it and signed him to a three-year contract; he was already under contract to Hearst to design the Harper’s Bazaar covers and write fashion articles. He designed the costumes for Marion Davies and others in the ball sequence of “Restless Sex, ” but no others during the contract. He discusses at length, with frequent illustrations, his costumes for MGM (with which Hearst’s studio had merged) films starring Carmel Myers in “Ben Hur,” Aileen Pringle in “The Mystic” and “Dance Madness, ” Theodore Kozloff (or Kosloff) in “Time the Comedian, ” “Paris,” and for Renee Adoree and Lillian Gish in “La Boheme, ” with his version of the problems with the two actresses. Erte was provided with his own wardrobe department, where Mme. Van Horn executed his costumes.

Lillian Gish – Captain Macklin 1915

Gish, Lillian. Dorothy and Lillian Gish. Edited by James E. Frasher. New York: Scribner’s, 1973.

Original stills include Lillian Gish in a gown worn in “Captain Macklin,” made by Madame Frances; she wore her best gowns in her films, and, as with this gown, she and other actresses were not paid by the studio for providing their own. D. W. Griffith conceived the costumes of “Intolerance. ” Rudolph Valentino was so concerned with his appearance in “Out of Luck” that he held up the shooting schedule. Gish selected the costumes for sister Dorothy Gish in “Remodeling Her Husband” (1920) since “we had no designers then.” She “dressed” two cousins for “Orphans of the Storm” in the style of Gainsborough and Greuze; the costumes were heavy enough to cause Dorothy to faint. Concerning her feud with Erte, she felt that worn-out silks rags would look and move better than the new calico fabrics he wanted for “La Boheme”; she wore only one of his costumes for the film, a small photo of which is included, and designed the rest with Mother Coulter. Renee Adoree did wear Erte’s costumes, which Gish still considers unattractive. Many of their films are well illustrated, as with two gowns worn by Lillian in “Way Down East,” from Henri Bendel’s, and six vamp gowns worn in “Diane of the Follies.” Dorothy Gish models a $25,000 Cuban shawl from “The Bright Shawl. “

Diane of The Follies – Lillian Gish

with Ann Pinchot. The Movies. Mr. Griffith, and Me. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Lillian Gish discusses her costumes, and often the research required, for “The Birth of a Nation” and “Intolerance,” many of which were designed by D.W. Griffith; “Hearts of the World”; “The Chink and the Child,” by wardrobe mistress Mrs. Jones; “Way Down East,” with one gown by Henri Bendel; and “The Two Orphans,” designed with the help of Herman Tappe. She notes erroneously that Ert£ was brought over from Paris to design the costumes for “La Boheme, ” discusses their feud, which led her to redesign the costumes with Mother Coulter, and notes that she could not talk Renee Adorle out of wearing Erte’s costumes. Genuine uniforms from the Civil War could not be worn by the men of “The Birth of a Nation” because of the difference in body sizes, so they were provided by the company that became Western Costume Company. Mrs. Morgan Belmont wore gowns by Lucile in “Way Down East. “

Lillian Gish as Anna Moore – wearing her Wedding Dress – Way Down East

as told to Carolyn Van Wyck. “Individuality in Dress.” Photoplay. 22 (1): 56-7, June 1922.

Lillian Gish does not select her film costumes for their appearance since she is usually limited to poor-girl roles, as in “Broken Blossoms, ” “Way Down East, ” and “Orphans of the Storm. “

In Fashion: Dress in the Twentieth Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978, p. 67-83, passim.

Of the handful of books that deal with twentieth-century fashion this is one of the few to cover film costume more than superficially: “… it is, naturally, the performed arts which most affect fashion. ” Writer Jacques Manuel has credited a costume by Louis Gasnier worn by Pearl White in an unnamed serial in 1916 as the “first specially created film costume. ” White appears in a photo in another costume created by Gasnier, from “Plunder, ” 1922-3; both of White’s costumes were copied and became virtual uniforms for working women. Like Erte, two other proteges of Paul Poiret (actually, Erte only briefly worked for Poiret) entered film designing: Georges Lepape designed the costumes of “Phantasmes” and Paul Iribe the costumes of “Male and Female. ” Of those who could not adjust to the studio system “the most famous failure is Erte, ” and though he was a “supreme illustrator,” his sketches did not translate well onto the human body. Notes also his feud with Lillian Gish. The wire-framed cantilevered bra, developed in 1946, helped bring international renown to Jane Russell in “The Outlaw. ” Brief mention of designers Norman Norell (incorrectly stated to have begun his designing in Hollywood — actually, the Paramount studio in Astoria, New York), Adrian (with mention of his “Letty Lynton” costumes for Joan Crawford), Howard Greer, Travis Banton, Walter Plunkett, Jean Louis, Helen Rose, Edith Head, and Irene Sharaff. The influence of film costume on fashion waned in the early 1960s when pop music replaced it as a fashion trendsetter. Includes also a comment by Mrs. D. W. Griffith, who once said that her husband turned down an actress but offered to pay her five dollars for her hat so that Mary Pickford could wear it in a film.

Elaine The Lilly Maid Dreaming of Astolat … Lillian Gish – Way Down East

Gostelow, Mary. “Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design

–The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. ” Journal of the Costume Society, 9: 58, 1975. The oldest of the over 100 costumes displayed in the “Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design” exhibit was worn by Lillian Gish in “Way Down East. ” Brief mention of the psychological importance of a gown worn by Joan Crawford in “The Gorgeous Hussy” and of historical inaccuracies in costumes worn by Norma Shearer, Gladys George, and an unnamed actress in “Marie Antoinette,” all by Adrian. Fabrics discussed include a wedding gown by John Truscott worn by Vanessa Redgrave in “Camelot” and gowns by Travis Banton worn by Marlene Dietrich in “Angel” and by Bob Mackie worn by Barbra Streisand in “Funny Lady.”

The White Sister

“Lillian Gish Prefers American Clothes.” Screen News. 2 (44): 15, November 3, 1923.

Lillian Gish had her most important costumes for “The White Sister” and “Romola” made on Fifth Avenue because she felt that American designers were more skilled than Parisians. Both movies were filmed in Italy; the costumes required for minor roles were made in Europe.

Mount, Laura. “Designs on Hollywood.” Collier’s. 87 (14): 21, 60-1, April 4, 1931.

Coco Chanel, hired by Sam Goldwyn to visit Hollywood periodically and send designs from Paris, may go the way of Erte and Gilbert Clarke, both of whom quit when Lillian Gish and Greta Garbo, respectively, refused to wear their costumes. Chanel will leave several of her fitters in Hollywood for permanent employment and will reorganize the studio dressmaking department. As one of the more demanding stars Chanel will design for, Gloria Swanson wore about 15 gowns in “What a Widow,” which she bought from a leading fashion salon in New York; though she changed the simple costumes drastically to suit herself. Brief mention of Carolyn Putnam being the designer for Paramount’s Long Island studio. Elsa Maxwell asked Paramount producer Walter Wanger if she should hire Jean Patou, Parisian couturier, when she heard that Goldwyn had hired Chanel; Wanger decided against it.

1924: Lillian Gish (1893 – 1993) plays the title role in the film ‘Romola’, adapted from a novel by George Eliot and directed by Henry King for MGM.

Robinson, David. “Showbiz Glamour.” Times (London), November 30, 1974, p. 9.

Discussion of film-costume design and history, with examples of costumes displayed in the “Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design” exhibit. Notes that a costume worn by Lillian Gish in “Romola” was made by the costumier of the Milan opera in Florence and that Travis Banton once worked with Madame Francine (Frances).

“Tirtoff-Erte Quits Movies.” New York Times, November 4, 1925, p. 31.

After seven months with MGM as a costume designer de Tirtoff- Erte (Erte) is returning to Paris. He found the actresses no more inspiring or attractive than his usual clients. He was offended by Lillian Gish because she wanted simple costumes for the role of a poor girl made of silks and elegant fabrics. Renee Adoree would not wear a corset for her 1830 costumes (both actresses in “La Boheme”). He had to design costumes for one film (“Paris”) four times, as it was constantly rewritten. He looked forward to being treated considerately in his return to Paris.

Lillian Gish as Elsie Stoneman in “The Birth of a Nation” promotional

Admin note: Photographs presented in this article are not part of Susan Perez Pritchard’s book.

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