Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Scarlet Empress Costume Designs

I found some costume designs by Travis Banton for Marlene Dietrich's Catherine the Great in The Scarlet Empress. I watched the film again a few weeks ago but unfortunately my copy is not good enough to take screencaps from. It's a wonderful film - historically a bit suspect, but it's beautifully shot by Josef von Sternberg and it has some of the greatest props and sets I've ever seen. There are looming grotesque figures all over the place. It's enough to put you off your dinner.

The film itself reminds me of the Garbo vehicle, Queen Christina, which came out in 1933, a year before The Scarlet Empress was made. So (I'm speculating here) perhaps The Scarlet Empress was a further  attempt by Paramount's to make Dietrich their own version of MGM's Garbo?

Speaking of the costumes, one in particular is also very similar to Adrian's designs for Queen Christina. I'll put photos of each for you to compare. I just find it quite interesting.

The Scarlet Empress (1934) Costume Designs for Marlene Dietrich

Queen Christina, 1933

Adrian's Design for Greta Garbo in Queen Christina, 1933.

The Scarlet Empress (1934) Costume Designs for Marlene Dietrich

Finally this costume for Marlene Dietrich is rather iconic. Dietrich mentions it in her biography:
The younger generation raves about The Scarlet Empress. Young people write to me, and talk about the costumes - particularly about my boots which, moreover, were white! – and other impressive details of the work they seem to understand thoroughly ... much more than the public of that time. 
- Excerpt from Marlene Dietrich: My Life.© 1987 by Marlene Dietrich. (via

Now, I wouldn't compare it to Adrian's design for Queen Christina. The only similarity between these two designs is that they are both military-esque affairs with trousers and boots.

Queen Christina, 1933

I very much recommend this blog post by Innergenre for screencaptures, and Criterion Collection for an excellent review of the film.

Friday, 20 January 2012

RIP Etta James

Rest in peace, Etta, and thank you.

{'Sweet Etta James' by Bluemovers}

Style Icon: Tippi Hedren

Happy Birthday, Tippi Hedren!

I meant to post this yesterday but here is a little Happy Birthday post for Tippi Hedren, who was 82 yesterday. I managed to do a quick sketch in my moleskine of her in The Birds just in time in celebration of a lovely lady whose work in philanthropy and animal rescue and preservation is truly inspiring. For some reason I drew her being attacked by a crow. Never mind.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Sherlock - Irene Adler's Costumes

Like many people, I'm a bit Sherlock mad at the moment. The second series of the BBC series has just started here in the UK (well, the final episode airs on Sunday), so I thought I'd do a post on Irene Adler's character from episode one, "A Scandal in Belgravia". Irene had a femme fatale style, so I couldn't resist.

 Thankfully I found a site called Wear Sherlock which is dedicated to identifying all costumes and props shown in the series, so here I am, shamelessly stealing their information. I hope they don't mind. Their site is a fantastic treasure trove and I highly recommend that you visit it.

Going by the prices of Irene's clothes and bits and bobs, like all the other characters in the series, she obviously has very deep pockets, especially for her phone. These things ain't cheap, but would we expect any less?

Phone: Vertu Constellation Quest smart phone £17,300 / $26,835 (LINK)
Shoes: Christian Louboutin Big Stack 120 pumps  £495 / $763 (LINK)
Dress: Alexander McQueen 'Illusion' Sheath Dress £1,112 / $1,725 (LINK)

I love this dress. I'm not the biggest fan of Sarah Burton's work but this is gorgeous, sophisticated choice by the costume designer. The faux bolero adds a military and slightlyVictorian feel while still being very contemporary.

I was quite taken by Irene's make up so I took a few screencaps. It's a bit of a modern film noir look - foundation, blusher, a very subtle sweep of grey eyeshadow through the socket and winging under her eyes, mascara, aqua eyeliner instead of typical black, and red lips.

These make up suggestions are just what I would choose to get this sort of look. The BBC make up team probably used liquid eyeliner but ho hum. This eyeliner looks very like liquid eyeliner, but has the bonus of being a pencil. Happy days. 

The eyes reminded me of Mermaiden's recent tutorial for Anna Karina's make up in Une Femme est une Femme, 1961. 

 Milani's Liquif-Eye Metallic Eye Liner in 'Aqua'.

Chanel Rouge Allure lipstick in 'Passion' is a appropriately siren-esque colour. A bit of a darker and blue-ish shade than this red shown above and a much closer to whatever was used in the series.

I've since spoken to the wonderful Megan Cumberwire (for that is her name) and she suggested Mac liquid or gel eyeliner in 'Aqualine' and an alternative by GOSH which is a bit cheaper - Extreme Art Eyeliner in 11 Aqua which "is identical".Thanks Megan!

Oh, and the Irene's riding crop is apparently the same one used by Sherlock in the mortuary in series 1.

Mark Todd Braided Leather Riding Crop £33 / $51 (LINK)

At last! Something affordable and useful!

Thanks again to Wear Sherlock. Bookmark/follow that site!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Rear Window Costume Designs

Today I have a quick post of some costume designs by Edith Head for Grace Kelly's character in Hitchcock's Rear Window with some accompanying photos of the finished costumes. I took the scans unless stated otherwise.

Hopefully I'll have time soon to do a more in-depth look into the costumes and take screencaps, do proper research, etc. I have a stash of Edith Head books hidden away somewhere...

Rear Window Costume Designs

I truly can't remember where I found this photo. I didn't scan it. If the person who did wants credit then please let me know.
 {Photo via Doctor Macro}

 {Photo via Doctor Macro}

{Photo via Forever Classics}

Rear Window Costume Designs

Grace Kelly in Rear Window

Rear Window Costume Designs

Grace Kelly in Rear Window

 {Photo via Doctor Macro}

  {Photo via Doctor Macro}

On my travels around the internet I came across this special edition Barbie doll of Grace in Rear Window. Now, I'm no doll collector but this has inspired some serious doll lust in my tired, battered heart.
{via the Mattel website]

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Book Review - Dressing Marilyn

Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood icon was styled by William Travilla 
- Andrew Hansford with Karen Homer

As a collector of Hollywood related books, especially those on Marilyn Monroe, I was excited to hear that there would be a book published to coincide with recent tour of Travilla's costumes. Travilla is most famous for being Marilyn Monroe's (and many other leading ladies') favourite costume designer.

He was responsible for some of the most famous dresses of all time including the pink dress worn during "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" routine in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and the white dress which was caught by a gust of wind by the subway in The Seven Year Itch. I received this book as soon as it was published but have only just had time to review it now and give my unbiased opinion as a fashion history and Marilyn nerd.

Firstly, the book itself is a lovely addition to any bookshelf. It's a hardback and the design is based on the pink dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the design of which features on the cover. Under the jacket, the book is bound in a lace print and is pink inside.

The text is lovingly written, first as an account of the life and career of William Travilla which include some interesting accompanying photos, such as a telegram from Errol Flynn thanking Travilla and congratulating him on his Oscar for his costume design work on Don Juan. It offers insight into the workings of the costume department in the studios in the golden era and reads very nicely. Of course, the focus of the book is Travilla's designs for Marilyn Monroe and their relationship is comprehensively covered. They were obviously very close, having worked together on eight of her films. She wrote a note to him which read - "Billy Dear, please dress me forever. I love you, Marilyn."

The book is, of course, beautifully illustrated with his superb costume designs, which are rather reminiscent of Rene Gruau's fashion illustrations. Along with these are photos of the original dress patterns which have survived fire and flooding over the years, and photographs of the dresses themselves. I think all the gowns featured are the original dresses, or prototypes, worn by Marilyn. I know that for the tour, some of the gowns were remade from his original patterns for display as the originals are now much too fragile and precious for a tour. Also, most of them are in various collections around the world. Thankfully, the owners allowed the authors to have photographs taken for the purpose of this book.

Cut for length. Click on the "read more" below for the whole post.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Photos Over Christmas

Some late photos from the Christmas period. First, our super skinny Christmas tree. The fairy on the top is from the 50s, I think. It was my Nan's and sadly lost her original skirt so I made her a new one for decencies sake out of some vintage fabric I had.

The Skinny Christmas Tree, 2011

The Skinny Christmas Tree, 2011

The Skinny Christmas Tree, 2011

Then Christmas lights and St Ives in January! Mousehole in Cornwall have some of the best light displays in the country. Sadly my camera doesn't like taking night shots. More under the cut >>

Louise Brooks Greeting Card

Finally got my new scanner working. I wonder why they have to make these things so complicated. Then again, a 5 year old could probably have figured it out within a few minutes but never mind.

Just to prove that I have been working, this is a rough of the first of a set of greeting cards featuring cinematic icons which are going to be added to my new shop soon, complete with glitter.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costume Design

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes

For those lucky enough to have seen it, The Ghost and Mrs Muir is gentle comedy classic of the forties. It's often compared to Pandora and the Flying Dutchman although the latter is a much darker film and practically devoid of humour. The two films do, however, share similar elements plot-wise; mainly that one of the leads is alive and one is dead. :)

It's a story with some Wildean or Shaw-esque moments concerning a young widow who takes a house on the coast with her daughter and servant despite being warned against the property by the estate agent. Desperate to start a new life for herself without repression, she soon learns that the place is haunted by the previous owner; a sea captain who is initially none to pleased to find her in his house. Eventually they befriend each other and when Mrs Muir encounters some financial difficulties, they write a book together - a biography of his life.

I don't want to say any more incase I spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, but it has many wonderful  attributes - Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison and George Sanders are wonderful in it, and a very young Natalie Wood acts as Mrs Muir's daughter. There is also a beautiful score by Bernard Herrmann which is worth watching the film for all in itself.

Anyway, to the costumes. I'll just do a really quick overview notes on most of the costumes with some screencaptures I took from a (pretty rubbishy quality) print I have of the film. The costumes are a lovely blend of turn of the century and forties fashion which are cleverly integrated so the overall effect is of period dress. The official costume designer on the film was Eleanor Behm but the costume designer for Gene Tierney's wardrobe was Oleg Cassini, who happened to be her husband at the time. There might have been a collaboration between the two designers, although somehow I doubt it.

Click on any of the pictures for larger versions.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes
Gene Tierney in her mourning clothes. This is a boned bodice and skirt. It's very harsh, restraining and stiff design, almost armour-like in its fit which fits in with Mrs Muir's feeling of oppression at this point. 

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes
A long cape with slit sleeves which are edged in pom pom braid over a black travelling suit with braid on the lapels. The hat is so sweet and quirky while still having the pretensions of being a mourning hat with a veil. I don't know why it makes me laugh. It suits Mrs Muir - it's so perky. There's something humourous about it. Many mourning hats look quite terrifying.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes
This is a costume I couldn't get very good captures of. It's a plain mourning dress with a lace collar and cuffs.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes
She's ditched her widow's weeds now and is wearing a blouse with a lace collar and a high waisted plaid skirt. The skirt is interestingly cut at the back and seems to be piped at each seam.


The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes
A lovely suit with jet buttons. The skirt is cut in a similar if not the same way as the plaid skirt above.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes
Another nice blouse with some frou frou going on. That is a technical term. Yes.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes
This is probably the most famous costume as there were lots of stills taken of Gene wearing this suit. It's a wool with a small check and pom pom braid edging. The cut around the shoulders is reminiscent of both the wide forties shoulder and the cut of a Victorian cape so it's a very clever design. There is a comment in the film about the impracticability of her hat.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes
A light cotton summer dress with gorgeous tucks at the back which ease out to a wide, floaty skirt. Again, the design is both forties and Victorian/Edwardian with the fullness at the bust and sleeves and a closely fitting waist so it has that S-shape while still being something that viewers of the forties would think of as being a romantic dress. 

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes
This dress has an interesting texture to the sleeves if you can see the slightly corrugated look to it. A pretty lacework yoke keeps the design very conservative and true to a typical period day dress. In fact it's really only the undergarments that make the bodice of this dress look forties.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes
Appliqued suit of a bolero jacket and matching skirt with a silk blouse. The shoulders are emphasised slightly more than would be period but that's the forties influence. 

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes
I love this dress. It reminds me of a chemise √† la reine as it's so light and pretty. It looks like a sheer silk with some stiffness so it will hold that sleeve shape.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes

That plaid skirt earlier on in the film has a matching jacket! It's really beautifully tailored and it could easily have fit in with forties fashions. It's only the skirt shape and length which ties it down to the turn of the century. The contrast velvet lapel is a nice touch as is the mixing of fabrics - plaid, lace and velvet.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Costumes

While researching for this post I found a moan on IMDB about how the costumes late on in the film don't look like the teens/twenties clothes of when it was set, but look like forties fashions. This isn't necessarily true. You have to watch these films bearing in mind that authenticity wasn't a major concern at the time. The suit in question had a dropped waist, so it referenced the twenties. People had a visual trigger to let them know that a considerable amount of time had passed. Her daughter's suit is very forties looking, but again, there's a reason for that. I think it's to make her look much younger than her mother.

You had designers like Adrian who would go out of their way and fight with Studio Heads to make the costumes look period, but overall it was fairly rare and costume designers were encouraged to design clothes which would be attractive to the general population. Most viewers were content with designs that referenced the period, but for instance the corseted shapes of the Victorian era were not considered attractive and this was figured into designs.

You can't overestimate the importance of fashion in films during this period. Costume designs often set a trend. These films weren't historical documentaries, they were stories from the Dream Factory leading right into the 60s and beyond. Just look at Elizabeth Taylors costumes in Cleopatra in 1963 - never have there been such un-Egyptian looking clothes. The original  designs were scrapped and redesigned for costumes that were not as historically accurate.

We shouldn't watch old films with an overly critical and scrutinising eye. I liken it to when a candle is lit in a dark room in old films and it's like ten 60 watt bulbs have been turned on. It's so we can see what's going on. The storytelling is the important thing. The fact that the costumes are inaccurate says a lot about the film industry at the time and the psychology and needs of the film going public.

End rant. :) Hope you enjoyed the post. 

Thanks to Doctor MacroAlloCin√© and Tumblr for some of the stills.