So we took the train to Bendigo yesterday to see the exhibition The Costume Designer: Edith Head & Hollywood. It closes on 21 January, so if you want to see it, you’ll have to get your skates on. It’s worth making the effort, and the train is a great way to travel; very comfortable and relaxing.

I’m not sure how the presentation of costumes was selected, it didn’t seem to be in any chronological order; rather, similar designs seemed to be grouped together. We started with Audrey Hepburn’s suit from Funny Face; one of the few films that I’d actually seen. There were informative descriptions of the clothes and some context about how Edith worked with the different stars beside each of the costumes on display.

This was another jacket in the same display case, that I really liked; worn by Susan Hayward for a publicity photograph sometime between 1935-40, raw silk. Beautiful.

Here’s another outfit I remembered from a film I’ve seen; The Lady Eve starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, 1941, velvet, glass beads, souffle, necklace. Alongside a still from the picture; which was a silly slapstick comedy, with Fonda in particular playing against type. I prefer him as the strong silent type.

In addition to stills from the films, there were scenes showing the relevant clothes. I loved this medieval-style costume worn by Shirley Temple in Little Miss Marker, 1934, cotton, velvet, embroidery. It was accompanied by footage from the black and white film being screened on a nearby wall.

In a separate room, on a full screen, scenes from a couple of Cecil DeMille extravaganzas were playing; Samson and Delilah and The Ten Commandments. This scene from Samson and Delilah stars this dress, worn by Hedy Lamarr, 1949. silk, beaded applique.

The attention to detailis amazing as can be seen here.

The fantastic peacock cloak she wore is still owned by the DeMille family and is too fragile to travel which was a pity; I’d loved to have seen this! They’re real peacock feathers!

I was were quite taken with how the actual colour of the clothes differs from the colour on the screen; thanks to the talents of colourists I suppose. This purportedly Egyptian outfit worn by Nina Foch in The Ten Commandments, 1956, silk, braid, costume jewellery, is a soft pink but comes across as nearly purple in the film.

And I wondered about the authenticity of this outfit as a traditional Egyptian gown.

Although in the short film that explains the important job performed by the costume designer, starring, of course, our Edith, it is explained that intensive research is undertaken to ensure the historical accuracy of the costumes in all movies! It showed Edith poring over, and taking notes from, imposing looking reference books. The film was quite interesting when it demonstrated some of the thought processes involved in choosing the right dress for a scene; one where a woman whose boyfriend has left her is preparing to go out for the night. Dark was too sombre, white and sparkling distracted from the moment when she is tearful prior to leaving the house, so white chiffon was chosen. There was another film starring Edith and her husband showing viewers over her house. Stylish woman.

I loved the elegant draping dresses, made famous by Veronica Lake. In fact we are told Veronica was a girl who actually wore tweeds, flat heel, bulky sweaters, her hair pulled back into a hairnet until she was transformed by Edith into a glamorous nymph, half witch. The middle costume in this picture is one Veronica wore in Duffy’s Tavern, 1945, rayon crepe, bugle beads, rhinestones.

Here’s another of the drapey dresses as I think of them. This one worn by Joan Fontaine in The Emperor Waltz, 1948, silk, satin.

There’s some elegant lingerie, like this one from Sunset Boulevard for Gloria Swanston.

Then there were the historical numbers. This one reminded my of Gone With The Wind, but was in fact worn by Olivia De Havilland in The Heiress, 1949, silk, velvet, lace. Edith won her first Oscar for this film. Gorgeous dress, and according to the blurb absolutely historically accurate following visits to museums and the study of corsets and petticoats.

And I loved this gorgeous jacket.

Footage from the times when Edith won an Oscar was also on view. She won eight. Watching each of the presentations is like watching the history of the Academy Awards. All of presenters wore tails to start with! The Oscar she received for Roman Holiday in 1954 is on display. Its smaller than I thought, and seems to be made of solid gold!

In addition to the outfits there are lots of drawings of costumes, some with swatches of cloth (attached by very rusty paper clips) on display. Things of beauty in their own right.

There were some men’s outfits. Bing Crosby’s jacket from one of the Road To movies, according to Edith Bing commenced each fitting with the plea why don’t we wear a sports coat? Bob Hope enjoyed dressing up more, and there is a fantastic dress that Edith made for him for the film Casanova’s Big Nightin 1954. There’s also Cary Grant’s jacket from To Catch A Thief although its suggested that maybe Cary just wore his own clothes. There’s a dashing outfit worn by Yul Brunner in an historical Western and Roy Roger’s jacket. But the focus is on beautiful gowns. Here are some more.

We ate at a lovely cafe across the road from the gallery. Harvest Food and Wine at 55 View Street. I had a wonderful chicken pithvier and then what they called a butter cake which was made of croissant pastry. Both were very fine. Washed down with a local wine. Strongly recommended.

We left Melbourne on the 10.20am train and caught the 4pm service back. Here are Jane and I relaxing after our exertions of the day. We were back home around 6.30pm. All in all a great day out.


2 Responses to Edith Head

  1. Margaret B,air Gannon says:

    It all looks fabulous, we’re Hitchcock films represented at all?
    I particularly remember Grace Kelly extracting a rather diaphanous creation from a very small clutch in “Rear Window”, her dresses in “To Catch A Thief” were also stunning. Or I suppose they should be referred to as ‘gowns’ rather than mere dresses. Heavy rain here in Ascot Vale, quite wintery.

    • JD says:

      A very stylish green outfit from Vertigo is the only female Hitchcock. They had Cary Grant’s sports jacket and cravat from To Catch A Thief. Not quite as interesting as Grace’s creations.

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