Ms. Schiaparelli designed unusual, almost surrealistic garments in bold colors, lavish embroidery, mad prints, buttons and accessories. Marlene Dietrich refused to appear on the screen in garments from anyone else.   Mae West, eager to add chic to her cheek, followed suit, but was unable to get to Paris in time for a fitting.  Undaunted, she had a sculpture commissioned of her body and sent to the altierer of Ms. Schiaparelli to be used as a dress from.  Seeing the outrageous curves of Ms. West's silhouette for the first time, the unflappable Elsa spoke only one word, "Shocking."  She later introduced a perfume of the same name, which became one of the first "designer fragrances," and also coined the ultra bright hue of her signature shade to be "shocking" pink. 

Not to be outdone, producer Samuel Goldwyn imported Coco Chanel, at a seven-figure price tag; to ensure the leading ladies of M-G-M were just as resplendidly festooned.  The designs of Ms. Chanel, simplistic, soft and in her signature black, fell short of the mark to exude the over the top glamour demanded by audiences.  The designs of Ms. Schiaparelli were just the opposite, but equally disastrous: they were so cutting edge that the by the time the films hit the theatres, fashion had changed and her designs seemed dated.  In fact, the rather short shelf life of high fashion, especially such highly visible details as hemlines, poised a particular threat to the perceived timeliness of feature films, which are often shot over a year in advance.  Tired of having to reshoot important scenes if not scrap entire productions all together, the studios began to mount an offensive: they recruited and hired designers of their own.

This was not to say that studios had not always had costume designers, but now the position was afforded such status and prestige that in 1936, Adrian, the Head of Costume for MGM, was paid $75,000, the same salary as the President of the United States.  Adrian, along with Dorothy Jeakins at Twentieth Century Fox, Jean-Louis at Paramount, Travis Banton at Universal and eight-time Oscar winner and perhaps the most famous costume designer of them all, Edith Head, fashioned the look of the thirties, both on the screen and off.

(continued)

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