The Hollywood studio system was on its last gasping breaths when I was growing up. “Hollywood Glamor” was still quite influential because most of the stars that had been groomed under the studio system were still around. I would wager that my love of vintage garments is a result of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Most people, rightly so, think of Edith Head when it comes to costuming during that era. But there was another highly influential designer who created iconic looks for the stars over at MGM from 1928 – 1941: Adrian. I know I’m in for a visual treat whenever I see “Gowns By Adrian” in the opening credits of a film during that era.
As I was exploring my new-to-me public library in Bloomington, I discovered Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label by Christian Esquevin (The Monacelli Press, April 10, 2008). For the next couple of weeks, it became my nightstand reading.
While the text is filled with juicy tidbits about mid-century Hollywood, the photos of his work are what really make this book. You see, back then the stars were not a Size 0 and it was the costumer’s task to play up a star’s assets while diminishing her “figure flaws” while also creating a story through clothing. That’s how come Joan Crawford ended up with those shoulder pads in all of those movies! We think of her “power suit” as iconic rather than trying to “hide” her broad shoulders!
I haven’t decided if this book was inspirational or aspirational. As I examined the photos, I noticed that, in addition to bias draping and asymmetrical designs, he was the master of unexpected details on what would normally be a basic silhouette. For example, in 1953 he created a gown with a peplum for a Revlon advertisement. What really made the gown unique was the band of filigree going up one arm. I was inspired by the understated elegance of Adrian’s designs. But the book also challenged my way of thinking about my sewing. I really want to incorporate unexpected details into my garments now so that they, too, will exude a classic, but not boring, elegance.
Have you heard of Adrian?