Style Icon

The book: The Pink Suit: A Novel, by Nicole Kelby

The challenge: Write about Your Style Icon

The character Katie and her colleagues inspired me to write about someone who helped create iconic clothes for famous women, and in her own way, created styles that other women emulated. That woman was Edith Head.

Edith Head was a private tutor teaching French to the daughters of Cecil B DeMille. She took art lessons and later learned how to sketch figures in a fashion art class. She basically bluffed her way into a job, but learned quickly. She quickly became the name on the Paramount Studio for costume design. Actresses loved her because she hid their flaws and played up their assets.

Some of my favorite styles were Edith Head designs. Grace Kelly’s wardrobe in Rear Window was breathtakingly beautiful. The black criss-cross velvet bodice with a full 1950’s skirt, was simply scrumptious. The green and white suit ensemble with the little hat and detachable veil, was poetry, and both Hitchcock and Kelly knew how to make the outfit part of the whole scene.

Kelly stands tall in the slim suit and as she excitedly talks to Jimmy Stewart about Mrs. Thorwald’s sudden disappearance. She performs a slow strip tease, raising her arms seductively to unpin the veil, then removing the hat and gloves, all the while her bracelets are shaking in Jimmy’s face. Later she removes the jacket to reveal another criss-cross halter like blouse with a low back. I have coveted that suit ever since I first saw it on the big screen thirty years ago.

Edith Head also designed for another style icon- Audrey Hepburn. She created the boat neck style to draw attention to Audrey’s long neck and played down her wide shoulders. Her costume designs for another favorite movie, Roman Holiday helped convinced us that Audrey was a princess on the run. Head noted, “The costuming was very important in this film – it told the story. First she was a fairy-tale princess, then she became a sporty, wild, happy, very real person who had no regard for her appearance.”

She later created Hepburn’s costumes for Sabrina.

Edith Head had a keen eye for color, style and seemed to instinctively know what would look good on-screen, and on an actor. She designed for many big stars from the Golden Age including: Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, Mae West, Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, Hedy Lamarr, and Dorothy Lamour. It was Edith Head who designed Lamour’s famous sarong.

Edith Head collected  five Oscars for Costume Design, and  continued to work into her seventies. Bette Davis gave the eulogy at her funeral saying,

“A queen has left us, the queen of her profession. She will never be replaced. Her contribution to our industry in her field of design, her contribution to the taste of our town of Hollywood, her elegance as a person, her charms as a woman – none of us who worked with her will ever forgot. Goodbye, dear Edith. There will never be another you.”

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