Retrospective: Edith Head
Edith Head and her sketches
“You can do anything you want in life if you dress for it,” is something that legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head, who would have turned 116 yesterday, proved through her work. Revolutionizing costume design, she worked directly with Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Veronica Lake, Joan Crawford and Sofia Loren to make sure that the designs not only matched the film character, but also the actresses’ body, movement, personality, and taste. Head even invited actors to choose fabrics and provide feedback on her sketches. Having worked on over 400 films in her half-century long career, Edith Head won eight Oscars and was as famous as the stars she dressed.
Edith Head working on ‘To Catch a Thief’ with Grace Kelly
Head, who was born into a Jewish immigrant family in 1897, was always imaginative and in childhood, collected scraps of fabric that she used to dress her toys. An instructor of French and art with degrees from Berkeley and Stanford University, she got a holiday job as a sketch artist at Paramount Pictures in 1924 by pure chance. She seized the opportunity to prove her talent and became head designer at Paramount Pictures from 1938 to 1967 and at Universal Studios until her death in 1981.
Edith Head working with Audrey Hepburn
Competitive and secretive, Head was also famous for her signature sunglasses, which were originally blue lenses worn by all film designers, as they allowed them to see how the clothing would read on black and white film. Genius and mystery lied behind those dark glasses. In 1953, she accepted an Oscar for dressing Audrey Hepburn for Sabrina, when in fact some of the gowns were designed by Givenchy. Head’s biographer David Chierichetti wrote, “she said nothing, counting on the fact that Givenchy was such a gentleman he would not make a fuss. He didn’t.” According to Susan Claassen, an actress, writer and producer who plays the costumer in “A Conversation with Edith Head”, “It broke Edith’s heart that she never had that great connection that Audrey had with him.”
Audrey Hepburn’s ‘Sabrina’ costumes designed by Head and Givenchy
“There isn’t anyone I can’t make over,” Head pronounced. The list of iconic movies she has worked on includes All About Eve, Funny Face, Sunset Boulevard, Rear Window, A Place in the Sun, and The Ten Commandments. In 1959, she published a best-selling memoir and style guide, “The Dress Doctor”, in which she shared tips on style and dozens of entertaining anecdotes on Hollywood’s A-list with her fans. In 1967, she followed up with a witty book full of illustrations titled “How to Dress for Success.”
Take a look at some of our favorite works by Edith Head.
Grace Kelly wearing Edith Head’s design
Veronica Lake wearing a gown by Edith Head (1943)