Amazon.com delivered this fabulous book to my door yesterday (click on photo for link). It's a gift from a friend who obviously knows my weaknesses -- clothes and movies. The book's a real treat, indeed it is!
Adrian was the head designer at MGM from 1929 to 1941. These were the depression years, when Hollywood, in its infinite wisdom and sensitivity to the Zeitgeist mostly made movies about rich people and bad girls. Those two groups aren't mutually exclusive, but in an era when people who could afford it changed clothes four times a day and always, always, dressed for dinner, they both needed lots of gowns.
Among the stars Adrian dressed were Garbo, Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn and Norma Shearer (that's her on the cover). He put Harlow in white satin for Dinner at 8." One dress he designed for Crawford, the "Letty Lynton" dress (at left), was knocked off and 500,000 copies were sold. He invented the women's power suit; the broad shouldered, slim-hipped suit that became the uniform of American women in the 1940s, and that Giorgio Armani revived in the '80s. The man could design!
Adrian was also the master of one of my favorite silly old Hollywood conventions -- the mid-movie fashion show, usually set in at a couturier's, when all the action stops for five to ten minutes while elegant ladies in fantastic outfits parade across the screen. Prior to the proliferation of fashion magazines and Project Runway, I suppose the movie fashion shows were a real treat for all the women in the audience who were neither rich nor bad.
Adrian's most famous fashion show occurs in the 1939 movie "The Women." It's a technicolor insert in a black-and-white movie. Howard Gutner, the author of "Gowns by Adrian," argues that the fashion show is an effective plot device it occurs just before The Wife and the Other Woman confront each other in the dressing rooms of the couturier. Eeeeeh, I think the story would have moved along just fine without the fashion show, but dang, it's fun.
"Gowns by Adrian" is more than just a coffee-table book of movie stills. It's a history of the design-side of a major Hollywood studio, and includes a lot of information about the skills and techniques involved in putting a film wardrobe together during the Golden Age. So, whether you like films, or like clothes, or like both, this is a great book to have.