She Gave Good Gown

Fasten your seatbelts it’s going to be a wild post!

Edith Head with Gloria Swanson

Edith Head was one of Hollywood’s most enduring costume designers. While not as innovative as some of her other contemporaries like Adrian or Rambova, she distinguished herself by delivering good product that pleased both actors and directors alike. This resulted in a record breaking 35 Oscar nominations for which she won no less than 8 Academy Awards. Edith Head is responsible for creating many of the iconic looks that we now identify as ‘ Old Hollywood Glamour’. Having dressed the likes of Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, Kim Novak, Gloria Swanson, Elizabeth Taylor, the list goes on and on. She once said ‘If it’s a Paramount film I probably designed it.’

All About Eve-George Sanders, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Anne Baxter

One of her most curious collaborations was designing the costumes for Gloria Swanson in ‘Sunset Boulevard’. Curious because Edith had begun her career at Paramount (Then called the Laskey Studios) not only as a sketch artist but also as the wardrobe girl whose main job was to wash out Miss Swanson’s lingerie. At the time Gloria was the studio’s biggest star and Edith was basically a no body. Fast forward some 40 years later and now she was in charge of creating the look for what was to be Gloria Swanson’s big ‘comeback’ movie. The irony was not lost on Edith and it was something she reflected upon in her later years. 

Gloria Swanson, William Holden-Sunset Boulevard

Thanks to her steadfast professionalism, she continued to work long after many of her contemporaries had retired and even long after her passing she was immortalized as the character ‘Edna Mode’ in ‘The Incredibles’ and as a Google Doodle! She was even part of the Universal Studios Tour where she and her costume shop where part of the attractions!

‘Edna’

But Edith had her fun and dishy side as well. In her biography ‘Edith Head’s Hollywood’ she complains ad infinitum about having to deal with the ego of director Cecil B. DeMille with whom she collaborated on over 10 films, referring to him as  ‘A conceited old goat with small hands’. Ouch! She was asked once if the rumors were true that Mae West was really a man, her response was: ‘I have seen her without a stitch and she’s all woman. No man can have a body like that!’ Touché. And Kim Novak was on the receiving end of this little zinger: ‘Dressing Kim Novak for her role in ‘Vertigo’ put to the test all my training in psychology.’  Yikes!

‘Paging Dr Freud’ Kim Novak-Vertigo

Ms Head was scheduled to be a guest speaker while I was a student at F.I.T.. I remember being so exited to actually be seeing this Hollywood legend in the flesh, discussing her distinguished career. Unfortunately it was announced, right before the lights went on that Ms Head was unwell and would not be appearing that day. So instead we were treated to a fashion show of some of here most iconic looks with models wearing Grace Kelly’s ballgown from ’To Catch a Thief’ and Kim Novak’s exquisitely tailored grey suit from ‘Vertigo’, Bette’ Davis’ topaz satin party dress from ‘All About Eve’ and a whole lot more. Sadly, it was announced a few days later that she had passed away. She never let her public down even to the end. Please enjoy these highlights from her best known films.

Grace Kelly-To Catch a Thief
Paul Newman, Robert Redford- The Sting
Anne Baxter-The Ten Commandments -Nice Hands!

 

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Recent updates to my Gallery Page:

Click image to see more

The Costumes by Antonia Gallery page has been updated so now you can see an overview of what has been keeping me busy all this time. Please click on the image to see images and videos from Super Bowl LI, Toddlers with Tiaras, Fantasy Weddings, CosPlay and a whole lot more. 

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It’s never too late to Unleash Your Inner Fashionista©!

So, not ready to order a costume? No problem, learn how to make one instead! Private sewing lessons are once again available at a discounted rate of 10%. Ot you can give the gift of creativity by purchasing a Gift Certificate for a loved one. Just enter the code ’sewcooltenpercent’ at checkout.

 

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‘The Envelope Please’

Congratulations to Mark Bridges for winning the Oscar for Best Achievement in Costume Design for ‘Phantom Thread’ AND winning a jet ski for the shortest acceptance speech. Obviously Mr Bridges is a man of few words. What can be cooler? Winning an Oscar or riding a jet ski with Dame Helen Mirren?

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And Finally

(Because we save the best for last!)

It is my distinct honor to share  the news of this upcoming exhibit at the HR Giger Museum in Gruyere, Switzerland by my dear friend and mentor Martina Hoffmann and her late husband Robert Venosa. H R Giger, was best known as the creator of the ‘Alien’ monster from the film of the same name and for which he was awarded an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. The theme of the exhibit is ‘Transmutations’ and I think it is only fitting to include this with the theme of the newsletter. I hope that my friends reading this who live in Geneva and its environs will be able to attend this most auspicious event. 

Martina Hoffmann, along with being a superb painter is also a superb fashion designer who created the one of a kind ‘Goddess Belts’ and amazingly sublimated ready to wear. You can see more of Martina’s designs by clicking here: https://www.martinahoffmann.com/boutique

or visiting her website below. 

Please click on the image  to be directed to the Giger Museum Website.

For more information about the artists please visit their websites:

www.martinahoffmann.com

www.venosa.com

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Who Wants To Go To Hell With Madam Satan?

Kay Johnson as Madam Satan

Cecil B De Mille’s Diabolical Musical

‘Who wants to go to hell with Madam Satan? Was the catch word for this peculiar cult classic of pre-code Hollywood. Up until the early 1930’s Hollywood movies where pretty racy in their depictions of sex and violence. Cecil B De Mille’s film musical ’Madam Satan’ was one of those and it does not disappoint. Now DeMille is usually remembered for his religious and historical epics such as ‘The Ten Commandments’, ‘Cleopatra’ and ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. So for him to direct a racy, quirky, musical was a bit out of character for him. But remember that a talking pictures were all the rage at that time and like many of his colleagues he jumped on the ‘bandwagon’ because it was the lucrative thing to do. I suppose for the same reason that The Rolling Stones and Kiss recorded Disco songs in the 70’s .

C.B. and friend

But lucky for De Mille he had a ‘Dream Team’ of creative talent as collaborators both in front and behind the camera: Jeannie MacPherson screenwriter, Cedric Gibbons Art Director, Theodore Kosloff featured dancer and of course, costumes by the legendary Adrian (inventor of the shoulder pads). Just to name a few. These names may not mean much today but believe me back then, they did some heavy lifting.

A ‘Dream Team’ of Hollywood talent

So the premise of this movie is about a husband and wife whose marriage is on the rocks. He winds up leaving her for another woman but she connives to win him back by co-hosting a costume party on a zeppelin over Central Park which of course becomes and over-the- top musical number showcasing the dancing talents of Kosloff and of course Adrian’s uniquely original designs. As zeppelins are wont to do, it malfunctions and all the guests must bail out in parachutes to save their lives. But not before the audience is exposed to lots of upshots of scantily clad women flailing the legs and flashing their panties as they descend back to earth. Oh, the humanity!

This near death experience makes the husband realize what a jerk he had been to his wife and so he goes running back to her loving arms. All is forgiven.

Madam Satan Costume full view

In spite of the superficial sounding plot, the story does have a dose of realism not found in post code Hollywood. For starters , the couple sleeps in the same bed, something that was not allowed post Breen Code. There’s infidelity, lots of sexual innuendo, a gay sub-plot with some of the characters and then of course there are this lovely, sexy costumes by Adrian. Sometimes I wish that Adrain had made more technicolor movies. The two that come to mind are ‘Wizard of Oz’ and ’The Women’. And even those where partially in color, the culprit being ‘Gone With The Wind’ whose production had swallowed up all the technicolor film in Lotus Land.

Legendary costume designer Adrian Greenburg

 

In my opinion, the back & white film doesn’t do Adrian’s costumes justice. I finally had the chance to see Adrian’s designs for Madame Satan at an A.M.P.A.S retrospective highlighting former Oscar winners/nominees for best achievement in Costume Design. There in its own showcase was the black velvet ‘Madam Satan’ costume with the embellished cape. WOW! The colors were so vivid and the detailed workmanship was absolutely exquisite.

Adrian’s original artwork
Madam Satan from the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute Exhibit
Embellishment detail

Another bone that I have to pick with ‘Madam Satan’ is that the choreography is at times a bit sloppy. I wonder of this is due to De Mille’s lack of understanding of the genre. One wishes for the military precision of a Busby Berkley number that would have pirouetted in lockstep with Adrians costumes and Kosloff’s athletic physique. But alas, Busby was under contract with a different studio so it was not meant to be.

Theodore Kosloff full view
Kosloff costume detail

Adrian’s creations for ‘Madam Satan’ have proved to be extremely influential over the years. Spawning a multitude of costumes inspired by his original designs. The most recent being Eiko Ishioka’s designs for the ill fated Broadway musical version of ’Spider Man’. Imitation still is the best form of flattery.

Eiko Ishioka’s designs for ‘Spiderman’ inspired by Ardian’s original designs.

Please enjoy these pictures and if the reader gets a chance to see ‘Madam Satan’, please do. It’s campy and a bit dated but still worth watching. I truly wish that Adrian’s costumes for the film would go on tour again. They are beautiful and have withstood the test of time tangibly and intangibly.

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It’s Good to be King!

~It’s Good to be King!~

~Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I in theatrical costume~

The Austro-Hungarian Empire gave the world so much to enjoy: music, literature, food, Lippizaner Stallions, Sigmund Freud and the Von Trapp Family. But who would have thought that other major contribution would have been those beautiful, over the top costumes of the royal court? Of course, I had always been vaguely familiar with that genre, in particular having caught a glimpse of the late ‘Heini’ Von Thyssen traipsing about in full Austro-Hungarian drag at some sort of cultural event or other in Madrid back in the 90’s. Heini’s ensemble echoes the  splendor of an era lost in time. Like the Hapsburgs, Heini was a voracious art collector and his extensive compilation is on view at the museum which bears his name: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. In an ironic twist of fate, his eldest daughter Francesca, wound up marrying a Hapsburg.

~Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (a/k/a ‘Heini’) ~

My costume designs for a recent production of ‘The Sound of Music’ notwithstanding, it wasn’t until I saw the ‘Hapsburg Splendor’ exhibit at the MFAH that I was able to really appreciate the richness and luxuriousness of their court costumes. Now, I know that some of you cynics about there are saying: That exhibit happened two years ago. Why are you blogging about it now? Well, why not. It was a great exhibit that not only featured some beautiful costumes but a lot of important art as well. As mentioned earlier, the Hapsburgs, like my buddy Heini, were prolific art collectors and this exhibit, in particular the costumes merit a belated blog. Besides, now I can finally delete the exhibit pictures from my iPhone!

~Leopold I and his horse in matching costumes~

~(more about that later)~

The exhibit begins with an overall view of the Hapsburg Dynasties then segues into their very extensive art collection with examples from Caravaggio, Velásquez, Holbein and on and on. Finally the last hall is the one that features the costumes and it showcases examples of court dress, couture, military uniforms, heck, even the horses got into the act! I will cover the fine art towards the end of the post, but being that this IS a costume blog after all, we will begin there.


~Crown Prince Otto alighting from his carriage~

Let’s begin with this painting depicting a young prince alighting from his carriage because it serves as a good reference point for the costumes featured throughout the exhibit; Study the painting closely and you will see each one of those costumes was represented in the exhibit. It’s interesting to see how the Empire, being a mix of different cultures and ethnicities, also displayed this diversity in the clothing. As you view the details of their attire, one can also see elements of the various kingdoms which comprised this multi-cultural nation.

~Cuteness Overlord~

A ceremonial velvet tunic trimmed in ermine with the matching hat and shoes. Up until the early 20th Century most children of a certain socio-economic class were dressed as ‘little adults’. It’s interesting to see the shift begin towards more ‘child appropriate’ attire. This precious costume was worthy of a little prince!
Sadly, little Otto was never to inherit the title of Emperor due to the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after WW1. But like most of his namesakes he had the talent for making lemonade out lemons and went on reinvent himself in other ways. Otto actually worked for a living as a businessman and writer. He even dabbled in politics by being an early supporter of the EU and served in the European Parliament. Bonus trivia: It was Otto’s son, Karl, who married Heini’s daughter Francesca.

~Hussar Uniform with Pelisse overcoat and Dragoon hat~

Keeping the ‘light’ in Light Calvary. The amount of gold in the bullion stitch embroidery would probably break a horse’s back. But I am assuming this is more of a ceremonial garment than an actual military uniform. Still, the detail and workmanship is lovely and I am sure that the wearer would have looked dashing on his horse. The pelisse over coat is usually worn over the left shoulder and it served to prevent swords cuts during battle. I’m curious as to why the curators of this exhibit chose to not show it worn in this fashion. Perhaps an oversight?

~Court Costume for a member of the Emperor’s Privy Council~

Looking at the hardware on this get-up, I can totally see this serving as an influence for a cosplay step punk costume. Couldn’t you? ‘A League of Extraordinary Austro-Hungarian Gentlemen’ perhaps? Unfortunately, time has faded the color of the brocaded inner tunic. But I would imaging it would have been a rich burgundy red just like the one shown in the painting.

~Footman’s everyday work uniform, yes really!~

This footman’s liveried uniform is in excellent condition and is exactly as represented in the painting. You can see him holding the door open as our little prince alights from the carriage.There was no description of the fabric but I am assuming that it is some type of wool melton and I am more than willing to assume that underneath the fancy braided livery embellishment is there is a dolman sleeve. I say this because the majority of the men’s costume feature a dolman sleeve as opposed to a traditional set in sleeve that was seen in other European court costumes. A dolman sleeve is actually of Turkish origin, and being that Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Turks had a long history together (not always nice), it serves to prove how their clothing reflected the many cultures under their rule.

~‘Sissi’s’ ball gown designed by Charles Frederick Worth~

Seeing this elegant ball gown brought many bittersweet emotions because of the tragic legacy of its wearer. Empress Elisabeth of Austria also known as ‘Sissi’ can only be described as the 19th centuries answer to Princess Diana. Sissi was a free spirited and progressive thinker who wrote poetry and believed in the benefits of  diet and exercise. At a time when women were constricted by their corsets, Sissi believed that one maintained their figure through proper diet and calisthenics. So much so that she had a special gymnasium built at the Hofburg palace where she would work out daily. And one can appreciate the results of these work outs from the tiny waistline of this design by Charles Frederick Worth. Like Diana, she chafed under the stifling formality of the Austro-Hungarian court which caused her to suffer from bouts of depression and bulimia. Like Diana she was interested in couture like those of the aforementioned designer. And like Diana, she died a tragic and unnecessary death, having been assassinated during a visit to Switzerland by an anarchist who confused her for someone else!

~Ball Gown belonging to Princess Kinski~

I have no idea who Princess Kinski was and that was all that the information that the museum offered regarding the gown’s provenance. Googling her name was no help either. But please enjoy this beautiful ball gown of Peau de Soie satin and exquisite bullion stitching. If anyone reading this knows anything about Princess Kinski and her dress, feel free to contact me directly. costumesbyantonia@gmail.com

~Front View of Princess Kinski’s gown~

~Another back view of Princess Kinski’s beautiful gown~

~Even the horses wore costumes~

~It’s Good to be King!~

~The Hapsburg Art Collection~

The Hapsburgs were prolific art collectors and the exhibit did not disappoint. The works ranged from Roman antiquities to renaissance and baroque masters. Here is a sampling of the artworks beginning with the portrait above of Jane Seymour by Holbein. You might ask how a painting that was commissioned by Henry VIII of England wound up in Vienna? The answer is a long and convoluted one having to do with Master Holbein selling his works to the highest bidder. Obviously, the Hapsburgs had deeper pockets than the Tudors.

~Enjoy the rest of the collection!~

~Nymph and Satyr by P.P. Rubens~

~Danae by Titian~

~The Death of Cleopatra by Cagnacci~

~Infanta Maria Teresa by Velázquez~

~Wolfgirl, Artist Unknown~

~The high point of the collection ‘Crown of Thorns’~

~by the Master of dark and light: Caravaggio~

The exhibit has returned to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

For more information visit their website: https://www.khm.at/en/

For more information on how to create your own royal splendor of a costume please visit my website www.costumesbyantonia.com call 832-652-9180 or email costumesbyantonia@gmail.com

 

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