The Costume Designer: Edith Head and Hollywood at Bendigo Art Gallery

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Wall of costume design sketches, Image; supplied

While planning my dream trip to see the House of Dior exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria I discovered that Bendigo Art Gallery had an Edith Head exhibition on at the same time. I decided to make a day trip out of Melbourne to check it out and I’m SO glad I did. I took about five hundred photos (cough) and I’ve sorted through them, and included details about the costumes, films and actors who wore them, all this is available in the exhibition and the catalogue.

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Audrey Hepburn’s cream suit from 1957’s Funny Face, image; supplied

Costume design done well, is like the skilfully crafted soundtrack, you don’t really notice it, the characters are so believable it slips under the radar, but remove it and the story is bereft. In Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Kim Novak is one woman literally acting as two, in Vertigo, the costume design is a key plot device. It was this film that I was thinking about in anticipation of visiting the exhibition, The Costume Designer: Edith Head and Hollywood. For more on how Edith Head used costume in Vertigo, have a read of this Clothes on Film post by Iris Veysey (spoiler alert).

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Kim Novak’s green sweater dress worn as ‘Judy’ in Vertigo. Credit; image supplied

I have been a fan of Edith Head for a few years now, but did not really appreciate the scope of her work until preparing to visit this exhibition. Her legacy of work is outstanding, and during her career she became known as a unique personality, cultivating her own look, even becoming a television personality and writer, solving fashion problems for the everywoman. I feel like this exhibition is about showcasing her talent and profiling one of last centuries most prolific and perhaps understated and undervalued costume designers, the exhibition highlights the work of a woman in an industry still dominated by men.

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Pattern and Texture, image supplied

Showcasing costumes created from the 1930s through to the 1960s, many classic, timeless garments, period costume, along with extravagant glamorous gowns, it’s impossible to box Head’s work in, she was a virtuoso in her field. I was bowled over by the garments presented in this exhibition, the installation was impeccable, the garments were accessible, all in all, a very elegantly put together collection.

Edith Head Suits and Tailored costumes

Suits and Tailored costumes

In this post, I share some of my favourite garments, below, a collection that express Head’s skill in working with Pattern and Texture, and are some of my favourite pieces. And I very rarely go in for patterns!

Edith Head Pattern and Texture

Edith Head Pattern and Texture

Hooded coat worn by Barbara Stanwyck The Strange love of Marther Ivers 1946 and Cocktail dress

Hooded coat worn by Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Marther Ivers, 1946, and Cocktail dress worn by Martha Hyer in Wives and Lovers, 1963

Edtih Head Pattern and Texture cocktail dress worn by Martha Hyer in Wives and Lovers 1963

Cocktail dress worn by Martha Hyer in Wives and Lovers, 1963, detail

Edtih Head Pattern and Textue two suits and shoes

Pattern and Texture two suits and shoes

Edtih Head Pattern and Texture suit

Pattern and Texture suit

So many of the earlier garments bowl you over with that Hollywood glamour that poured out of the film studios in the 40s and 50s, such as the following, which were some of the most stunning in the exhibition.

Edith Head Dressing gown worn by Veronica Lake publicity photo 1942 bodice

Dressing gown worn by Veronica Lake publicity photo, 1942

Edith Head Dressing gown worn by Veronica Lake publicity photo1942 skirt detail

Dressing gown worn by Veronica Lake publicity photo, 1942, skirt detail

Edith Head Grecian Style Gown worn by Lizabeth Scott in I Walk Alone 1947 long shot

Grecian Style Gown worn by Lizabeth Scott in I Walk Alone, 1947

Edith Head Grecian Style Gown worn by Lizabeth Scott in I Walk Alone 1947 waist

Grecian Style Gown worn by Lizabeth Scott in I Walk Alone, 1947

Edith Head Grecian Style Gown worn by Lizabeth Scott in I Walk Alone 1947 detail

Grecian Style Gown worn by Lizabeth Scott in I Walk Alone 1947, detail

Edtih Head nightgown with robe worn by June Allyson in Strategic Air Command 1955 long shot

Nightgown with robe worn by June Allyson in Strategic Air Command, 1955

Edtih Head nightgown with robe worn by June Allyson in Strategic Air Command 1955 detail

Peignoir set worn by Susan Hayward in Where Love has Gone, 1964

Edith Head Ball Gown worn by Natalie Wood in Inside Daisy Clover WB 1965 surround

Ball Gown worn by Natalie Wood in Inside Daisy Clover, 1965

Edtih Head black nightgown worn by Gloria Swanson Sunset Boulevard 1950

Black nightgown worn by Gloria Swanson Sunset Boulevard, 1950

Edith Head Black Nightgown and Pink Nightgown worn by Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard 1950

Black Nightgown and Pink Nightgown worn by Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, 1950

Edtih Head Evening gown worn by Betty Hutton in Somebody Loves Me PP 1953 bust detail

Evening gown worn by Betty Hutton in Somebody Loves Me, 1953

Edtih Head Evening gown worn by Betty Hutton in Somebody Loves Me PP 1953 skirt detail

Evening gown worn by Betty Hutton in Somebody Loves Me, 1953

Edtih Head two piece performance costume worn by Betty Hutton the Perils of Pauline 1947 sleeve

Two piece performance costume worn by Betty Hutton The Perils of Pauline 1947

These costumes represent a specific period in cinema history, musicals, glamour and wildly over the top production was du jour. It’s less fashion more popular fantasy, escapism and storytelling. You can see this amazing beaded number on youtube, The Perils of Pauline, 1947.

 

Edtih Head two piece performance costume worn by Betty Hutton the Perils of Pauline 1947 side view

The same two piece from The Perils of Pauline, and my favourite, a cocktail dress worn by Joanne Woodward in A New Kind of Love, 1963

Edtih Head Cocktail dress worn by Joanne Woodward in A New Kind of Love PP 1963 front long shot

Cocktail dress worn by Joanne Woodward in A New Kind of Love, 1963

Edtih Head Evening gown worn by Joan Fontaine in Septmber Affair PP 1955 detail

Evening gown worn by Joan Fontaine in September Affair, 1955

Many of the garments on display had a star quality of their own, less cast off from another time, they were characters with personality and presence.

Edith Head Samson and Delilah

Samson and Delilah, 1949

Having watched some early epic films as a child, it was fabulous to see some costumes in the real, I especially enjoyed this collection, if not for the skill of the workshop that produced them, for the kitchy interpretation of historical Egyptian adornment.

Edith Head Ante bellum era Travelling suit worn by Anne Baxter in Three Violent People 1956 and cloak

‘Peacock dress’ worn by Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah, 1949 and cloak

Edtih Head Epic Tales costumes

Epic Tales; Egyptian style costumes

Edtih Head Ejyptain Style costume worn by Nina Foch in The Ten Commandments 1956 black gown long shot

Egyptian style costume worn by Nina Foch in The Ten Commandments, 1956

Edith Head The Ten Commandments Yule Brynner

The Ten Commandments, 1956, Yule Brynner

Edith Head Three Piece worn by Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve

Three Piece worn by Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve, 1941

Edith Head Three Piece worn by Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve detail

Three Piece worn by Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve, 1941, detail

Edith Head Wedding dress worn by Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry Wrong Number bodice detail

Wedding dress worn by Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry Wrong Number, 1948

Edith Head Wedding dress worn by Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry Wrong Number skirt detail

Wedding dress worn by Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry Wrong Number, 1948

Edith Head Wedding dress worn by Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry Wrong Number train view

Wedding dress worn by Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry Wrong Number, 1948

Edith Head Wedding dress worn by Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry Wrong Number

Wedding dress worn by Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry Wrong Number, 1948

Edith Head Costumes

There is so much to see in this exhibition, historical period costume, and some really impressive suits and tailored garments, which just don’t photograph so well behind the glass, including Audrey Hepburn’s cream suit from 1957’s Funny Face. I especially enjoyed seeing design sketches along with the garments, bringing the design process to the fore.

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Illustration by Grace Sprague

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Illustration by Grace Sprague

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Illustration by Grace Sprague

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Illustration by Grace Sprague

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Illustration by Grace Sprague

The Costume Designer features garments worn by Shirley Temple, Gloria Swanson, Veronica Lake, Olivia De Havilland, Jane Russell, Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Yul Brynner, complementing the costumes on display are film clips and music, and footage of Edith Head at various stages of her career, which are very amusing.

I would love to take my mum to see this exhibition, and I’m planning a summer catching up on some classic cinema.

The Costume Designer: Edith Head and Hollywood
Bendigo Art Gallery, 42 View Street, Bendigo
Exhibition: 29 September 2017 – 21 January 2018

Getting there from Melbs was fairly easy, I took a V Line train from Southern Cross Station, and then had just over two hours each way on the train, it was an easy stroll to the Gallery from the terminal. All in all, a worthwhile day trip, I was impressed with how easy public transport is to use and pay for, while feeling a little daunted by the size of Southern Cross Station!

Thanks Bendigo Art Gallery, and Mark Orlandi for helping with travel arrangements and a complementary pass to the exhibition.

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5 Responses to The Costume Designer: Edith Head and Hollywood at Bendigo Art Gallery

  1. Jane Malthus says:

    Thank you so much for this post Angela, fantastic coverage. Very tempted to try and get there myself now!

  2. Heidi Monks says:

    Awesome Angela… thank you for your diligence and your wonderful eye!

  3. Randall says:

    Angela – so happy that you loved the Edith Head Exhibit in Bendigo! The Paramount Archive is very proud to be a major part of the exhibition and hopes that you tell all your friends to make the trip to Bendigo. It’s well worth it!

    • Thank you for your comment!
      I’m so glad the costumes have been archived and well cared for, such treasures.
      I do have some people who are making the trip over to see the exhibition, who have loved the photos and review :)
      Any chance this could come to our shores?
      I’m sure it would go down very well ! Go on….

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