Chevron maxi skirts may be the rage for summer fashion, but I prefer clothes like those that Grace Kelly wore when she played Lisa Fremont in the Alfred Hitchcock movie, Rear Window. If you fancy her gown with a fitted black bodice and full white chiffon and tulle skirt, accessorized with a pearl necklace and bracelet, elbow-length gloves, shoulder wrap and high-heeled sandals, visit the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in Lancaster, Ohio. There, you can see an exhibition that pays tribute to the talented designer of that iconic outfit: Edith Head.
Designing Woman: Edith Head at Paramount, 1924-1967 features dozens of costumes that Head designed, all from the Paramount Pictures Archive. During her career, Head worked on more than 1,000 films and won eight Academy Awards for the stylish clothes she designed for movie stars like Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis, Montgomery Clift and Paul Newman.
While the exhibit does not include any costumes from Rear Window, there are plenty of other outfits that classic moviegoers will recognize.
Fans of Barbara Stanwyck can admire the silver brocade wedding dress with silver lamé trim that she wore in Sorry, Wrong Number, as well as her hooded pale yellow wool coat with black yarn trim from The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. In the same gallery, I spotted the green plaid cotton day dress, tan wool gabardine jacket and saddle shoes that Shelley Winters wore as Alice Tripp in A Place in the Sun and got chills thinking about what happened to Alice at Loon Lake.
Seeing Angela Lansbury’s medieval brocade and gold lamé gown from The Court Jester, I chanted Danny Kaye’s famous exchange from the movie: “The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!”
Some of the most elegant costumes are Joan Fontaine’s strapless blush pink silk peau de soie evening gown with rhinestones, pearls, and a custom-embroidered pink and silver metal trim, from September Affair…
…and this detail of Mae West’s cream satin Belle Epoque gown with pleated ruffles and hand-sewn rhinestone butterfly motifs, which she wore in She Done Him Wrong.
Others, I couldn’t imagine wearing, but they’d be fun to try on, like Jane Russell’s tomato-red silk satin performance costume from Son of Paleface, with black velvet ribbon stripes, a detachable bustle and decorative fabric flowers…
…or this linen dressing gown with hand-cut and sewn black wool felt fish motifs that Veronica Lake chose for a 1942 publicity photo.
Men will appreciate Bob Hope’s checked double-breasted jacket from Road to Utopia, as well as Roy Rogers’ Western shirt from Tropic Holiday.
A clever interactive feature makes the exhibition even more special. In each gallery, an iPad is mounted on a stand. Point it toward a favorite costume, touch the costume on the screen, and watch a short clip of the movie in which the costume appeared. This is a great way to discover classic movies for your watchlist.
Throughout the galleries, original Edith Head sketches, printed material and ephemera add to your appreciation of her influence on fashion. For example, patterns helped the home seamstress create the Edith Head look, while “Your Wardrobe Tree,” a Photoplay article by Adele Whitely Fletcher, describes how to have a wardrobe as distinctive as a Hollywood star.
In the gift shop, you’ll find books by Edith Head, such as How to Dress for Success and The Dress Doctor: Prescriptions for Style, from A to Z; as well as books about her, like Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer, by Jay Jorgensen; Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Costume Designer, by David Chierichetti; Edith Head’s Hollywood, with a foreword by Bette Davis; and Tom Tierney’s Award Winning Fashion of Edith Head paper dolls, from Dover Publications. I selected a pin showing a silhouette of a lady in a full-skirted dress from Yes & Yes Designs, a laser-cut piece made from a vintage book.
Designing Woman: Edith Head at Paramount, 1924-1967 is on view through August 17.