Hollywood star Norma Shearer was tickled pink when a modiste from Akron, Ohio introduced her to color psychology.
But it was more than just a fascination with how certain hues determine human behavior. With the perfect blend of feminine sophistication and cheerful disposition, pink became the Hollywood star’s favorite color in her wardrobe.
My mother, aunt and I were tickled pink when Gayle Strege, curator of The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, shared that and other fascinating facts about Shearer’s modiste — Sophie Wachner — at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio last Sunday.
Wachner (1879-1960) began her career as an Akron schoolteacher in 1900, then moved to New York City as her aunt’s companion, where the pair designed costumes for Broadway productions. By 1919, Wachner became the director of costumes for Goldwyn Studios (later Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) in Los Angeles, then moved to Fox Studios from 1924 to 1930. She designed costumes for more than 100 movies, including He Who Gets Slapped, the 1924 film starring Shearer and Lon Cheney, and Little Lord Fauntleroy, the 1936 box-office classic. Later, Wachner and her husband, Harold Powers, established a ready-to-wear line of fashionable ladies’ clothes.
Wachner said she created her best work after dinner, relaxing while listening to music. Like Edith Head, Wachner relied on blue-lensed glasses to visualize how colors would look when filmed in black and white. Similar techniques are employed today, as lighting affects the way costumes look up close. For example, the dress with spider motifs that Angelica Huston wore in Addams Family Values appears black on the big screen, but is actually maroon.
Huston’s dress is one of 40 colorful costumes on display in Creating the Illusion: Costumes & Characters From the Paramount Pictures Archive, an exhibition at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in Lancaster. Designed for 21 movies from 1987 to the present, the costumes hail from Coming to America, Zoolander, Transformers: The Last Knight, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Star Trek: Into Darkness and more.
Three costumes from the Turandot opera scene in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation set the stage for the exhibit. Walk through four jewel-toned galleries, with walls adorned with movie posters, and you’ll see the sequined aqua-and-blue gown Beyonce wore in Dreamgirls, cowboy outfits donned by Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon in True Grit, and the wedding suit Tom Hanks chose in Forrest Gump.
Creating the Illusion: Costumes & Characters From the Paramount Pictures Archive was inspired by a book of the same title (subtitled “A Fashionable History of Hollywood Costume Designers”), written by Jay Jorgensen and Donald Scoggins, with a foreword by Ali MacGraw. The exhibition continues through August 12.