VINTAGE SKETCHES OF ICONIC ENSEMBLES BY HOLLYWOOD’S MOST FAMOUS COSTUME DESIGNER HIT THEIR MARK IN JULY AUCTION
By Christina Rees
HOLLYWOOD & ENTERTAINMENT SIGNATURE® AUCTION 7269
July 22-23, 2022
Decades after her Hollywood reign, Edith Head remains the most lauded costume designer in history. By the time of her death in 1981, she had racked up eight Academy Awards (still the most Oscars won by any woman in cinema) – a testament to her 50-plus years designing the most memorable costumes for the most celebrated movies ever to hit the silver screen.
Seeing Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly or Elizabeth Taylor glide across a set in a Head ensemble, we understand the timeless impact of the designer’s work. A great deal of the power of Head’s designs is grounded in her profound understanding of how the clothes propel a story forward – how they move with the actor not only through motion, but through character development. Through Head’s designs, a commoner becomes a princess, a villain finds redemption, a love story blooms.
Unlike many of today’s costume designers, Head – who worked at Paramount for 43 years and later at Universal – sketched her designs herself, and her working sketches tell the story of her process. In them you can see her hand in shaping a movie’s essence and aesthetic, from the regal ballgown worn by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday to Elizabeth Taylor’s all-black stunner in A Place in the Sun to the mint-green suit donned by Tippi Hedren in The Birds.
Head’s sketches for these three Hollywood classics – and more than 20 others – share the spotlight in Heritage Auctions’ July 22-23 Hollywood & Entertainment Signature® Auction. Drawn in gouache and ink on artist paper, the sketches represent the apex of Head’s creative power and include the most recognizable of her creations, many of which have shaped our vision of Hollywood glamour.
“In my entire career, I have not encountered such a collection of highlights from the career of fabled Hollywood costume designer Edith Head,” says Brian Chanes, Senior Director of Hollywood & Entertainment at Heritage Auctions. “Our consignor, an intrepid collector, painstakingly pursued individuals who worked at the studio wardrobe departments and obtained these extraordinary sketches over a period of decades. Represented are the best of the best costume designs from Edith’s peerless career.”
They include show-stopping dresses worn by Bette Davis in All About Eve, Grace Kelly in Rear Window, Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas and Judy Garland in I Could Go on Singing, as well as costumes from other classic films, including To Catch a Thief, Vertigo and Elephant Walk.
While some of Head’s contemporaries were known for chasing and making trends in fashion, Head understood the pitfalls of clothing fads; after a film shoot, movies could sit in the studio queue for two years before seeing release. Head never allowed her designs to look dated. Thus, Head’s costumes present a rich timelessness that resonates to this day. There’s a reason Alfred Hitchcock’s and Billy Wilder’s and William Wyler’s movies still look great: Their overall visual styles, epitomized in Head’s designs, remain marvelous, decade after decade.
Head won the loyalty of Hollywood’s most powerful directors, set designers and cinematographers by absorbing every aspect of the filmmaking process into her designs. She also established trust with Hollywood’s greatest actresses by listening to their concerns about their bodies and understanding their relationships with clothing.
Audrey Hepburn, one of the many leading ladies for which Head created legendary costumes, was one of the designer’s frequent subjects, and Heritage’s July auction includes several of the most famous dresses ever worn by the actress on screen. By the time the young clotheshorse made Sabrina in 1954 (following Roman Holiday), Hepburn had started a working relationship with the up-and-coming French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy and insisted on using his designs in her Paramount film wardrobes going forward, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Funny Face.
Head, by then a major force in popular culture and Hollywood’s most famous designer, took this “collaboration” in stride and seamlessly incorporated Givenchy’s aesthetic into her own. The results of the Hepburn-Givenchy-Head triumvirate resulted in some of the most beloved movies and indelible (and copied) clothing designs in both cinema and fashion history.
Holly Golightly’s light – and Head’s, too – shines on.
CHRISTINA REES is a contributor to Intelligent Collector.