Books in Brief: “Hollywood Before Glamour: Fashion in American Silent Film”

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If you could see the stack of books on my ‘to do list’ you might run for the hills, but you also might sit down for a good long read. There are some great reviews ahead – so keep an eye out. First up is Hollywood Before Glamour: Fashion in American Silent Film by Michelle Tolini Finamore. Released earlier this year, it has been on my to do list the longest, and here are some brief notes about it’s contents.

Nearly 300 compact pages of academic scholarship cover the 1900s through the 1930s in 6 thematic essays (plus an introduction). Not surprisingly, much of the work discusses Lady Duff Gordon (or Lucile), and also includes an entire chapter on the designer Peggy Hamilton.

It also includes discussions of American Fashion design on film during World War I, and the rise of the ‘specialist’ costume designer (including Adrian, Andre-Ani, Travis Banton, Howard Greer, Iribe, Mitchell Leisen, Max Ree, and Sophie Wachner – though noticeably absent is Natacha Rambova.) Actor’s who provided their own wardrobes for modern films, and the marketing potential that came out of that is also explored. The book is well researched, but is not meant to be a comprehensive study of the era. It remains a helpful resource.

*Anna Moore/Lillian Gish wearing negligee in Way Down East (United Pictures 1920, director D.W. Griffith). Photo by Bain News Service, new York. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.)

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Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty (Volume 1) Brief Review

Edited by UC Davis professor Susan Kaiser (along with Efrat Tseëlon of the University of Leeds and and Ana Marta González of the University of Navarra); this publication – part book and part journal – seeks to further the Fashion Studies debate with both interdisciplinary and international slants. Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty is a well-illustrated journal that includes exhibition reviews, articles and editorials by a dozen different authors on such topics as “Revisioning the Kimono” (Sheila Cliffe); “Russian Immigrant Women and the Negotiation of Social Class and Feminine Identity through Fashion” (Alexandra Korotchenko and Laura Hurd Clarke); and “Auction Prices of Fashion Collectibles: What do the mean? (Diana Crane).

Crane’s piece on fashion as collectible object was a particularly interesting editorial, especially this:

Aesthetic criteria for evaluating fashionable collectibles and fashionable clothing in general are underdeveloped, as indicated in a recent review of scholarly works on fashion (Gonzalez 2010). Most scholarly discussions of fashion theorize the characteristics and effects of fashion that is in fashion, rather than the aesthetic criteria of fashion collectibles. in fact, most such discussions ignore the possibility and implications of fashion collectibles. Analysing fashion collectibles is different from recounting fashion history. The latter tends to be a description of a succession of creators and styles.” (145-146).

Her piece also discusses the role of ‘celebrity endorsement’ in the valuation of fashion collectibles; the roles museums play; as well as some brief background analysis. It will take me a while to get through the other articles here, but they are valuable and informative works. If you’ve read other articles here, I’d love to know your thoughts on them.

 

 

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Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood icon was styled by William Travilla

Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla

By Andrew Hansford with Karen Homer

(Applause Theatre & Cinema Books)

What I found unique about this book was not the abundant photographs, or costume illustrations depicting a glamorous Marilyn – that was to be expected. What I didn’t expect was the level to which that glamor was removed, and the details of the real objects described and illustrated. Author Andrew Hansford is the manager of the William Travilla archive, and like a true archivist, is interest lies in the ‘state of the artifact’.

A typical detail layout from Dressing Marilyn by Andrew Hansford

It’s a gem of a book for anyone interested in the real objects of popular culture: depicting not only the beautiful ‘idealized’ garments, but also the state they are in today, including rips, stains, holes, and even lipstick marks. Most books that include collection images don’t include what goes on the condition reports. For this alone, I love this book.

Dressing Marilyn begins with a biography of designer William Travilla, who created costumes for Marilyn onscreen and off, and follows with two+ page spreads on seven of Marilyn’s most famous film costumes, followed by two smaller sections titled ‘personal dresses’ and ‘further classics’. Each of the seven costumes is explored and discussed in-depth, both photographically as well as with historical research, documentation,  and text. It truly is a marvelous resource for anyone looking to hunt down the details of Marilyn Monroe’s wardrobe and film costume history.

For more, see the review by Kate Finnegan in the UK Telegraph.

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