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


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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This Just In: Son of the Sheik playing at SFPL this Sunday!

image courtesy of Donna L. Hill (Via SFPL)

I’m thrilled to hear that the film Son of the Sheik (1926) will be playing on Sunday, July 10 at the San Francisco Public Library – it’s an opportunity to see the work of costume designer Natacha Rambova on the big screen.

Though Valentino and Rambova had divorced in January of 1926, her work still appeared in his film (released in April 1926). It seems that many of the costumes Rambova had designed for Hooded Falcon (1924) –a film that was not completed — were re-used by the studio for Son of the Sheik. According to a Chicago Tribune article dated April 11, 1926:

Rudolph Valentino: The Son Of A Sheik 1926 (National Archive Photo by Hoch Hollywood Collection)

“A stunning Moorish costume adorned the stalwart form of our hero, including a pair of cerise satin zouave trousers plentifully braided and embroidered in gold. These had been secured in Algiers originally for ‘The Hooded Falcon,’ which Rudy never made and which was the high spot in the Valentino contention with the Ritz-Carlton company, which sent him into the United Artists fold. Natacha Rambova was the one who designed the costumes, to the tune of $100,000. They now lie on the wardrobe shelves. This is the first use that has been made of any of them.”

The screening at the SFPL will also include an introduction by Donna Hill, known well among Valentino scholars. For details on the event, see the San Francisco Public Library’s Blog.


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