Edith Head (October 28, 1897 – October 24, 1981) was an American costume designer who won more Academy Awards — eight - than any other woman. She was born Edith Claire Posener in San Bernardino, California, the daughter of Jewish parents, Max Posener and Anna E. Levy. Her father, Max Posener, was a naturalized American citizen from Prussia, who came to the United States in 1876. Her mother was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of an Austrian father and a Bavarian mother. There is nothing to document if Max and Anna ever married or where they met. Just before Edith's birth, Max Posener opened a haberdashery in San Bernardino which failed within a year, and the stock and fixtures were sold for a fraction of their worth. Anna remarried in 1901 to Frank Spare, a mining engineer, originally from Pennsylvania. The family moved frequently as Spare's jobs changed locations, and the only place whose name Head could later recall from her early years was the desert town of Searchlight, Nevada. Frank and Anna Spare passed Edith off as their mutual child, and, as Frank Spare was a Catholic, Edith ostensibly became one as well.
She received a bachelor of arts degree in letters and sciences with honors in French from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1919 and earned a master of arts degree in romance languages from Stanford University in 1920. She became a language teacher with her first position at Bishop's School in La Jolla teaching French as a replacement. After one year, she took a position teaching French at the Hollywood School for Girls. Wanting a slightly higher salary, she told the school that she could also teach art, even though she had only briefly studied the discipline in high school.
To improve her drawing skills, which at this point were rudimentary, she took evening art classes at the Chouinard Art College. On July 25, 1923, she married Charles Head, the brother of one of her Chouinard classmates, Betty Head. The marriage ended in divorce in 1936 after a number of years of separation, although she continued to be known professionally as Edith Head until her death.
The Paramount years In 1924, despite lacking art, design, and costume design experience, Head was hired as a costume sketch artist at Paramount Pictures in the costume department. Later she admitted to borrowing another student's sketches for her job interview. She began designing costumes for silent films, commencing with The Wanderer in 1925 and, by the 1930s, had established herself as one of Hollywood's leading costume designers. She worked at Paramount for 43 years until she went to Universal Pictures on March 27, 1967, possibly prompted by her extensive work for director Alfred Hitchcock, who had also moved to Universal, in 1960.
Head's marriage to set designer Wiard Ihnen, on September 8, 1940, lasted until his death from prostate cancer in 1979. Throughout her long career, she was nominated for 35 Academy Awards, including every year from 1948 through 1966, and won eight times – more Oscars than any other woman.
Although Head was featured in studio publicity from the mid-1920s, she was originally over-shadowed by Paramount's head designers, first Howard Greer then Travis Banton. It was only after Banton's resignation in 1938 that she achieved fame as a designer in her own right. Her association with the "sarong" dress designed for Dorothy Lamour in The Hurricane made her well-known among the general public, although Head was a more restrained designer than either Banton or Adrian. In 1944, she gained public attention for the top mink-lined gown she was credited for Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark, which gained notoriety due to its being counter to the mood of wartime austerity. The establishment in 1949 of the category of an Academy Award for Costume Designer further boosted her career, because it began her record-breaking run of Award nominations and wins, beginning with her nomination for The Emperor Waltz.
Head was known for her low-key working style and, unlike many of her male contemporaries, usually consulted extensively with the female stars with whom she worked. As a result she was a favorite among many of the leading female stars of the 1940s and '50s such as Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Shirley MacLaine, Anne Baxter, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Natalie Wood. In fact, Head was frequently "lent out" by Paramount to other studios at the request of their female stars.
During the 1950s, she was dubbed the "queen of the shirtwaisters" by her detractors. However, this approach to costume design was in line with studio policy which discouraged films from becoming instantly dated through the use of short-lived costume fads (especially in late release or re-released films). Despite this trait, or even because of it, she has been cited as one of Alfred Hitchcock's favorite costume designers and had a long association with Hal Wallis among others. She was also well-known for her work for Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Head also designed the costumes for many of the solo films of Jerry Lewis while he was at Paramount. During her long career, she was occasionally criticized for her working methods. Early in her career, she opposed the creation of a union to represent studio-based costume designers and outfitters and was accused of being anti-union on several occasions.
Even though a favorite of many stars, her design trademark of restraint on occasion brought her into conflict with the wishes of other film stars and directors. Claudette Colbert was one actress who apparently preferred not to work with Head, while her relationship with flamboyant film director Mitchell Leisen was by all accounts quite tense. Apocryphally, despite her own design accomplishments, she had a reputation for taking credit for others' work. However, this practice only became controversial in the latter part of her career, because, in the era of studio-dominated film production, a department head commonly claimed credit for design work created in his or her department.
The Universal years In 1967, she left Paramount Pictures and joined Universal Pictures, where she remained until her death in 1981. As studio-based feature film production declined and many of her favored stars retired, Head became more active as a television costume designer, often designing outfits for film actors, such as Olivia De Havilland, who were now involved in television series or film work. In 1974, Head received a final Oscar win for her work on The Sting.
During the late 1970s, Edith Head was asked to design a woman's uniform for the United States Coast Guard, because of the increasing number of women in the Coast Guard. Head called the assignment a highlight in her career and received the Meritorious Public Service Award for her efforts. Her designs for a TV mini-series based on the novel Little Women were well-received. Her last film project was the black-and-white comedy Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, starring Steve Martin and Carl Reiner. For the production, she re-created fashions of the 1940s, extensively referencing the film clips from classic film noir motion pictures. It was released shortly after her death and dedicated to her memory.
Film historian Chierichetti pays tribute to the grit behind one woman's glamorous career. Head spent more than 40 years at Paramount, won eight Oscars and became as famous as the stars she dressed. Her longevity came thanks to diplomacy and manipulation, and Chierichetti meticulously details her love affairs, touted designs and public appeal. From 1925 until her death in 1981, Head was a byword in Hollywood and an American fashion icon. She endured long hours, modest pay and studio machinations, yet never lost her cool. And she dressed everyone, from Barbara Stanwyck and Grace Kelly to Paul Newman. Draped in dark glasses and severe suits, Head was a master at playing politics and keeping competitors at bay. She was also an accomplished liar, which haunted her throughout her life. Head accepted the Oscar for Sabrina, though the gowns were designed by Givenchy. She gambled that the unknown Frenchman would remain silent—and he did. Not that the impenetrable Head wasn't a talent in her own right. Her ability to stay within budget and placate divas—"I might have to dress her again"—was as legendary as her fashion virtuosity. Olivia de Havilland dubbed her "a marvel." Yet the twice-married designer was also insecure and aloof; keeping secrets kept her in the game. Few, save Chierichetti, ever penetrated her inner core. He paints an absorbing sketch of an ambitious woman whose career defined Hollywood's golden years. Fashion lovers will enjoy his homage, and his devotion to movie magic.
Edith Head: Lessons in old-school glamour in Daily mail on line In a career spanning nearly six decades, Edith Head, right, dressed Hollywood stars, from Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren to Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly.
An eight-time Oscar winner who created the clothes for more than 1,000 films, she also dispensed her no-nonsense advice to the ordinary woman in her bestseller, How to Dress for Success. First published in 1967, it is being reissued, and almost 30 years after her death, Edith’s witty, incisive tips still hold true.
How to build a successful wardrobe Since time began, women have wailed to their poor spouses, ‘I haven’t a thing to wear.’ As far as I’m concerned, no woman in history ever had a right to make this complaint (with the possible exception of Lady Godiva).
In my experience, most women who claim they have ‘nothing to wear’ have dozens of things that they never wear, either because they don’t fit or because they are inappropriate for the things they do and the places they go. Building a proper wardrobe is like building a home. Indeed, you should think of it like a home, because it is something you’re going to live in. It must be comfortable and suit all your needs. Its extent will depend on where you live and what you do. If you’re an unmarried business girl living in a city, your wardrobe will be very different to that of a mother of three in the suburbs. The city woman needs a more sophisticated wardrobe.
But if you live in a small community, you need more changes than the city woman: she doesn’t see the same people at every party, but you do.
Chart your activities An excellent way to approach the building of a wardrobe is to make a blueprint plan of your activities. Give the questions in this list one of the following answers: every day, frequently, quite often, rarely, hardly ever. Audrey Hepburn was dressed by Edith in Roman Holiday, 1953 How often do you: Go to business meetings? Go out dancing? Go to the theatre? Go to informal dinners? Go to formal affairs? Go to sporting events? Go to dinner in a restaurant? Entertain at home? Go to school functions? As soon as you’ve completed this list (adding any activities I’ve missed), take all the clothes out of your wardrobe. Separate them into the categories on the questionnaire.
How many outfits do you have that are right for business, dancing, dinners, and so on? Does your wardrobe lean in one direction like the Tower of Pisa? Is it top-heavy with things you really don’t need, and sparse in the areas marked ‘frequently’ and ‘often’? If so, you’d better start rebuilding and reorganising. Many women have asked me if it is possible to have a well-built wardrobe on a limited budget. ‘Money,’ I tell them, ‘is no guarantee of taste, and an overstuffed wardrobe is often as bare as a skeleton when it comes to wearable apparel.’ As women, we all have certain weaknesses. I know one who can’t resist pretty shoes but has nothing suitable to wear with them. Others adore frilly lingerie but never have any money to buy outer clothing.
One friend of mine, who has little need for dressy evening clothes, is forever buying new ones. The result of her unfortunate indulgence is her startling appearance at the most casual gatherings. This is what a psychiatrist might call ‘wish-fulfilment’ buying.
I won’t venture into the subconscious desires of the woman who keeps buying all that fancy lingerie, but I do know that yielding to such temptations results in a ‘sick’ wardrobe. Most Hollywood beauties that you think are perfect have defects, but they have learnt to accentuate the positiveAnother shopping danger that all women succumb to at times is the ‘bargain’. No matter how big the markdown is, it doesn’t represent a saving if the garment is going to be worn only by a hanger. Ask yourself if you would have bought the garment at its full price. If not, forget it. And remember that how clothes feel, as well as look, is of tremendous importance. We have all seen women pluck at a hem, yank at sleeves or constantly check themselves in the mirror. Such women are not at home in their clothes because the clothes are not right for them. The right clothes for you are invariably those that you can put on and forget about.
How to succeed in looking younger Growing old gracefully used to begin at about 35, but today women prefer to ‘stay young gratefully’ with thanks to designers, beauticians and plastic surgeons.
Good health and a happy spirit are the greatest contributors to appearing youthful. But so too is dressing adroitly.
Maturity is a time for simplification rather than flamboyance. Ruffles, sequins, bold prints, too-high heels, plunging décolletages, tight trousers and bikinis should be banished by those of us who have reached what I prefer to call the ‘interesting age’.
A far handier tool, once you’ve turned 35, is a truthful appraisal of your assets and liabilities. Let’s start at the top. If you sometimes think that your neck is getting shorter with the years, the chances are it’s because your chin is getting bigger. This is a signal to keep away from turtlenecks, which have a tendency to make you look as though you have no neck at all. V-necks, soft cowls and stand-away collars make necks look longer, chins smaller and frame the face without focusing attention on the neck. Matinée-length necklaces and pendants, for the same reason, are far better than base-of-the-neck jewellery. Moving down to your bust-line: as the years roll on, this may lack the firmness of yesterday, but with today’s ingenious shape-maker bras, there’s no reason to have anyone realise it. No matter how many years a woman drops from her age verbally, her elbows and upper arms can give her away visually. If, like many women past 35 (and most past 40), you are armed with sagging muscles or have elbows with ‘elephant’ skin, cover them. A tulle stole will do as much for your arms as a soft-focus camera does for some movie stars’ faces. Few women who had 25-inch waistlines in girlhood still boast the same measurements in their later years. Good foundation garments can help smooth out bulges, and the big don’ts are obvious: don’t wear wide belts, tied sashes or blouses that terminate at the waist.
Skirts with hemline interest – pleats, ruffles or flounces – should be worn only by those with pretty legs; and even the most beautiful legs – Marlene Dietrich’s, for instance – look better when the kneecap is covered. Many women have foot troubles as they grow older, so take a good look at your feet to determine whether they add or subtract from your age image. If they are in the minus column, for Hermès’ sake don’t wear open-strapped sandals. Similarly, a footsore middle-aged female tottering around on high spike heels is a sad sight, and the way her feet feel invariably shows up in the sad-sack expression on her face. Far better to opt for smart, fashionable pumps, which are ageless. Colour plays a very important part in painting a younger picture of you. Soft-focus shades are kindest to mature complexions. Vivid oranges, electric blues and sharp greens are trying for all but the young. Warm beiges with a pink rather than yellow base are flattering to most skins. Neglect will not ravage a teenager’s beauty, but a ‘who cares’ attitude to fingernails, toenails and depilatories in middle age is dangerous. A shorter haircut gives an uplifting effect to the face. Soft wisps of a fringe will conceal some forehead creases. Deftly applied make-up and enough sleep can do wonders for little telltale lines. But remember, too, that wearing the wrong clothes will give your age away faster than your best girlfriend.
How to analyse your figure There is no such thing as a standard-size movie star or woman. The forest of specially moulded torsos in my designing room prove that there are as many ‘types’ of woman under contract in Hollywood as there are on the streets of London and New York. The rounded curves of Elizabeth Taylor look very different from the mannequin proportions of Audrey Hepburn. The petite measurements of Debbie Reynolds are a striking contrast to the voluptuous silhouette of Sophia Loren. Before designing a wardrobe for any of these stars, I analyse their figures. Here’s how to analyse yours. First, put on a skintight undergarment and a paper bag over your head with eyeholes cut in it. Look at yourself in the mirror. Minus a head, you’re looking at your torso without the distractions of personality. Ask yourself what kind of body you see. Is it straight or curved? Do the arms look too fat or too thin? How about the legs? Does your tummy stick out? What about the bust? Does it need to be lifted a bit? Are your shoulders narrower than your hips? Do you have bad posture? The second part of Research Project You requires an accomplice. Tape a large piece of wrapping paper to the wall and have your companion make a map of your figure with a heavy crayon. Stand away from the outline and really study it. This, combined with looking at yourself with the bag over your head, will give you the opportunity to make an unbiased appraisal of your silhouette without any fantasies about how you wish you look. What we’re talking about here might be called physioanalysis. Just as psychoanalysis can allay anxieties by helping you to get to know your inner thoughts, so physioanalysis can eliminate fears by helping you to know your shape. Frankly, I think any woman who doesn’t find out all the facts about her own figure ought to have her head examined. Now that you have taken a good long look, write down your honest appraisal of each part of your body in three columns: assets, liabilities and action to be taken.
Camouflage the negative Whatever your shortcomings, your clothes can perform minor miracles in camouflaging them.
It’s obvious that a tiny woman should not wear oversized checks, stripes or polka dots. Small patterns are far more in keeping with her size.
It is the tall woman who can afford to wear large floral prints and bulky woollens because she can carry the ‘weight’ of such patterns without looking overdone. She should cultivate heavy rather than dainty jewellery, medium-heel shoes rather than flats, two-piece outfits rather than shifts. These things will not only minimise her height, but make her look graceful and willowy. There are rules, however, that you can follow if you are heavier than you should be, or want to be: wear solid colours, preferably dark ones; avoid short jackets, contrasting belts and horizontal stripes; keep to one colour, rather than contrasting skirts to tops; confine reds, hot pinks, orange, and so on, to small touches. Edith tweaks a costume for the 1944 movie Here Come the Waves If your liabilities seem overwhelming, remember this: in all my dressing the world’s most glamorous women, I have yet to meet one who is physically flawless. Most beauties that you think are perfect have defects, but they have learnt how to accentuate the positive and camouflage the negative.
You can’t change the size of your feet, the shape of your legs, the colour of your eyes or the texture of your hair.
But with a successful wardrobe, you can change the way you look as easily as an actress does each time she plays a new role.
For over five decades, Edith Head's costumes helped define not only the style of Hollywood movies, but fashion itself. This documentary examines this celebrated costume designer's long and productive collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock on such films as Vertigo, Rear Window and The Birds