The Ninotchka Hat Blog

Adrian Among the Ordinaries!
December 8, 2010, 6:29 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

A lovely book arrived at my house last week. I was called “Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label” by Christian Esquivin. It’s one of those magnificent, glossy books, resplendent with pictures — though unfortunately only black and white. I would have paid an extra $20 if they had only been in colour. Gilbert Adrian was born Adrian Greenburg in 1903. His parents owned a millinery shop. He studied art and then segued into fashion design. Eventually, he became a designer for several important stars in the 20s and later he was hired as chief costume designer for MGM. He later left MGM and started his own label in 1941 which he continued until he was forced to give it up due to ill health in the 50s. He died in 1959.

The book highlights the work he did with famous stars like Garbo (punctual), Joan Crawford (fidgety) and Norma Shearer (tardy), but it also points out that Adrian was also responsible for nearly all the women’s clothes seen in the films for which he receives credit. Maids and minor character were still usually costumed by Adrian. He didn’t farm out designing to lackeys either. Adrian was hardworking and prolific. Costumes by Adrian actually meant costumes by Adrian. So there are a lot of elaborate and expensive gowns in the Adrian repertory (such as his costumes for Garbo in Mati Hari or Camille) but also a great number of plain or simple ensembles

Costumed by Adrian

For instance, I was watching a Hitchcock film called “Shadow of a Doubt” from 1943 starring Joseph Cotten and Theresa Wright. It too was costumed by Adrian. Not much glitz and glamour. It’s the story of a teenaged girl living in a sleepy suburban town in California who suspects that her beloved Uncle Charlie is a serial killer. It’s in a small film like this where you really get to see real costume design with clothes that are designed not to amaze but to accent character. The film takes the main character, Charlie, like her uncle but short for Charlotte, an intelligent and perceptive, though thoroughly bourgeois young girl. It witnesses her growing maturity and understanding until she become a dangerous and worthy foil to her stylish and worldly uncle. Near the beginning of the film, Charlie is wearing a demure white dress, still with Adrian’s distinctive wide shoulders and the detailing around the collar (Adrian liked to keep an outfit’s points of interest close to the actress’ face). Then she is seen in a more womanly and mannishly styled short sleeve dress with a severe turndown collar and a demi-loon yoke. Finally she wears a severely tailored suit with very square shoulders, with Adrian’s distinctive flap pocket detailing. Charlie almost looks like a completely different person, and certainly she looks like she’s aged a decade. All this is achieved through the use of character and plot appropriate costuming

Demure in white

Feeling Threatened

Masculine Tailoring


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