Last week the final auction of Debbie Reynolds’ Hollywood costume collection took place. Debbie had been collecting costumes for her entire career, and since 2012 had been auctioning what was one of the largest costume collections in the world.
There were some incredible pieces available to view (and buy) in this last sale. Some of the items are noteworthy not so much for their design as for the iconic productions they were used in – a selection of hats worn by Vivien Leigh in ‘Gone with the Wind’, a dancing dress from An American in Paris, Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hat, simian limbs used in ‘Planet of the Apes’, and Laurence Olivier’s jacket worn in Pride and Prejudice.
However the pieces I find most interesting are those used in period films, that, whilst displaying design elements of the era they are depicting, are also clearly influenced by fashion trends of the day. The best example of this from the auction is the top dress, worn by an extra in several scenes in Romeo and Juliet of 1936 and designed by Adrian and Oliver Messel. While the shape of the dress is typically Renaissance, the black cord applique ‘squiggle’ design is pure 30s. In fact remove the period draped sleeves, cape, and train, and this could easily be a contemporary Schiaparelli evening gown.
Even the trim on the cape is tufted chenille, which as a technique had started to become popular in the 30s and was being increasingly used on dressing gowns, bedspreads, and dress trims. Chenille was first used in France in the late 18th century as a decorative embroidery or tapestry technique, and wasn’t used on clothing until much later, beginning with shawls in the Victorian age. A more likely trim of the Renaissance era would have been fur, though of course the shaggy chenille gives the appearance of fur on screen, at a much lower cost.
Similarly, the figure hugging Cleopatra gown worn by Rhonda Fleming is pure 50s, with only a nod to Ancient Egyptian aesthetics. Strapless with a sweetheart neckline, tiny waist, fitted bodice, and slim cut skirt with cross-over, almost sarong-style panel. In contrast to the Shakespearean gown, the Egyptian dress is modern in shape, with only the motifs printed on the dress in gold bringing in the feel of the period being referenced. Take away the surface decoration and the dress could be shown in any nightclub scene of the 50s.
The catalogue is still available to view online, and is well worth looking through; particularly for costumes that were used in black and white films. This is your only chance to imagine what they might have looked like in colour!
- Satin gown designed by Travis Banton, worn by Betty Grable as Lily Blane in Tin Pan Alley (1940)
- Ivory dress worn by Anne Baxter as Nefertiti in The Ten Commandments (1956)
- Strapless dress designed by Jean Louis, worn by Rhonda Fleming as Cleopatra in Serpent of The Nile. (1953)
- Robe designed by Edith Head, worn by Barbara Stanwyck in The File on Thelma Jordan (1950)
- Black sequined leotard designed by Dolly Tree, worn by Eve Arden in At The Circus (1939)
- Dance costume designed by Charles le Maire, worn by Sheree North as Kitty Kane in The Best Things in Life are Free (1956)
- Blue sequin bathing suit designed by Helen Rose, worn by Esther Williams in Deep in my Heart (1954)
- Flapper dress designed by Donfeld, worn by Lee Remick as Temple Drake in Sanctuary (1961)
- Yellow 2-piece dress with paisley applique designed by Jean Louis and Helen Rose, worn by Marina Koshetz in Luxury Liner (1948)
- Dress designed by Rene Hubert, worn by Geraldine Fitzgerald as Edith Bolling Galt in Wilson (1944). Shortened at a later date.
- Evening coat with metal thread and blonde fox fur designed by Travilla and worn by an extra in Dancing in the Dark (1949)
- Dance dress designed by Adrian and worn in Broadway Melody of 1940
- Black and white dress designed by Yvonne Wood, worn by Shelley Winters in Frenchie (1951)
- Black and silver dress designed by Walter Plunkett, worn by Adele Jergens as Cameo McQueen in Show Boat (1951)
- Black and ivory dress designed by Travis Banton, worn by Mae West as Ruby Carter in Belle of the Nineties (1934)
- Black velvet gown designed by Cecil Beaton, worn by an extra at Maxim’s in Gigi (1958)
- Pink paisley dress by label ‘Ozel Beverly Hills’, worn by Agnes Moorehead as Endora in Bewitched
- Harem outfit designed by Jean Louis, worn by Adele Jergins in A Thousand and One Nights (1945). Also worn by Elena Verdugo in Thief of Damascus (1945)
- Safari outfit designed by Helen Rose, worn by Grace Kelly in Mogambo (1953)
- Green dress designed by Marjorie Best and Travilla, worn by June Haver in Look for the Silver Lining (1949)