“What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage”
- Edith Head
For decades, Edith Head has been a celebrated figure in the world of fashion and film. She was an influential costume designer who worked with legendary movie stars on some of Hollywood’s most iconic films. Her sophisticated designs for high profile actresses from Grace Kelly to Elizabeth Taylor spawned fashion trends on-screen and off, and are still heavily referenced today.
Rise To Fame
Edith Head began her career as a costume designer at Paramount Pictures in 1924. By 1938, she made history as the first female to head a major studio’s costume department. The self-described “dress doctor” went on to win an impressive 8 Academy Awards for Best Costume Design. Over the course of her 50+ year career, she became one of the most sought-after designers in Hollywood, known for her innovative vision and unparalleled attention to detail.
Film Stars & Fashion
Edith Head worked on a substantial lineup of films, television shows, and theater productions. Her credits stretch across genres and decades, firmly entrenching her place in the history of fashion and cinema.
She created memorable looks for Grace Kelly for her roles in two of Alfred Hitchcock’s thrillers. Other notable credits include costume designs for Sabrina and Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn, and A Place in the Sun with Elizabeth Taylor.
Head’s work with Grace Kelly defined 1950’s glamour. For Kelly’s wardrobe in Rear Window, she created outfits emulative of Dior’s radical “New Look” - characterized by a nipped in waist and full skirt. These costume choices reveal Lisa Fremont’s socialite status but as the movie progresses, she transitions to wearing more casual attire to appeal to and connect with her love interest L.B. Jefferies, played by Jimmy Stewart.
Through costume, Head conveyed a story. She understood the transformative power of clothing and used it to reveal important aspects of a character and as a plot device.
Her bold sense of style helped to create captivating characters. Some of her most noteworthy designs include the blue chiffon dress worn by Kelly in To Catch a Thief and Audrey Hepburn’s little black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She drove clothing manufacturers to copy Elizabeth Taylor’s white strapless gown from A Place In the Sun after movie goers fell in love with, and yearned for it.
Influence On The Fashion Industry
Edith Head’s designs revolutionized the fashion industry and continue to influence modern trends. Her iconic style popularized the “little black dress” which became a staple in women’s wardrobes. She brought glamour, luxury, and sophistication to fashion with her singular creations.
Edith Head’s work in Hollywood was instrumental in shaping modern fashion. Her impact is seen in many of today’s runway shows, demonstrating how deeply her designs have influenced contemporary fashion designers and how her timeless style has transcended the decades.
Legacy & Lasting Impact on Costume Design
Edith Head’s iconic designs have been featured in multiple exhibitions and retrospectives, proving her lasting impact on the costume design industry.
Head’s sophisticated and glamorous aesthetic, attention to detail and appreciation for quality can also be seen in the work of other costume designers and stylists working today, who draw inspiration from Head’s impressive body of work. With her pioneering spirit, bold use of textures, innovative pleating and draping techniques, she cleverly constructed gowns and created unforgettable characters that are now ingrained in popular culture. Edith Head’s designs are timeless expressions of luxury and elegance that will never go out of style.