Friday, February 04, 2011

Arty Farty Friday ~ Edith Head, Iconic Hollywood Costume Designer

Edith Head - a name fast receding into the mists of time. She was Hollywood's icon of costume design for 50 years, fom the 1920s through the movie capital's sparkling heyday into the 1980s. She designed wardrobes for some of the biggest names in American movies: Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Mae West, Grace Kelly, Bette Davis etc etc. She earned 8 Oscars (more than any other woman), as well as an amazing 30 nominations.

And yet - and yet, she had received no formal training other than some evening classes in drawing, during which she discovered her aptitude for shapes, the human figure, costume, and fashion.

She created her own signature "look": a severe flat, black straight hairstyle, oversized dark glasses, and an unsmiling visage for the camera.

Professionally her design style was for the most part restrained, tending towards the classic - not necessarily from choice, but from a desire of film studios that their wares should not appear dated too rapidly. Her working methods were questioned by some, there are accusations that she "borrowed" the designs of others on occasion, putting her own signature to them. She was reportedly anti-union (not my kind of gal then!) However she did became popular with the stars, for unlike some male contemporaries she tended to consult closely with the women for whom she designed.

Edith Head wrote two books on style and fashion, dished out advice to women everywhere via news columns, magazines, radio and TV shows. Her influence on fashion spread, eventually, world wide.

She died two weeks after finishing her last film, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, and left her estate to charity.

Some of her advice:
You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.

The cardinal sin is not being badly dressed, but wearing the right thing in the wrong place.

Your dresses should be tight enough to show you're a woman and loose enough to prove you're a lady.

I say sacrifice style any day for becomingness.

Edith Head was born on 28 October 1897 in, according to Wikipedia, Searchlight, Nevada. Some sources, including a published biography state her birth place as San Bernadino, California. The 12 noon chart, and planets in signs will be the same whichever is correct. A cluster of all her personal planets lay in the sector of the zodiac covering Libra/Scorpio/Sagittarius. Only two slow-moving generational planets Neptune and Pluto lie outside of this area, and in Gemini.

Without a time of birth Ms Head's rising sign isn't known, her natal Moon, though, would have been in Sagittarius whatever time she was born - between 8 and 23 Sagittarius.

Her feeling for art, design, style and fashion undoubtedly came from the Libra input. Libra, ruled by Venus, planet of the arts - Venus itself is at home there in Ms Head's chart, along with Mercury, planet of communication and Jupiter, planet of publication (sending it out to the masses).

Her natal Scorpio Sun and Mars present a forceful duo. Mars is right at home in Scorpio, its sign of rulership, and conjunct Sun, as here, can present as an indomitable character, confident, determined and competitive. Edith Head must surely have had all of these attributes to have succeeded so amazingly with such little training or background in her chosen profession.

Ms Head's choice of personal trademarks - dark glasses and glossy black hair reflect Scorpio's dark, secretive reputation.

The other planet in Scorpio, Uranus at 27.53 degrees lay conjunct Saturn at 0 degree Sagittarius. A curious combination this - in this context. The traditional and the avant garde conjoined in two signs, one with fixed, dark, secretive connotation, the other mutable, bright, expansive. I'm not quite sure how this manifested for Edith Head. Perhaps her reputed "borrowing" of the designs of others for the continued expansion or her own reputation? Or perhaps in the restrained style forced upon her by her clients, the studio bosses, when she would often have preferred to design something more flamboyant?

I suspect her Sagittarius Moon was in opposition to Neptune - planet of creativity and illusion. What are movies but illusion at its best?

Some of her designs:

For Dorothy Lamour in On the Road to Bali


Wisewebwoman said...

An extraordinary talent and I am struck again by people who develop a unique style of their own and stick to it no matter what.

Duse said...

That Saturn/Uranus combo seems to me indicative of her amazing, somewhat revolutionary success in what was a male-dominated industry.

Her genius (Uranus) to work within the constraints of her craft and the Studios (Saturn) dominated by men (Saturn) and come out decidedly on top with a success -- 8 Oscars, 30 nominations -- still unmatched (Uranus).

Great article.

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ Her "look" didn't vary much at all it seems. She "branded" herself well!

Twilight said...

Duse ~~~ Hi there!
Yes, good point. That interpretation fits very well.

Thanks. :-)