CDG - The Costume Designer

Spring 2019

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Spring 2019 The Costume Designer 47 " Edith Head represents not only a creative mind, but the enduring power of a woman working in a man's world." — Randall Thropp preservation of important Hollywood costumes. But when Thropp founded the Paramount Costume Collection and became its guardian, that dream became a reality. Potter says of her work, "Previously, I studied the inside construc- tion of both men's and women's clothing and how it contributes to the exterior shape of clothes. The Paramount Collection covers the 1920s through the 1950s. As I analyzed each garment's construc- tion, I had to learn the couture techniques used by the workroom at Paramount to produce star clothing. Almost all costumes have waistbands anchoring the dresses at the waist and unseen foundations built in to hold the garment to the actress despite her activity." When asked which of Head's designs was the most difficult to repair, Potter says, "The Barbara Stanwyck dress from The Lady Eve required me to reproduce an invisible foundation that attaches to the skirt. The jacket and the sash required hours of untangling the dangling beaded surface and fringe. All the repairs to the jacket are invisible and have to be reversible, so I use no shortcuts. I do almost all the work by hand because the fabrics are fragile and because I try not to disassemble the garment whenever possible. Maintaining the original design and work- manship is important. I remove all alterations from rental use. I use period-correct notions and fabrics whenever possible." The end result wows the spectator—the remarkable costumes displayed appear to be in pristine condition. Their surfaces draw in the eye of the observer to linger on every tuck, lapel, and lavish beading detail. For a costume connoisseur, there is a wonderment that accompanies seeing these iconic pieces firsthand. For actor Susan Claassen, Edith Head represents an executive woman who was successful during the time when Hollywood was a notorious boys' club. Claassen has performed as Head since 2001. To prepare for the role, she studiously researched. During this process, she met with Paddy Calistro who wrote the definitive book, Edith Head's Hollywood, and they collaborated to create A Conversation with Edith Head. Claassen's carefully honed performance is not a satire of Head, but rather seems to conjure her before the audience's eyes. Every choice is purposeful. "Personally, I always wear red nail polish and your hands move differently," she remarks. "Edith wore clear pol- ish, so when her hands were reflected in the mirror, the stars eyes wouldn't go to Edith's hands. She always considered herself back- ground. She wasn't pretentious. She was professional in every way. She often said she was a better diplomat than a designer." As Edith Head, Claassen drifts in and out of nostalgia, relating anecdotes with her trademark wit of actors both beloved and reviled. Thropp says, "Edith Head represents not only a creative mind, but the enduring power of a woman working in a man's world." The legacy endures, as does the inspiration. Cary Grant, To Catch a Thief Veronica Lake, publicity photo Below: Sheree North, Living It Up Photos: Anna Wyckoff

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