My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a fun read, but every time I intended to sit down and flip through the pictures and start reading, I would find that it was in somebody else’s hands. There are quite a generous collection of pictures of Edith Head’s costumes, which was half the fun of the book
It’s less a biography of her life than of her career. Edith Head started writing it, but passed away before she could finish. Paddy Calistro essentially finished the book, using Head’s notes as a kind of thread and template. She clarifies Head’s statements, sets the record straight when Head makes certain untrue claims, gives slightly more biographical background than Head provided, and a little more about the movies, actors, directors and other costume designers.
There seems to be some disagreement about whether or not Edith Head really was a great designer. She was not great at sketching, took credit for designs by her employees and was an indefatigable self-promoter – which is why she is the most well-known of all Hollywood costume designers.
Calistro points out, however, that if she was not a great designer, she had a knack for making the stars look good, making them comfortable in what they wore, and matching the costumes to the characters. Many were so happy with her work that they would have her design their costumes even when they were not making a picture at Paramount Studios (where Head worked). Several even wanted her to design their personal wardrobes.
Edith Head seems to have known she wasn’t a great designer like Adrian (who worked at MGM), but felt that certain designers got carried away; that it would sometimes be more about the dress than how the actor looked.
In the book, she talks about the actors and their figures and their personal preferences (Ingrid Bergman did not like lots of jewelry or extra adornments; Grace Kelly loved gloves), as well as the directors she worked with (she had a wonderful working relationship with Alfred Hitchcock and did many of his films) and what she was thinking when she designed certain clothes.
The 1950s was her real heyday. She was part of some wonderful films afterwards, but she bemoaned the end of the studio era, because she said it made her job far less interesting. With the increased emphasis on realism, stars wanted to get clothes at a store instead of have them designed for them. Glamor, she felt, had gone out the window.
It’s by no means a comprehensive book; but it’s fun to read – especially now that I’ve seen many of the movies she refers to – and gives the reader a small look into the making of films in Classic Hollywood.
For more images of Edith Head’s costumes, check out my pinterest collection of her costumes.