Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Style Essentials--Ginger Rogers Steps Up in Style in 1936's SWING TIME

Ginger Rogers is quite simply one of the greatest talents that Hollywood has ever seen.  She was an actress and singer and dancer--a triple threat before people even really knew what that meant.  Not only could she do it all, she did it all so well...the result of a strong work ethic and sheer raw talent.  As an actress, she had tremendous range; she was a natural with comedy, but she could also bring a tear to your eye as she did in dramas like her Oscar-winning performance in Kitty Foyle (1940).  And as a singer, she recorded several songs that were hits at the time and continue to be standards today.  But it is for her grace as a dancer that she is perhaps best known, especially for her 10 movies with Fred Astaire.  It is important to remember she had already made a name for herself on the stage and in 20 films before their first one together, but their coupling created an image so iconic they are still known all over the world.

Though much is made of her partnership with Astaire, the success of Ginger's career is really owed to another person entirely--her tenacious mother Lela Rogers.  Lela mostly raised young Ginger on her own and even rescued her when she was abducted--not once, but twice--by her estranged father.  Lela's strong work ethic was part of who she was, and something Ginger admired and emulated throughout her life.  Her mother would tackle any task, and became particularly astute in entertainment.  She rose in the industry in many roles--journalist, critic, story writer, manager, acting coach.  In a world of men, Lela did business with the best of them and was well respected.  Her greatest role, though, was helping craft her daughter's career.  

Ginger started her long life in entertainment in her early teens when vaudeville star Eddie Foy came to her town of Fort Worth, Texas.  With Lela's position at the time as a reviewer for the city paper, she and Ginger already knew many people in the theater, including Jack Benny, George Burns, and Foy.  An opportunity came when one of his dancers fell ill and he needed someone to step in.  Ginger knew the routine and the audience went wild for the "local girl" and her natural ability as a dancer.  After that, she only dreamt of doing more.  She and her mother then began criss-crossing the country on the theater circuit--from Texas to Chicago to New York City and the Great White Way of Broadway.  Her big break came in 1930 when she was asked to star in the stage production of Girl Crazy.  After several years of hard work, Ginger Rogers became a success 'overnight' at the age of 19.

Not only did Girl Crazy make Ginger a star, but it was there where she first met a dancer named Fred Astaire.  At that point, Fred was not as well known and only called in to help fix a few dance steps in the production.  But he was quickly making a name for himself on the stage with his sister Adele after many years dancing together.  Once Fred and Ginger were both on Broadway, they soon got to know one another much better.  According to her autobiography, they once even dated; they dined, and danced, and shared a steamy goodnight kiss.  She surmised they might have gone on dating had she not moved out to Hollywood to be in the movies.  But once she did, Ginger wouldn't see Fred again until he joined her at RKO and they made their first film together--Flying Down to Rio (1933).  Though he was now married and all about business--so much so that he resisted kissing co-stars onscreen--their chemistry was still strong and captivated audiences.  Their supporting parts in Rio would turn into leading roles for 9 more pictures together, including 1935's Top Hat

Though Top Hat is often the film of theirs that is most remembered, Swing Time is the one that actually seemed to be the greater success.  It broke box office records at the time, blasting past the enormously popular Top Hat two years earlier.  It is also the one that is called out time and time again by film critics for the movie's difficult dance numbers, particularly "Waltz in Swing Time" and "Never Gonna Dance."  The songs for the film, too, are some of the greatest of all time and include the Oscar-winning "The Way You Look Tonight."  Swing Time also happens to be Ginger's favorite of any film she ever did, with reasons ranging from the "incredible sensitivity" of director George Stevens (Woman of the Year, A Place in the Sun) to the glorious costumes by Bernard Newman.

I often speak of how much the areas of fashion and costume design dovetail one another, and one of the greatest examples of this is Bernard Newman.  Newman started at Bergdorf Goodman in New York as a window dresser and worked his way up to be the store's head designer.  There he built a celebrity clientele who bought and wore his clothing, such as 1930s style star Kay Francis who loved his signature slinky designs.  Newman remained in New York until 1933 when he was called to Hollywood to become RKO's head costume designer.  He would stay with RKO until 1937--working with actresses like Katharine Hepburn and Lucille Ball in addition to Ginger--and then went back to his post at Bergdorf Goodman.  Though he would still do films now and then for Columbia and Warner Brothers into the 1940s, his full-time career was once again with the fashion industry.  Thus, though a giant of film costume design, Newman both began and ended his career in fashion.

Bernard Newman and his signature slinky bias cut on actress Lily Pons (above)
and Newman (below, second from left) with some of the greatest costume designers of all time--
(l-r-) Orry-Kelly, Travis Banton, Edith Head, Adrian, and Irene

Newman and Ginger had a great working that was completely collaborative.  He always began a film asking her what she wanted and together they fleshed out the design.  He valued her opinion and knew she was the expert for what would work on the dance floor.  He also knew that making Ginger feel her most beautiful would translate in her performance.  It wasn't hard to do.  She had a phenomenal figure--just under 5'5" with measurements of 34-24-35--that many miss since she didn't really capitalize on it like others such as Lana Turner who had nearly the same measurements.  All dresses were fit to her tiny figure by Newman's trusted cutter Marie Ree (who happens to be my friend Christian Esquevin's great aunt) and built for serious movement.  As a result, the costumes look just as lovely while completely still as they are in motion.

The team's most famous collaboration was the "Cheek to Cheek" feathered gown for Top Hat, but Newman also helped Ginger realize another "dream dress" for this film's "Waltz in Swing Time."  It was made of pink organza with one-inch ruffles on the sleeves and hem that looked like petals forming a rosette.  Another dress from Swing Time--the "Never Gonna Dance" bias cut gown--is perhaps the sexiest dress Ginger ever wore.  She looks so luscious that you would never guess how much strain she was under while wearing it.  "Never Gonna Dance" was the pair's most ambitious number together and one that was plagued with problems; everything seemed to go wrong while shooting, which took more than 48 takes and made Ginger's feet bleed in her shoes.  Yet, without complaint, she powered through and the dress became the film's most influential, inspiring countless copies at the time and many an homage continue to exist in fashion today. "I can never emphasize enough how important clothing was to me," Ginger said, relating to these costumes in her autobiography.  For her, they made the difference between a performance that was good and one that was great.

And so, as today is Ginger's birthday, I wanted to celebrate by highlighting her talent in her favorite film--Swing Time.  In it you can see that she was a natural comedienne and an actress with a gift for effortlessly weaving emotions into her dance numbers.  You could feel what she was thinking, whether it was frustration, amusement, or love of her dance partner.  Because of this, Astaire once remarked that the success of their partnership was due mostly to Ginger.  There was also a little lust, of course, which is shown to great effect in Swing Time.  Her emotions are also captured and communicated by her costumes, which are designed by the equally gifted Bernard Newman.  They, too, worked in concert together to create designs that helped define 1930s style and have continued to be influential in fashion--everyone from Halston in the 1970s to Gucci and Oscar de la Renta today.  This is why Swing Time is one of The Style Essentials on GlamAmor.  See just some of the Cinema Connections below.

If you love Ginger's style and others from this era, join me this Saturday for a live webinar on the HISTORY OF FASHION IN FILM 1930s.  Just click the link for more information and to register.  Hope to see you there!

"Never Gonna Dance"

This bias cut gown is perhaps the sexiest that Ginger ever wore
and really shows off her fantastic figure

Deceptively simple, this gown was an immediate hit in 1930s fashion
and continues to be copied by designers today

 One of the most beautiful of the Great White Sets from Van Nest Polglase and Carroll Clark,
who did art direction on other Astaire/Rogers films as well

Even the back of this gorgeous gown is inspirational in design

Of course the movement of any of Ginger's gowns is of the greatest importance
and this one is truly remarkable in all that it can do

Charlize Theron's celebrated Gucci at the 2004 Oscars
is just one of many modern gowns that owe some inspiration to Swing Time

"Pick Yourself Up"

This number is celebrated as one of Ginger's most exuberant
and the pleated skirt perfectly accentuates her every movement in their polka

Ginger, as always, looking luminous
and wearing a dress that captures many of the elements of her signature style

Brands like ASOS (above) and Lavish Alice (below)
borrow inspiration from Ginger's swing dress

"The Way You Look Tonight"

Fred, influential in his own signature style,
sings the song that would go on to win the Oscar

After trying everything from shaving cream to eggs to simulate shampoo, 
Ginger suggested whipped cream and it would go on to inspire ads and commercials to come

Prell is just one brand that took advantage of what Ginger learned from the Swing Time shoot

"Waltz in Swing Time"

The costume first starts covered by a cape,
which is removed to reveal the pink organza gown with 30 self-covered buttons in its bodice

 Ginger's gowns are always stunning coming or going
as shown by another beautiful back on this gown

It should be noted that Ginger's gown took some inspiration from Adrian's famous Letty Lynton (1932) dress

Designers like Oscar de la Renta (shown here in gowns from his 2011 collections)
frequently take inspiration from Swing Time

Thanks to Christian Esquevin for use of Bernard Newman photo

Monday, July 7, 2014

You're Invited! Discover HISTORY OF FASHION IN FILM 1930s in Live Webinar 7/19

Back by popular demand--we're now in the midst of the second round of my series on the HISTORY OF FASHION IN FILM 1920s-1970s!

If you love style in the movies, join me for the next in this live 6-part webinar series to learn all about THE STYLE ESSENTIALS: HISTORY OF FASHION IN FILM.  The Style Essentials represent iconic costume design in the movies that immediately impacted fashion and continues to influence the industry today.  This is an online version of the HISTORY OF FASHION IN FILM course I teach at Woodbury University and in presentations around Southern California.  There is one webinar per decade from the 1920s to the 1970s. 

Our second webinar focuses on the style icons from Old Hollywood during the 1930s--including Marlene Dietrich, Jean Harlow, Ginger Rogers, and Joan Crawford.  You can see those stars and more from our upcoming decades and discussions in the collage above.  Each presentation includes live video of me discussing the film history, costumes, costume and fashion designers, and fascinating backstories of the stars alongside stills from the movies and images that show their influence on fashion today.  

Cost is $20 per webinar, which also includes sessions of Q&A.  Each one of these live classes takes place one Saturday per month starting at 10:30 am PT.  But if you miss the live classes, fear not.  You can view the video recordings at any time for only $10.  

The more the merrier, so be sure to share with all your friends.  I look forward to seeing you there!

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER for any one of the webinars--
whether live or recorded  

The 1920s--The Jazz Age

Saturday, June 21st
2 hours

The 1930s--Art Deco Elegance

Saturday, July 19th
2.5 hours

The 1940s--Film Noir Style

Saturday, August 16th
3 hours

The 1950s--Opposites Attract

Saturday, September 20th
3 hours

The 1960s--Revolution

Saturday, October 18th
2.5 hours

The 1970s--Everybody's All American

Saturday, November 15th
2.5 hours

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Red Carpet Ready for La Jolla International Fashion Film Festival Courtesy of Mon Atelier

As I recently announced, I will be both a Presenter of the HISTORY OF FASHION IN FILM and Grand Juror for the International Fashion Film Awards at the upcoming La Jolla Fashion Film Festival.  And, as if having these two roles at this prestigious event wasn't honor enough, I am now thrilled to add I will be dressed for the opening and closing night red carpets exclusively by Mon Atelier!

Mon Atelier is the only couturier of its kind in Los Angeles and I have long been an admirer of its designer Ali Rahimi.  I'm not the only one--Anjelica Huston, Mariska Hargitay, and Eva Longoria are just some of their clientele.  No one appreciates and celebrates the connection between classic cinema and design better than the team behind Mon Atelier.  I couldn't be more excited.  See why--take a peek inside their glamorous salon in an article I did when I visited them in 2012 (below).  Though I focus on their lovely chiffon gowns in the piece, you will soon see that they offer many more examples of timeless style.

Stay tuned!


For those of us who love the style of the Golden Age of Hollywood, our imaginations run wild at the thought of the studios' costume design departments.  Designing giants such as Adrian and Helen Rose at MGM and Travis Banton and Edith Head at Paramount had lavish salons where they saw their clients, who were the most beautiful women in the world.  Stars like Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, and Grace Kelly visited these lavish ateliers that were filled with racks of custom-made gowns and fit to perfection by an army of assistants in front of three-way mirrors.  And in between their costume changes, the ladies could lounge on chaises, light a cigarette, and sip coffee (or cocktails) while gossiping about their life in Hollywood.  Though those days of the great studio system are now long gone, one Los Angeles boutique has done more than remember that time....Mon Atelier has brought that storied elegance back in both its couture as well as its stylish salon.

ABOVE: dreamy lemon chiffon fit for Lana Turner in the window at Mon Atelier

Edith Head at her Paramount salon with Grace Kelly preparing for To Catch a Thief

The design talent behind Mon Atelier is Ali Rahimi, a couturier whose brilliance appeared early in life; family found him creating clothes as a mere 6-year-old.  He studied design at school then worked his way through the fashion industry from sourcing to pattern making (the key to a great production process) to full-time design.  His love for classic cinema informed his design as well as the steadfast belief that the right dress makes a woman come to life.  Thus, he decided on a course of custom-made couture and started Mon Atelier in 1990.  He and partner John Barle opened their boutique on La Brea Avenue in 1996 and customers came running, including many second generation Hollywood like Mariska Hargitay (Jayne Mansfield's daughter), Joely Fisher (Connie Stevens' daughter), and Anjelica Huston (John Huston's daughter).  Oscar nominees Angela Bassett and Amy Adams are also among their fans.  As a testament to their timeless style, their clothes have been worn by girls of all ages--from a 3-month-old in a wedding to a 94-year-old Carol Channing when she performed at the Kennedy Center Honors.

As a customer, you truly experience luxury when you visit Mon Atelier.  When you arrive, the salon is bathed in a warm glow and walled with gowns in the most luxurious (often vintage) fabrics you've ever seen.  Silks, sequins, feathers, and lace are all around you.  It's hard to miss the infusion of Old Hollywood style, especially in the extraordinary craftsmanship of their built-in corsets and hand beading.  I've enjoyed hours with Ali and John talking about classic cinema and fashion.  For them, the connection is direct.  They are well-versed in film history and sources of inspiration frequently come from costume designers Jean Louis and Helen Rose as well as stars like Lana Turner, Doris Day, and Loretta Young.  In fact, anyone who works with the duo is given a list of required viewing, including Lana's Jean Louis wardrobe in Imitation of Life (1959) and one of my own Style Essentials Pillow Talk (1959).

Mon Atelier is known for gorgeous gowns, but they also have tailored suiting for women that is equally timeless in its design.  In fact, I was first introduced to the brand by Patricia Ward Kelly--Mrs. Gene Kelly--at the TCM Classic Film Festival.  There she stood on the red carpet in a perfectly cut navy suit from Mon Atelier, which made me immediately approach her.  Because of my own classic style, we struck up a conversation that included her great compliment to me, "Gene would approve!"  An introduction to Ali and John quickly followed as well as an invitation to the Centennial Tribute to Gene Kelly at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science (AMPAS).  There she looked radiant in Mon Atelier once again.  And she wore yet another custom-made suit when she recently appeared on TCM to introduce Gene's greatest movies--such as An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain--on what would have been his 100th birthday.

Everyone understands my passion for classic cinema and its incredible style, and Mon Atelier is some of the most perfect design I have ever seen.  It captures the magic that we love from Old Hollywood costume design while making it absolutely modern for today.  And because each of Ali's gowns, dresses, and suits are custom-made...well, you just have to feel like the luckiest woman in the world wearing them.  So steady yourself, ladies.  If you love fashion at its highest art form, Mon Atelier will positively set your heart racing.

Welcome to Mon Atelier

The sitting room is perhaps my favorite part of the salon

Mon Atelier is famous for luxurious fabrics that even include limited supplies of vintage
that are used to their best advantage in both men's ties as well as newly designed dresses

One wall of the atelier is full of color-blocked gowns

A favorite Little Black Dress--it's perfect, isn't it?

Speaking of perfection, you can see inspiration from Lana Turner 
in their yellow and white goddess much my own personal style

Ethereal gowns in white line the other side of the salon

I adore white dresses...look at the detail and design differences in these gowns

Caftans are all the rage and I adore this one in orange floral sequins

John capturing me in a mirror that once belonged to MGM (and possibly Helen Rose herself)

Time to say good-bye...for now

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