Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cinema Style File--Signature Edith Head Style in 1954's WHITE CHRISTMAS

Every year I love sharing examples of Classic Holidays--the photographs, radio programs, vintage video, and films of holidays past 1920s to 1970s.  These include GlamAmor-ous Holiday Moments from It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Meet me in St. Louis (1944). Or Cinema Style Files on films like The Desk Set (1957) and The Thin Man (1934). Then there are photographs of holidays in Hollywood in 1939 and 1950.  There's also an entire Classic Holidays playlist on GlamAmor's YouTube channel.  Just some of my way of celebrating the season in style.

I couldn't think of a better way to kick off this holiday season than with 1954's White Christmas.  There's so much to love about this movie.  For one, that soundtrack filled with catchy song after song...all written by super sophisticate Irving Berlin and sung by the likes of legends Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney.  Though the song "White Christmas" was originally written for World War II's Holiday Inn (1942), this is the movie where it found itself the center of a "slam bang finish" to become a standard for the ages.  All the songs are tied together brilliantly to make up the story of White Christmas, which was told by none other than director Michael Curtiz.  Curtiz was responsible for directing Warner Brothers masterpieces such as Casablanca (1942, oft declared the Best Movie of all Time) and film noir classic Mildred Pierce (1945). White Christmas itself was the industry's biggest money maker of 1954...taking advantage of the holidays, Technicolor, and being the first movie screened in VistaVision to bring in the audiences and away from their new televisions.

But perhaps the biggest reason for me to love White Christmas is its costume designer--Edith Head.  As many know, Edith is practically my patron saint...a designing dynamo whose talent and ambition first inspired me some 20 years ago. Seeing Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) was an experience that would forever impact my life.  I almost felt my brain chemistry change when looking at those costumes for the first time.  "That," I remember thinking, "is how everyone should dress." Grace Kelly's fashionable Rear Window wardrobe was actually created the same year as White Christmas, showing how the mid-1950s were arguably the peak of Ms. Head's career.  Edith would go on to design for Hitchcock once again the following year in To Catch a Thief (1955), which she considered her best work ever.

From a style standpoint, Edith's signature is everywhere in White Christmas.  That bold use of color, for one.  I always remember loving how the movie moves from an outdoor club in Florida to a cozy lodge in Vermont.  Thus, the girls' costume changes range from the most tropical of turquoises--the perfect Miami color--to darker colors like deep pine green and black for the Northeast.  Rosemary's black velvet gown for the "Love Didn't Do Right By Me" number happens to be one of my favorites dresses that Edith has ever done.  The carefully cut decolletage in both the front and back with a brooch pinned above the bustle is just breathtaking.  Stunning.

Another interesting part of White Christmas' style story is the suiting.  This was a rare occasion when Edith did the clothes for the men as well as the women.  She loved this even more than designing for the ladies...finding that men had wayyyyyyyyyyyyy less ego when it came to costumes and seemed to better respect dressing for character rather than the individual.  Bing Crosby also already knew he was in good hands with Edith since she designed costumes throughout the 1940s for his seven Road pictures with Bob Hope.  I love that the tailored fit and clean lines of her men's suiting is what she preferred in her designs for women as well.  You'll see it in their suiting, of course--just think of Kim Novak in Vertigo--but it also carried through to dresses, robes, coats, and separates such as Rosemary's yellow blouse and long black pencil skirt in White Christmas.

There are plenty of truly timeless designs in 1954's White Christmas and amazing that even in a holiday classic we can find cinema's influence on fashion.  Edith's turquoise lace dresses for "Sisters," for example, are beloved by nearly every designer today and a big inspiration for the colorful lace dresses that are now on trend for Fall/Winter 2012.  This influence is not a surprise to anyone who has seen A Conversation with Edith Head, which I just saw and so enjoyed celebrating the costume designing icon with the show's co-creators--star Susan Claassen and biographer and publisher Paddy Calistro.  White Christmas shares just some of why we love her so.  Long live Edith Head! 

Happy holidays!

As everyone knows, I adore the tropics
so Novello's in Miami is heavenly

We are introduced to the Haynes sisters--Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera Ellen)--
in holiday-colored robes before they perform their act at Novello's

These turquoise lace fit and flare dresses for "Sisters" are perfectly created for Technicolor

Beautiful longsleeve sequined pink chiffon on Judy
and lavender chiffon with a beautiful back on Betty

Edith loved dressing the men for White Christmas...
Danny is dressed in monochromatic gray--suit, socks, shoes--
to keep the longest possible lines during "The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing"

One of the highlights of the movie is the song "Snow"

Look at the suiting on Bing and Danny--perfectly tailored classic gray and slim tie choices (love the one on Bing!)

Getting off the train in Vermont looking chic,
especially Judy with those accents of leopard on her hat, belt, and bag

Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) move their Broadway show to Vermont to help,
but Betty mistakenly thinks they're doing it for the wrong reasons

While trying to push Bob and Betty closer together
Judy gets cozy with Phil in a classic black and white ensemble with accents of red in the belt and shoes

Another gorgeous dress on Betty in a deep forest green velvet
with skinny straps in front and back

Judy is dressed in a longsleeve white lace dress for her faux wedding announcement

The plan backfires and Betty decides to head out on her own

Bob tries to keep Betty from heading to New York
and she looks stunning in a belted coat with fur cuffs and hat

One of my favorite gowns of all time--this black velvet stunner
with carefully cut decolletage in front and back (sealed with a brooch)

Future Oscar winner George Chakiris (Westside Story) is one of the dancers 
who accompanies Rosemary for "Love Didn't Do Right By Me"

Bob finally clears up the misunderstanding and lured his love back to Vermont for the show

All is forgiven as Betty returns for Christmas Eve

In cute tailored uniforms courtesy of Edith Head for the "Back in the Army" number

Classic cardinal Christmas costumes for the "White Christmas" finale
when the snow finally comes to Vermont


News from Suz said...

Wow - what a fabulous blog Kimberly!! Absolutely terrific - just like you!

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you so much, Suz! xo

Melissa Clark said...

I'm sure it will come as no surprise to you that I love this movie, and that the costumes are a big part of why! I especially love Vera Ellen's clothes and accessories. She has the best jewelry, bags, hats and scarves. Rosemary Clooney is no slouch, either. Her black evening gown is one of my all-time favorite movie costumes, too -- one of the best dresses ever in the movies. That neckline, that tiny waist, wow! Adding a big sparkly brooch to the back was a stroke of genius. Brava, Edith, brava! :-)

Love the gentlemen too, especially Danny Kaye in monochromatic gray for his dance with Vera Ellen. Kaye isn't someone I normally think of as particularly attractive, but he is during that number because of how he moves and how he leads Vera Ellen in the dance. Even though they're both professionals doing a rehearsed dance, you can see that he knows his role as lead and it's pretty sexy the way he guides her around the dance floor and supports her in her backbends and other fancy moves.

Oh, I just adore this movie. It's so funny, romantic, touching and gorgeous to look at. Your post has inspired me to move it to the top of my holiday to-watch list. (I literally have a list. Must make sure to fit in all the classic Christmas movies I want to see by December 25th, after all!)

Hope you're having a lovely holiday season so far.


Marline said...

This cracks me up!!! Kimberly, between the two of us, we should be singing "Sisters!" I just love that we launched our White Christmas blogs within a day of each other. Now, if everyone doesn't run out and rent White Christmas, it certainly won't be because we didn't try! Kudos to us for spotting THE style movie of the season! Come visit and see my take on this's a focus on Vera-Ellen. I'll plug your blog in my comments, too! Love, Kay

Kimberly Truhler said...

Happy holidays, Melissa! So great to hear from you and not a surprise that you love WHITE CHRISTMAS as much as I do. :) I mean, two words--Edith Head. I knew I would be covering this movie immediately after the holidays last year. And with my recent visit to Suz's tour de force in A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD, the timing was perfect. My favorites from the show are Rosemary Clooney's (obviously), so I love hearing from you and Kay your love for Vera Ellen! Just shows how much there is to enjoy in this design.

And yes, the men are dashing! Danny does look wonderful dancing with Vera...they work so well together. And the chemistry between the four of them is really divine. I believe in each one as the character they play.

Love that you've got a holiday Must See list! Me too!

Ice skating this weekend as part of the holiday fun. Enjoy the season!

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thank you for sharing your post, Kay! I love it. Yes indeed, we are definitely singing "Sisters" in unison...WHITE CHRISTMAS will likely enjoy a bit of a bump. ;) lol What I especially love is that we share different ways to look at the same costume design, which shows you just how good it is. And we're not even doing a focus on the men! We both share a deep deep affection for Edith Head--as is so brilliantly shown in your recent Octboer series on the master--and WHITE CHRISTMAS shows why. Happy happy holidays, sister!

Anonymous said...

Oh my, I've never seen White Christmas because (big confession here) I can't abide Bing Crosby. But I do like Danny Kaye--and now that's you've show the clothes, I want to see it. Thanks for opening my eyes! Katherine Louise

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thanks Katherine Louise! I think we all have stars that we're not the hugest fans of, so completely understandable that you would skip this one if you're not a Bing fan. But I'm glad that you found a way that you can enjoy WHITE CHRISTMAS, whether it's Danny or just all those clothes! I look forward to hearing your own review of it. :) Happy holidays!

Silver Screenings said...

This whole movie is really a testament to Edith Head's talent. I think my fave is that stunning black gown Rosemary Clooney wears. She never struck me as the glamourous type, but she's a goddess in this gown!

Kimberly Truhler said...

I so agree, Silver Screenings! So agree. Rosemary had never looked so gorgeous in her entire life. I mean, just absolutely amazing. Loved seeing Edith push her own boundaries a bit with the design of the decolletage. Added detail without stepping too far away from her minimalist aesthetic. Thanks so much for sharing and happy holidays!

Anonymous said...

My Thanksgiving dessert...putting White Christmas in the DVD player...the season has officially begun for me! So happy to find a kindred spirit. I always wanted Vera Ellen's robe and camel coat. As for Miss Head...what can I say, I have so many books on her life and work. One of my biggest regrets in life was missing out on seeing her back in the 80s. She was visiting a fabric store in Framingham Mass. I couldn't get anyone to go with me and didn't want to take the 90 minute ride at night in winter by myself...looking back I would have!!Thanks for a great post.

Kimberly Truhler said...

Awwww thank you! I know that everyone who has chimed in here joins in your sentiments about WHITE CHRISTMAS. It is an absolute must see and one of the first of the holiday classics in my DVD player after Thanksgiving as well. :) It's just soooooo good in so many ways. And I cannot believe how close you came to meeting the great EDITH HEAD! WOW! Hearing that story gave me chills. Speaking of which, if you ever get a chance to see the one-woman play A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD, you must. It travels the country, so there's a chance it could come near you. I spent time with Suz, who plays Edith to perfection, and you walk away feeling like you spent time with the master. Simply amazing.

Thanks for your comments!

mto said...

Kimberly, do you know if Edith Head designed the jewelry, also? I didn't think she designed any, just fashions. I wonder if someone like Joseff of Hollywood designed it? Although they didn't usually do very rhinestony stuff like in White Christmas. I'm a vintage costume jewelry collector/dealer, so the jewelry also fascinates me, like those big blue rhinestone earrings Vera Ellen wore with the blue dresses. Marilyn (

Kimberly Truhler said...

Hi Marilyn! I don't think Edith designed the jewelry, no. I've visited the Paramount archive and they still have quite a bit of jewelry from the Golden Years of the studio. I understand your fascination. Unfortunately, I can't say for sure the source of the jewelry for WHITE CHRISTMAS, though I may be able to find out if needed. :)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...