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Edith Head

Edith Head

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Also Known As: Edith Posener Died: October 24, 1981
Born: October 28, 1897 Cause of Death: myelofibrosis of the bone marrow
Birth Place: San Bernardino, California, USA Profession: Costume-Wardrobe ... costume designer teacher
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BIOGRAPHY

With 35 Academy Award nominations, eight-time Oscar winner Edith Head emerged from Hollywood's fitting rooms to become a household name. One of the film industry's pioneering professional women, she became a major American fashion force, designing for Vogue patterns and airlines as well. Her ability to shape each gown to a character or image made her as popular with film directors as with the glamour girls she dressed in both their private lives and screen roles. Yet the image she devoted the most work to was her own. Her friendly frankness led to regular appearances on Art Linkletter's daytime television show in the 1950s, offering advice to the un-chic.

Born in California, Head studied at Stanford and was teaching French in 1923 at the Hollywood School for Girls when she bluffed her way into Paramount's wardrobe department. The workload might have overwhelmed anyone, but this feisty careerist used the volume and pace of designing for a healthy studio system to hone her style. Although she had a penchant for Mexican designs, Head's own appearance was deliberately severe, neutral and unsensuous, with cropped hair and her signature tinted eyeglasses. Yet she could turn other women into screen sirens.

In the 1920s, her designs transformed Clara Bow's squat body into an object of desire. Head then allowed Jean Harlow to display her best assets with an unforgettable bias-cut slip-dress. Head simplified the fin de siecle raunchiness of Mae West and learned to deal with the censors by covering her up--with skin-tight clothes. In the 1930s, when bare midriffs were the rage, Head learned how to get around the cinema censors' horror of the female navel. For the Biblical epic, "Samson and Delilah" (1949), Head created a famous peacock cape for Hedy Lamarr, extravagant even by Head's standards. She made Dorothy Lamour's sexy but wholesome sarong, Barbara Stanwyck's slinky Latin American wardrobe for "The Lady Eve" (1941), Ginger Rogers' increasingly mature "children's" outfits for her masquerade in "The Major and the Minor" (1942), the definitive tailored suit for Marlene Dietrich, the wasp-waisted gowns of Mary Martin, Veronica Lake, Bette Davis and Elizabeth Taylor, and for Ingrid Bergman men's clothes ("For Whom the Bell Tolls" 1943), a nun's habit ("The Bells of St. Mary's" 1945) and subtle espionage gear ("Notorious" 1946). Her talents were trumpeted by studio publicity departments determined to seize on fashion in films as a way of diverting attention from Paris and making Hollywood the arbiter of taste.

The "look" that stands out in Head's spectrum of styles is best exemplified in her designs for Hitchcock's blondes, particularly Grace Kelly's discreet sexiness, which she adapted for Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood.

In 1967, Head's contract at Paramount expired and was not renewed, despited 44 years of service. She moved her operation to Universal Studios and continued her workaholic pattern until her final film, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (1982), for which she adapted her own original designs for Steve Martin. Another of Head's male sartorial achievements was "The Sting" (1973), which launched one of many Head-inspired trends. In some 750 films through six decades, Head shaped the industry in the shape of its stars.

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