Prolific costume designer Theadora Van Runkle entered the movie business at the tail end of Hollywood's influence on fashion. Through her ingenuity and vision, the costumer made a name for herself in the business, becoming known for her consistent competence and remarkable take on the style of the recent past, with her work on films set in early to mid 20th Century America emerging as particularly strong examples. With the advent of the supermodel and the increased visibility of designers, the general public has become more aware of the fashion industry. In previous years, Hollywood films served as the major influence on fashion, Marlene Dietrich's trousers, Joan Crawford's shoulder pads, Rita Hayworth's strapless dresses and Elizabeth Taylor's gown in "A Place in the Sun" are all examples of how movie designs introduced new looks and set popular style parameters in previous decades. Van Runkle grew up in this fashion atmosphere and started in Hollywood when the trend was on the wane, but with her film debut "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967), the designer managed to revive the influence of movie fashion. She outfitted Faye Dunaway in remarkable 1930s period costumes with a decidedly modern flavor that appealed to contemporary women, a look that gained international popularity. Van Runkle's designs for Bonnie consisted of loose fitting suits with unstructured soft lines, sleek maxi skirts and smart berets that added up to a look marrying classic sophistication to modern comfort and ease. The designer was nominated for an Academy Award for her work, and "Bonnie and Clyde" would remain the most significant example of film influencing fashion in later years.
Van Runkle followed up her impressive debut with the hippie costumes of 1968's "I Love You, Alice B Toklas." That same year, she was the costume designer for "The Thomas Crown Affair," starring Steve McQueen and Dunaway and later outfitted McQueen in "Bullitt," skillfully representing his coolly masculine image with well put together but casual ensembles that offered impeccable style while maintaining the virile air of fashion apathy. In 1969, Van Runkle dressed McQueen in the period adventure "The Reivers" and designed costumes for "The Arrangement," working again with Dunaway, fashioning her as the archetypal other woman. The designer's period costumes for Raquel Welch were a gem in the campy comic misfire "Myra Breckinridge" (1970). This X-rated romp marked Mae West's return to film after an almost 30-year absence, with her costumes created by Edith Head, offering Van Runkle the opportunity to work along with the legendary Hollywood designer. Another inferior film, "Mame" (1974), starring Lucille Ball in a musical based on the 1966 Broadway hit (itself adapted from the 50s play and movie "Auntie Mame"), this lackluster star vehicle at least benefited from Van Runkle's appropriately eccentric costuming.
Probably best known for her work in period pieces, Van Runkle continued to shine, outfitting actors in artistic yet authentic styles. In 1974, the designer was nominated for an Oscar for her work on Francis Ford Coppola's acclaimed follow up "The Godfather, Part II." Her expertise was underlined with outstanding costuming for Peter Bogdanovich's early moviemaking tale "Nickelodeon" (1976) and especially "New York, New York" (1977), Martin Scorsese's big band-era set musical drama which earned her a BAFTA Award. Van Runkle received her third Academy Award nomination, for the time travel fantasy "Peggy Sue Got Married" (1982), capably creating styles for both the contemporary and 1950s-set story. She revisited the 60s in 1988's "Everybody's All American," a film spanning 25 years in the life of a high school golden boy. The designer's ability to recreate eras and invoke the passage of time was also exercised in "Stella" (1990), where her costumes acted as cues to time span as well as economic divergence.
Van Runkle dressed Dolly Parton in her provocative best for 1982's flashy "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and the notoriously contrived comedy "Rhinestone" (1984), starring the singer opposite cab driver Sylvester Stallone. Her zany satirical designer styles for Shelley Long's overly fashion conscious character in "Troop Beverly Hills" (1989) predated by five years the comparably gaudy Edina from BBC's "Absolutely Fabulous." 1991's "The Butcher's Wife" saw Van Runkle's efforts take shape in the sexy and ethereal styles worn by star Demi Moore. Although not as prolific as she has been in previous years, Van Runkle showed promise to continue working into the next millennium with costume credits in the 1999 releases "Goodbye Lover" and "I'm Losing You."
Notable television credits by the designer include Emmy Award-winning work in the 1983 medieval themed series "Wizards and Warriors" and her sleek fashions for "Mario Puzo's 'The Last Don'" (1997).
Costume-Wardrobe (Feature Film)
Costume-Wardrobe (TV Mini-Series)
Film debut as costume designer, "Bonnie and Clyde"; earned first Academy Award nomination; hired for job when Jeakins turned it down and recommended her
Outfitted the flamboyant hippies of "I Love You, Alice B.Toklas"
Helped to define Steve McQueen's appealing no-frills masculinity with designs for "Bullitt" and "The Thomas Crown Affair"; the latter also marked a reunion with star Faye Dunaway
Along with legendary Hollywood designer Edith Head, contributed costumes to the X-rated comedy "Myra Breckinridge"
Created the costumes for the musical "Mame," starring Lucille Ball
Received Oscar nomination for her period designs in "The Godfather, Part II"
Designed big band era costumes for Martin Scorsese's "New York, New York"
Was costume designer for the flashy film adaptation of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"
Nominated for an Academy Award for "Peggy Sue Got Married"
Designed the elaborate over-the-top fashions for "Troop Beverly Hills"
Illustrated time span and economic divergence with costumes for the remake of "Stella," starring Bette Midler
Created Demi Moore's sexy ethereal wardrobe in "The Butcher's Wife"
Designed costumes for the releases "I'm Losing You" and "Goodbye Lover"
Received final film credit, designing costumes for the Paul Sorvino directed sports drama "That Championship Season"
Received the Costume Designer Guild's Lifetime Achievement Award
Featured in the PBS documentary "Masters of Production: The Hidden Art of Hollywood"
Appeared in the behind-the-scenes documentary "Revolution! The Making of 'Bonnie and Clyde'"