Thursday, February 09, 2006

Book:Gowns by Adrian: The MGM Years, 1928-1941

Adrian was a rare creature - having an accommodating personality, a canny marketing sense, and a signature design vocabulary - that made him invaluable to Hollywood's glamorous stars and legendary directors. His collaborations were major: with Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Jean Harlow, Mary Pickford, Judy Garland, Irene Dunne, Marion Davies, Myrna Loy, Janet Gaynor, Claudette Colbert, Katharine Hepburn, among others. Just as noteworthy were the star vehicles themselves, nearly 200 in all, classics many of them: Mata Hari, Grand Hotel, Dinner at Eight, Riptide, Camille, The Wizard of Oz, The Women, The Philadelphia Story.

Gowns by Adrian: The MGM Years, 1928-1941 is the first comprehensive look at this prodigiously talented designer in his glory years at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The result of more than 10 years of research, access to previously unavailable MGM personnel files, and containing many unpublished photographs and complete filmography, Gowns by Adrian brings us into the design studio and onto the sound stage and makes us privy to the everyday give-and-take between designer and star. For the reclusive Garbo, Adrian was the only designer who understood her wish to avoid revealing necklines or fur; Shearer was particular in another way: two versions of every dress were de rigeur before she would choose one of them; and Crawford, was there ever a star more demanding or more determined? As Adrian once exclaimed, "Who would have thought that my entire reputation as a designer would rest on Joan Crawford's shoulders!"

As author Howard Gutner makes clear in example after example, Adrian never lost sight of the character he was dressing or of his audience. "Screen presentation is vital and living. It is not a fashion magazine. It lives and breathes." Adrian wrote these words in 1936, and more than 65 years later we continue to believe him. He was a man concerned with modernity and credibility. Indeed, so popular were his costume designs that his clothes were regularly copied by the major department stores. (The “Letty Lynton”' dress, worn by Joan Crawford, reportedly sold upwards of 50,000 copies by Macy's alone.)

Whether it's the so-called kite lapels, the use of plaids, the ultra-wide belts, the crazy hats (so nobly defined by Garbo), or the soaring imagination that resulted in multi-tiered, heavily beaded, and embroidered confections, it's Adrian to whom we owe thanks. The arc of his design curve ended neither with his departure from MGM, nor with his death prematurely at the age of 56, but extends well into the present. Designers such as Geoffrey Beene, Halston, and Armani, to name a few, have all acknowledged his influence.

Adrian understood how Hollywood's finest could speak to the American woman on what has always been the most democratic showcase of all: the silver screen. Gowns by Adrian is a treasure chest of pictures and information, a book destined, like its subject, to become a classic

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