Costumes from the Golden Age of Hollywood!

Hollywood This week I took a trip up to Brisbane, Australia. Being from Melbourne, we flew up especially when we heard there was an exhibition of “Costumes from the Golden Age of Hollywood” on at the Museum of Brisbane. I conned my Mum into going on the bases that it would be a great way to get away for a while and have a mini mother-daughter holiday and the prospect of no work was what got her. We spent four days in the lovely city, exploring the CDB and the surrounding towns and in those four days we went back to the exhibition three times! The costumes are owned by a private collector, Brisbane resident Nicholas Inglis who has been kind enough to put them on display for the public. It’s layed out and organised extremely well with lots to see and read. It’s also been running for a while and is closing very soon so I don’t think I’ll be spoiling anything by posting some of my favourite costumes. However, if you’re going to see it and don’t want any spoilers then stop scrolling now!

I had two very favourite costumes of the the exhibition, one for sentimental reasons and the other for pure fashion!

Greer Garson gown from 'That Forsyte Woman' (1949), designed by Walter Plunkett
Greer Garson gown from ‘That Forsyte Woman’ (1949), designed by Walter Plunkett

Greer Garson is my favourite actress at the moment so to see one of her costumes (something that she actually wore!) in person was a dream come true! I knew it was going to be there and I tried not to go straight to it when we first entered but as soon as I turned a corner and saw it peaking out in my peripheral vision, I couldn’t help myself! I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on any of the other costumes if I hadn’t have relieved my excitement for this dress first! So I made a beeline for it, stood directly in front of it, stared at it for a while like an idiot (haha!) and then I was able to move on calmly. When I went back to the exhibition the second and third time, however, I did stare at it some more and I also eavesdropped on the conversations being held by those around me discussing it with their families and friends. Do you ever do that? Listen in on other peoples conversations about your passions to hear what they think? They were mainly nostalgic little old ladies remembering seeing Greer in Mrs Miniver (1942) and how lovely she was. That made my little fan-girl heart happy. The gown is made from wool and silk velvet.

Myrna Loy robe from 'I Love You Again' (1940), designed by Dolly Tree
Myrna Loy robe from ‘I Love You Again’ (1940), designed by Dolly Tree

My second and equal favourite was this Myrna Loy gown (which I later remembered was meant to be a robe) from I Love You Again (1940). I just adore the drape of it and even though it was designed in either 1939 or 1940, it just screams “1940s” which is my favourite decade for fashion. In the exhibition’s catalogue, this gown is described as a “white Grecian-style Hollywood nightgown with heavy gold beading and and metal decoration to bring emphasis to the shoulders… It’s neckline plunges to reveal Loy’s decolletage, with open draped sleeves and a clinched waist construction to create a curvaceous silhouette.” It’s made from peignoir, rayon and brass beads. Isn’t it just gorgeous?!!

Carole Landis outfit from 'Having Wonderful Crime' (1945) designed by Edward Stevenson
Carole Landis outfit from ‘Having Wonderful Crime’ (1945), designed by Edward Stevenson

There is something about the 1940s suit that I just adore! The tailored lines, the strong shoulders and small waists are so indicative of the glamour in female empowerment. Carole Landis’ outfit in Having Wonderful Crime (1945) is to die for! I haven’t seen the film myself but after having seen this suit and some of the other gowns in the film, it’s been etched into my “To Watch” list in indelible ink! This costume was a gift to Nicholas Inglis from Debbie Reynold’s for whom he helped identify and catalogue many of the items for her auction in 2014. It’s navy blue rayon with glass beads.

Lana Turner gown from 'Diane' (1956) designed by Walter Plunkett
Lana Turner gown from ‘Diane’ (1956) designed by Walter Plunkett

I’ve not seen this film but I love Lana Turner, especially in the 1950s and 60s when she was given more meaty roles, and this gown is just stunning! Made from silk velvet, silk brocade, silk, braid, pearls, diamentes and brass beads, the original shoes are also on display and you can see the writing on the in-souls that identifies them as Lana Turner’s.

Ann Rutherford dress from 'Pride and Prejudice' (1940), designed by Adrian
Ann Rutherford dress from ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (1940), designed by Adrian

This costume is also quite close to my heart as I’ve loved this version of Pride and Prejudice (1940) for so long! I know die-hard Jane Austen fans have had a few choice words to say about it but I don’t have a problem with it not being quite “true” to the novel. I love the history behind this film and the costume designer’s choice to go with Romantic Era fashions rather than Regency in which Austen’s original story was set. Adrian thought the Romantic style would aid in presenting the Bennett sisters as “silly young girls” as the “poofiness” of the skirts would bounce comically along the ground as the sisters walked. The dress is made of wool, silk velvet, silk tulle and organza.

Katharine Hepburn dress from 'Little Women' (1933), designed by Walter Plunkett
Katharine Hepburn dress from ‘Little Women’ (1933), designed by Walter Plunkett

Katharine Hepburn was the very first actress I came to love from Classic Hollywood so to see one of her costumes in personal was also a real treat! I love this version of Little Women and thought Katharine was just perfect as the tom-boyish Jo. This dress is made from wool and the bolero is reproduction; the colour and fabric did look too vibrant to be original.

Deborah Kerr outfit from 'Tea and Sympathy' (1956), designed by Helen Rose
Deborah Kerr outfit from ‘Tea and Sympathy’ (1956), designed by Helen Rose

In all honesty, this one has me baffled. I was so excited to see it as Tea and Sympathy (1956) is my favourite Deborah Kerr film but I watched it again last night and the outfits just don’t look right to me. The more I compare the costume on display at the exhibition to the costumes in the film, the more I doubt that it’s really the one from the movie. The only one that even remotely resembles it is the one I’ve pictured of Deborah here on the right which was also the photo exhibited with the costume. But if you look closely, the shirt that Deborah is wearing has a pocket and the one on display doesn’t. It is possible that the pocket has been taken off but look at the skirt! You can’t really tell in the photo but they are completely different colours. One is brown and one is an orange-like terracotta. I’m sure Mr. Inglis has done his research though so I’m sure it is the real deal. It just has me a little stumped. If it is the real thing though, then I’m very happy to have seen it indeed!

The outfit is made from wool and silk.

Barbara Stanwyck gown from 'Titanic' (1953), designed by Dorothy Jeakins
Barbara Stanwyck gown from ‘Titanic’ (1953), designed by Dorothy Jeakins

Just to see any Barbara Stanwyck gown is wonderful! I’m not a huge fan of this film but it’s lovely to have seen such a gorgeous, bias cut gown worn by the great Queen Barbara! It’s made from silk satan, diamentes and bugle beads for the straps. And doesn’t the organza wrap look stunning with it in the film?!

Greta Garbo jacket from 'Queen Christina' (1933), designed by Adrian
Greta Garbo jacket from ‘Queen Christina’ (1933), designed by Adrian

Do I even have to explain why see this one was incredible?! It’s Garbo, for goodness sake! I audibly gasped when I saw it! I had actually forgotten that I’d seen another, much more stunning costume (a full length, glittering gown!) from Queen Christina (1933) at another costume exhibition, but funnily enough, I think this jacket/costume is the more famous of the two. Designed by Adrian, it’s style is perfectly indicative of the Garbo legend and to see it right there in front of me was such a thrill! Made from silk velvet and metal buttons, it’s just so beautiful.

Claudette Colbert costume from 'Cleopatra' (1934), designed by Travis Banton
Claudette Colbert costume from ‘Cleopatra’ (1934), designed by Travis Banton

Just a really unique costume, this one! I have yet to see Cleopatra (1934) but it’s been on my list for ages and it’s lovely to have seen this gown. Nicely detailed, it’s made from rayon crepe and silk chiffon.

Jeanette MacDonald gown from 'San Francisco' (1936), designed by Adrian
Jeanette MacDonald gown from ‘San Francisco’ (1936), designed by Adrian

This gown was apparently one of several copies made for the film, designed to withstand a long filming schedule and the necessary rigorous earthquake scenes. It’s also said to be the last remaining version. It looked very worn and rather ravaged and I couldn’t see that many beads left. In the photo on the right, you can see it’s covered in shiny glass beads but in the photo on the left they seem to have all come off. I love Jeanette MacDonald and this film so it’s still a delight to have seen it and interesting to learn about it’s history. It’s made from silk chiffon, crepe de chine, glass bead embroidery and dyed ostrich feathers.

Bette Davis costume from 'The Virgin Queen' (1955), designed by Mary Wills
Bette Davis costume from ‘The Virgin Queen’ (1955), designed by Mary Wills

I’d never seen a Bette Davis dress in person so this one was very special to me too! Bette Davis was the second actress I went through an “obsessive” phase with and, as a result, I’ve collected most of her vast catalogue of films. The Virgin Queen (1955) is not one of my favourites, I found it rather clunky, but it was exciting to see this costume and exciting that it was almost complete! It’s got it’s original hat and belt and the only thing missing is the necklace/medal; unless you count the gloves and shoes. It’s made from cotton, wool baize, brass buttons, fur, feathers and, funnily enough, cardboard!

Joan Crawford dress from 'The Gorgeos Hussy' (1936), designed by Adrian
Joan Crawford dress from ‘The Gorgeous Hussy’ (1936), designed by Adrian

Adrian is quite possibly my favourite Classic Hollywood designer, along with Edith Head, and what better to showcase his work than a Joan Crawford gown?! Adrian was credited with creating the famous Crawford shoulder-padded look and this dress, though not synonymous with the usual “modern” Crawford style, emphasises her shoulders to the extreme! While I don’t always love Adrian’s bizarre penchant for putting a whimsical spin on period costumes and often disregarding period accuracy altogether (as with Pride and Prejudice), I do love his legend and I love reading about these odd tendencies. I also absolutely adore Joan Crawford (I wrote my Honours thesis on her) so again, it was a thrill to see this gown. I’d seen one Crawford costume from Mildred Pierce (1945) prior to this exhibition and THAT was something I will always treasure! It was in the middle of writing my thesis so I was right in the “fan-girl zone!” This gown is made from silk taffeta and silk braid.

Lucille Ball dress from 'The Long, Long Trailer' (1953, designed by Helen Rose
Lucille Ball dress from ‘The Long, Long Trailer’ (1953, designed by Helen Rose

Now THIS one was a happy surprise! How rare to see anything Lucille Ball related in Australia! As the description that went with the dress said, her costumes are still highly sought after as she is still hugely popular, particularly and not surprisingly in the U.S., so I’m sure Nicholas Inglis was thrilled to be able to add this item to his collection! It’s such a beautiful, thoroughly “1950s” dress and so perfectly “Lucy!” It has discoloured with time, as so many of the costumes have, but still so lovely and frothy! Lucy is another actress I’ve “obsessed” over.

The gown is made of silk voile and lace.

Gloria Swanson nightgown from 'Sunset Boulevard' (1950), designed by Edith Head
Gloria Swanson nightgown from ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (1950), designed by Edith Head

Finally, I was ecstatic to see this nightgown from my favourite movie of all time Sunset Boulevard (1950)! Gloria Swanson’s performance in this film floors me every time and I cannot praise Edith Head’s costumes enough! This nightgown is actually the first costume you see when you enter the exhibition and it’s displayed all on it’s own with a clip of the final scene of the film to accompany it. I’m sure it was chosen as the opening exhibit as the film itself is about Hollywood! Extremely fitting and a wonderful way to introduce the viewer to the incredible array of costumes they are about to see!

The exhibition was WELL worth the trip interstate for me (and I of course reassured my Mum that I had a great little holiday with her too) and it was definitely worth going back a second and third time. The first time I went it was busy, the second it was packed with people and the third was lovely and quiet so I could take my time.

It’s wonderful of Mr. Inglis to display some of his collection for the public as many private collectors do not and as a result the costumes are hidden away and sadly forgotten. I wish I could thank him personally and I hope that he is able display more of his collection in the future. For a Classic Hollywood lover living in Australia, it was truly a dream come true!

If you’d like to see the exhibition, you better hurry as it closes this month.

The free exhibition is on at the Museum of Brisbane until May 24th, 2015.

Hope you enjoyed

Jessica-Ellen X

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