Letty Lynton is a film that was long thought to be lost to the public. In 1938, it was sadly sued for copyright infringement and was consequently pulled from circulation but the film has survived in various forms in terrible condition and no attempts have yet been made to restore it. It’s not available on DVD or VHS, yet it’s said to be one of the most influential films on the fashion industry in Hollywood history!
I came across a copy a few years ago when I was doing research for my thesis on Joan Crawford and it was almost unwatchable! It was scratched to within an inch of its life, the sound had pops and cracks and it appeared over-exposed. But it was still possible to follow the story and, more importantly, see the gowns!
Joan Crawford plays socialite Letty Lynton who finds herself with an abusive ex-lover. Crawford often played a socialite which gave costume designers an excuse to dress her to the nines, however it wasn’t always easy. Crawford had odd features for an actress of her time and many designers had trouble disguising her square jawline and broad shoulders. But it took one particular designer to discover the secret to her glamour. Gilbert Adrian realised that these things should not be disguised, they should be emphasised!
For Letty Lynton, Adrian created what is now known as “The Crawford Look”!
He designed a dress to reflect the 1930s eagerness to “get back to femininity” after the flapper years and thus yards and yards of fluffy organza was used to create an excessive ruffled effect. The waist was cinched to show off Crawford’s best attribute and the shoulders were emphasised, as Adrian desired. When the dress finally debuted in the film, it set of a nation-wide fashion craze as every woman decided she wanted to look like Joan Crawford! Thousands of more affordable copies were made for department store sales and allegedly every single one of them sold! Edith Head once said it was “the single most important influence on fashion in film history” and with it, the Crawford shoulders were born!
The famous Letty Lynton ruffled dress broke away from the Art Deco mold and harked back to more feminine times while most of the other outfits created for the film are more typical of the Deco style with their sleek lines and bias cuts. But Adrian always put his own stamp on his designs and in my opinion, they are all absolutely stunning and suit Crawford to a “T”!
They all manage to combine female sexuality with Crawford’s inherent masculine traits, creating a powerful silhouette of strength and self-confidence which is glamorous and appealing to both women and men.
The film has one or two powerful scenes itself and as Crawford demonstrates some of her considerable (and tragically overlooked) acting chops in a particularly dramatic scene, she does so in a stunning gold lamé evening gown. There is something about lamé that I adore! It was used in the 1930s more than in any other decade, I think, and in black and white it stands out like and light in the darkness, shimmering and oh, so glamorous! (I often wonder though, was it scratchy to wear? Haha!).
Joan Crawford’s gowns in Letty Lynton are some of my all time favourites and the history behind them and the film is forever fascinating. While the costumes are now more famous than the film, it’s still a highly enjoyable story and one worth restoring and releasing on DVD. Granted, it will be a huge undertaking for whomever chooses to do so, so I doubt it will happen any time soon. But still, it would be a wonderful thing so… we live in hope…