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Writers on Film

Christian Esquevin talks Designing Hollywood

Season 1, Ep. 148

Since the 1920s, fashion has played a central role in Hollywood. As the movie-going population consisted largely of women, studios made a concerted effort to attract a female audience by foregrounding fashion. Magazines featured actresses like Jean Harlow and Joan Crawford bedecked in luxurious gowns, selling their glamour as enthusiastically as the film itself. Whereas actors and actresses previously wore their own clothing, major studios hired costume designers and wardrobe staff to fabricate bespoke costumes for their film stars. Designers from a variety of backgrounds, including haute couture and art design, were offered long-term contracts to work on multiple movies. Though their work typically went uncredited, they were charged with creating an image for each star that would help define an actor both on- and off-screen. The practice of working long-term with a single studio disappeared when the studio system began unraveling in the 1950s. By the 1970s, studios had disbanded their wardrobe departments and auctioned off their costumes and props. In Designing Hollywood: Studio Wardrobe in the Golden Age, Christian Esquevin showcases the designers who dressed Hollywood's stars from the late 1910s through the 1960s and the unique symbiosis they developed with their studios in creating iconic looks. Studio by studio, Esquevin details the careers of designers like Vera West, who worked on Universal productions such as Phantom of the Opera (1925), Dracula (1931), and Bride of Frankenstein (1931); William Travilla, the talent behind Marilyn Monroe's dresses in Gentleman Prefer Blondes (1953) and The Seven Year Itch (1955); and Walter Plunkett, the Oscar-winning designer for film classics like Gone with the Wind (1939) and An American in Paris (1951). Featuring black and white photographs of leading ladies in their iconic looks as well as captivating original color sketches, Designing Hollywood takes the reader on a journey from drawing board to silver screen.

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