Edith Head: Design of a Decade

Edith Head

It’s hard to think of costume design and movies in general, without considering Edith Head. She was the prolific designer that brought all her characters to life. Edith’s work spanned over three decades; from the mid 30’s all the way to the early 70’s. However, the 50’s probably saw some of her most prominent creations, most of which went on to bolster the iconic status of the leading ladies in Hollywood’s Golden Era.

Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief
Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief

In Sunset Boulevard (1950) Head created the image for a has-been actress from the silent era. Norma Desmond was graciously portrayed by Gloria Swanson as the former star of a major studio who was withering away in her dilapidated mansion. Norma was over the top and extravagant, even in her sleep, and Edith subtly brought that image alive on screen.

Gloria Swanson and William Holden in Sunset Boulevard
Gloria Swanson and William Holden in Sunset Boulevard

Edith pulled out all the stops for the legendary ensemble cast in All about Eve (1950). Pairing the glamour of screen legend, Bette Davis with the younger Anne Baxter and a relatively unknown Marilyn Monroe.

Anne Baxter, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe and George Stevens in All About Eve
Anne Baxter, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe and George Stevens in All About Eve

You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it

A Place in the Sun (1951) showcased the dazzling 19 year old Elizabeth Taylor. Edith styled her in ethereal white through most of the film, emphasizing her purity and innocence.

Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun
Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun

One of her closest bonds was formed with the incomparable Audrey Hepburn, beginning with Roman Holiday (1953)Yet another young and upcoming screen legend that Edith would showcase.

Audrey Hepburn and Edith Head
Audrey Hepburn and Edith Head
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday

Hepburn and Head would work together again in Sabrina (1954). Once again, highlighting her youthful grace and charm. This time paired with Humphrey Bogart. Controversy arose when Audrey forged a strong connection with Hubert de Givenchy, a rising fashion designer who would go on to dress Audrey for the rest of her life. Many question who is responsible for some the pieces in this film.

Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina
Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina

A designer is only as good as the star who wears her clothes.

Grace Kelly is as elegant a leading ladies come, In the mid-fifties, shortly before switching to her royal life, she played alongside Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief (1955)Edith let loose on some of her more flamboyant pieces.

Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief
Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief

Yet again, Head and Hepburn would work together in Funny Face (1957). This would go on to be Audrey’s most iconic look; perhaps with the exception of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face
Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face
Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face
Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face

Working with Hitchcock, Head took a slightly more “mature” approach to the styling of Kim Novak for the role of Judy Barton in Vertigo (1958).

Kim Novak in Vertigo
Kim Novak in Vertigo

Very few might ever be able to match the legacy of Edith Head.

Edith Head and her Academy Awards
Edith Head and her Academy Awards