Costumer To The Stars

Fashion Footnote

October 18, 1990|By Donna Peremes | Donna Peremes,"The Annual Obituary," edited by Janet Podell, St. Martin's Press, 1982.

"Costumes by Edith Head." Chances are you've seen this credit on any number of classic films, from "The Ten Commandments" to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

Who was this mysterious woman with the dark glasses and beige suit, this costumer to the stars?

A self-described combination of "psychiatrist, artist, fashion designer, dressmaker, pincushion, historian, nursemaid, and purchasing agent," she helped define "the look" for many Hollywood legends, including Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman and Marilyn Monroe.

The lack of hard facts concerning her early life in Searchlight, Nev., contributes to her mystery, but starting with her job as a sketch artist for Paramount Studios in 1923, her career life, at least, follows a clear trajectory of success. She moved from sketch artist to assistant to the chief designer in 1927, and in 1938 succeeded him as chief designer.

During her 29-year tenure at Paramount she worked 16-hour days and six-day weeks, always dealing with the easily bruised egos of Hollywood with a deft touch. "At night I wear wild colors and evening pants, anything I want," she once said, but when at the studio, wore only her signature outfit. "That's how I've survived," she said. She moved to Universal Studios in 1967, where she earned the last of her eight Oscars for "The Sting."

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