Editorial: A Star Is Born

Editorial - A Star Is Born - Joan Crawford by Clarence Sinclair Bull 

The Editorial: thoughts, short stories
or essays about the world of cinema

Adrian (Gilbert Adrian by his full name) created some of the most glamorous gowns in films and he was a master at designing a costume to help the actress feel the role she was playing. His wit and craftsmanship were unparalleled, his designs reflecting no influence other than his own originality. He remains an inspiration for so many designers of today. Adrian’s use of black and white was dramatic and exquisite, but he was an excellent colorist, too, designing in rich and vivid palettes. He also knew that some colours, such as dark purple, would come across better than black in black-and-white films. And there was one other aspect that he kept in mind. Although the audience wouldn’t see these colours, the actresses did, and Adrian knew how to exploit colour for its psychological effect. He knew that there had to be a synergy of costume, character and individual star in a movie.

Many actresses preferred certain colours for their clothes. Jeanette MacDonald liked white, Jean Harlow favoured black, white, navy blue and maize, Greta Garbo seemed happier when her costumes were made in shades of olive, burgundy or purple. Garbo’s legend began at the same time as Adrian’s when he designed his first costumes for her in A Woman of Affairs (1928). As for Joan Crawford, the other actress his name is often associated with, and whom he also dressed in many films, she favoured blue, especially the blue-green “Adrian blue”. Just like Garbo, Joan Crawford had the kind of androgynous beauty that sparked his creativity. He liked to dress Crawford in classic lines that set off her strong features, like the broad-shoulder look, his invention and one of his signature styles, which she also adopted off-screen. Joan Crawford learned early on the importance of the star-making machinery, of which costume design was a key element. “I never go outside unless I look like Joan Crawford the movie star. If you want to see the girl next door, go next door”, she reportedly said.

photo: Clarence Sinclair Bull | portrait of Joan Crawford, 1933

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