Costume Party #5, High Society–All About Eve

All About EveIMG_9674
USA, 1950
Written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter
Costume design by Edith Head (Bette Davis’s wardrobe)
and Charles LeMaire (wardrobe director)

Available to stream on Netflix

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Listed above are some huge names. Joseph L. Mankiewicz was one of the most prolific writer-director-producers in Hollywood for over 40 years, creating dozens of memorable movies like No Way Out and CleopatraBette Davis was queen of the silver screen in the 30s and 40s, garnering Oscar noms for five consecutive years (1939-43). One of her nicknames was “The First Lady of Hollywood”, which was earned by both her talent and her authority. She was a unique beauty and a powerful presence on screen, and she has even been immortalized in song for her distinctive peepers.

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Edith and Edna

But the name that gives me the warmest feeling is Edith Head. It’s quite possible you don’t know the name, but I’m sure you’ve seen her work. In her long career as a costume designer, she accumulated over 500 movie credits. She is the most honored costume designer and the most honored woman in the history of the Oscars, being nominated for 35 awards and winning 8.

She often worked with powerhouse directors such as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, and William Wyler. Her accolades are impressive to say the least, but perhaps you remember her best in cartoon form. In The Incredibles (2004) Pixar artists used Head as the inspiration for the sassy super-suit designer Edna. They did a great job of capturing Head’s style, but perhaps took some liberties with her attitude.

In All About Eve, Head and fellow costume designer Charles LeMaire, himself a highly honored figure, created unforgettable costuming for an unforgettable movie. The story follows the conflict between veteran stage actress Margo Channing (played by Davis) and the conniving up-and-comer Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), as the latter weasels her way into the limelight. The movie takes place mainly in the theatre, and at high society events. These backgrounds provide the characters with opportunities to wear some of the most sumptuous outfits ever seen on film, a buffet of silk, diamonds, and fur.

The two main characters are adorned in equally stunning fashion, but the wardrobe for each is perfectly suited to the character’s personality. Baxter’s costumes are ceremonial and proper, highlighting her desire to be seen as an innocent newcomer. Davis on the other hand is draped in sultry, off-the-shoulder gowns. She slinks around with the confidence of a woman who knows she is sexy, and knows everyone else knows it.


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