A mention of fifties fashion would not be complete without a page devoted to Edith Head. Born Edith Claire Posener on October 28, 1897 in San Bernardino, California, she would become a 1950s fashion designer with the business acumen to garner her eight Academy Awards for Costume Design.
Earning a Master of Arts degree in romance languages from Stanford University in 1920, she taught French at La Jolla and then at Hollywood School for Girls. Overstating her art credentials, Edith transferred to an art teacher position and promptly enrolled in evening art classes at the Chouinard Art College.
After borrowing another student’s sketches for her 1924 job interview with Paramount Pictures, Edith Head was hired as a sketch artist where she began her career as a costume designer during the silent film era.
Her work was frequently overshadowed by the designer greats Banton and Adrian until she gained notoriety with the sarong she designed for Dorothy Lamour in the 1937 film The Hurricane.
Head continued to work for Paramount Pictures throughout the thirties and forties to achieve her first Academy Award nomination for costume design in 1949 for the Bing Crosby and Joan Fontaine film “The Emperor Waltz.” She would continue to receive at least one nomination every year until 1968.
The first of her eight Academy Award wins was in 1950 for the film “The Heiress” starring Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift. Her winning streak continued with “Samson and Delilah” and “All About Eve” in 1951 and “A Place in the Sun” in 1952.
Head was awarded her next Oscar for the 1953 romantic comedy “Roman Holiday” starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn also won a Best Actress Academy Award.
As the costume department head of Paramount Studios, she was nominated for and awarded an Academy Award for Best Costumes in the 1954 film “Sabrina.” There remains some controversy over whether Head’s department designed all of Audrey Hepburn’s costumes as it is rumored Hubert de Givenchy is responsible for most of the clothing she wore in the film.
Her final two Oscar wins were in 1961 for “The Facts of Life” and in 1974 for “The Sting.” This accounts for a total of thirty five nominations and eight wins for Best Costumes during her illustrious career.
During the fifties alone, Head designed for glamorous film stars Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson, and Sophia Loren.
She and Alfred Hitchcock collaborated on many of his more successful films and coincidentally both left Paramount Studios and moved to Universal in the 1960s.
Edith Head remained at Universal Studios until her death on October 24, 1981. She left a legacy as dressing more Hollywood legends than any costume designer in history.