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EDITH HEAD, HOLLYWOOD’S WARDROBE QUEEN ….
She was born Edith Claire Posener in San Bernadino, California, the daughter of Jewish parents, Max Posener and Anna E. Levy. Her father, Max Posener, was a naturalized American citizen from Prussia, who came to the United States in 1876. Her mother was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of an Austrian father and a Bavarian mother.
It is not known where Max and Anna met, or if they ever married. Just before Edith’s birth, Max Posener opened a small haberdashery in San Bernardino which failed within a year. In 1905 Anna married mining engineer Frank Spare, from Pennsylvania. The family moved frequently as Spare’s jobs moved, and the only place whose name Head could later recall from her early years was Searchlight, Nevada. Frank and Anna Spare passed Edith off as their mutual child. As Frank Spare was a Catholic, Edith ostensibly became one as well.
She received a bachelor of arts degree in letters and sciences with honors in French from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1919 and earned a master of arts degree in romance languages from Stanford University in 1920. She became a language teacher with her first position at Bishop’s School in La Jolla teaching French as a replacement. After one year, she took a position teaching French at the Hollywood School for Girls. Wanting a slightly higher salary, she told the school that she could also teach art, even though she had only briefly studied the discipline in high school.
To improve her drawing skills, which at this point were rudimentary, she took evening art classes at the Chouinard Art College. On July 25, 1923, she married Charles Head, the brother of one of her Chouinard classmates, Betty Head. The marriage ended in divorce in 1936 after a number of years of separation, although she continued to be known professionally as Edith Head until her death.
Awards: Academy Award for Costume Design, Academy Award for Costume Design, Black-and-White
Spouse: Wiard Ihnen (m. 1940–1979), Charles Head (m. 1923–1936)
Education: Stanford University (1920), University of California, Berkeley (1919), Chouinard Art Institute
Nobody has poked, prodded and seen the frilly knickers of more vintage movie stars than Edith Head. Yet despite her glamorous line-up of colleagues, Head was never overshadowed throughout her career as a costume designer to Hollywood’s greatest. Edith Head, the quirky, owlish looking woman, made herself stand out and be honoured. In her own words: ‘modesty is unbecoming’. Abby Clyndes takes a closer look.
Edith is a woman you have to make your own mind up about. She was undoubtedly a great designer and her legendary work is still being reproduced today. Pieces such as Dorothy Lamour’s sarong in The Jungle Princess are iconic.
Head won eight Academy Awards, which is more than any other woman in history, and was nominated for an impressive 35.
She was much loved by the stars she worked with because she consulted with them on what they wanted and genuinely cared about her designs and the women wearing them.
Despite this, controversy surrounds her career. Although she created some notable designs, she was also a touch partial to claiming other designer’s credit. To begin with, she used another artist’s sketches to get a job in the costume department with Paramount.
Later she claimed credit for Gievency’s designs in Sabrina and promptly won the Oscar for his costumes . This misdemeanour wasn’t revealed until after her death in 1981.
So is she a designer to be celebrated, or was Head a clever and ruthless woman who got to the top of Hollywood at all costs? Edith didn’t just design costumes, she was stylist to the nation.
She regularly appeared on TV and radio offering fashion and style advice and also wrote the book The Dress Doctor: Prescriptions for Style. Whatever you conclude about her methods concerning her design ethics, it can’t be denied that she was, in her own right, a great influence on fashion and women everywhere.
Despite her ‘force to be reckoned with’ approach to life, Edith’s own signature style was rather simple and subdued. She was a curious looking woman who seemed to prefer simple, classy suits and was never seen without her signature round glasses and trademark fringe. She looked quite severe and school teacher-esque but her outfits coupled with her glasses give her a unique and distinctive look.
In many ways, Head is something of an enigma, she was obviously a talented designer but at the same time she could be completely dishonest or unfair. Whatever you might think of her, her influence on costume design and Hollywood are still apparent today.
We ALL are ONE!!
A Conversation with Edith Head
Uploaded on May 20, 2009
The opportunity to create a theatrical performance based upon the legendary Hollywood costume designer, Edith Head, has been a dream come true. I first got the idea several years ago. I was watching a television biography of Edith Head. I literally did a double take. My physical resemblance to Edith Head was uncanny. The more I watched, the more I knew there was a story to be told
We ALL are connected through ART!!