Thread By Thread: Costumes on Screen

Lady In Red

What's a trip to the opera without a good red dress?

Every woman knows the power of a great black dress, but the real magic lies in a red dress.  The festive season is upon us and like Mrs. Claus most women like to show off in a shade or red. Red is a very symbolic color, it’s the color of roses, fire and its entomological source blood. In film a woman can be seen wearing red to display her power, seductive purposes, to stand out in a crowd or even that most basic of reasons, because it looks great on film.  Over the years film had produced some great red gowns, two of which were already covered in my Famous Formal Wear entry, so let’s look at some of the best starlets in scarlet!

Jo Stockton’s Gown in Funny Face

The color red was chosen for the film because of the theme of different color pallets throughout the movie but also because the color showed up wonderfully on Technicolor film.

For this musical set in the world of High Parisian Fashion, Audrey Hepburn’s Jo Stockton dons this red gown for a photo shoot with Fred Astaire’s photographer Dick Avery. Though only on screen for less than a minute in a montage of photo sessions the dress made quite the impression, it remains one of the most iconic images of Hepburn. Funny Face teamed up Edith Head and Hubert de Givenchy once more, this time with Givenchy actually receiving credit for his designs. Givenchy designed a good number of Hepburn’s Parisian outfits including the iconic red dress. The dress follows Givenchy’s design principals of simplicity and clean symmetrical lines. The gown itself appears to made of a silk dyed red cut in a sleeveless “pencil” fitted style complete with a train and a matching chiffon wrap.   Each of the dresses designed for the film were actually created with the location of the photo in mind. This photo took place at a Parisian Opera House, thus the aptly named long white opera gloves and diamond jewelry which accompany the gown.  Givenchy and Head received an Oscar Nomination for their work on the film but sadly lost. Never the less the gown made a splash in the fashion world and remains iconic.

Lady Mary Crawley’s Gown in Downton Abbey

The color red was popular in the Edwardian period because of a popular fascination with Eastern culture and the rich colors that came from it.

It was quite common for ladies to have several evening gowns to wear many times to various occasions, seeing as how dinner called for formal attire it is only logical to have a limited selection merely for convenience.

Downton Abbey has become an obsession of mine; the lavish setting clothes to match and great story make it every costume lover’s favorite new series. Within Downton there are plenty of contenders for best dressed amongst the Crawley women but unquestionably it is Lord Grantham’s eldest daughter Mary Crawley who steals the show. Lady Mary is viewed the ultimate of posh: calm, cool and calculating; her clothes reflect her high status and aloof personality. Costume Designer Susannah Buxton was in charge of the task of outfitting the wealthy family and their servants for the early 20th century piece.  Buxton clothed the family from both custom made gowns and gowns pulled from various costume houses. For the stunning red number we first see Mary in to woo her suitor(s) Buxton created a new look out of an existing gown. The existing gown was an Edwardian deep red satin Spanish dress, in which Buxton embellished with a floral patterned lace overlay and pleated silk chiffon in which she created the front bands and capped sleeves. The gown is paired with a ruby necklace in a typical Edwardian floral setting in addition to a pair of black gloves. The gown obviously hold much seductive power for Lady Mary as she is swept off her feet by the visiting Turkish diplomat Kamal Pamuk, much to her own undoing. Lady Mary wears the gown several more times in the series, as was typical for the time period, for her various suitors with much success.

Satine’s Gown from Moulin Rouge

The gown from the front, as you can see it have contrasting strips of chiffon along the bodice to highlight its shape.

Director Baz Lurhman wanted to have Satine in a beautiful elaborate red gown for her torch song so to create empathy for the prostitute in red, and image that would be evoked later in the film to the tune of Roxanne.

The gown on display shows the bustle complete with contrasting black silk chiffon; its shape harks back to Marilyn Monroe’s pink gown from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Martin’s sketch for the gown which originally planned for bow on her shoulder to match the one on her bustle.

The sought after concubine Satine dons this next voluptuous number to woo her ultimate suitor the Duke of Monroth. The gown’s silhouette has a late Victorian look but also has a modern look to it. Costume Designer Catherine Martin took inspiration for the various looks from iconic Hollywood bombshells like Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe and Marline Dietrich.  The gown’s radiant red color was specially dyed so as to standout in the colorful world of the Moulin Rouge and so as to not clash with actress Nicole Kidman’s signature red locks. The gown itself is made from a red silk stain and features fitted V bodice typical of the 1890s complete with a laced back and a full bustle. The gown is first shown as an outfit Satine will wear to formal meet the Duke, but it is interestingly not seen again until the melancholy musical number in which Satine confesses the entrapments of prostitution. The gown still proves fruitful as the penniless writer Christian confesses his love with Satine while wearing the gown.

Scarlet’s Gown from Gone With The Wind

Scarlet’s bold entrance to Ashley’s surprise birthday party, the awkwardness of the juxtaposition of Scarlet in the elaborate gown in the relatively plain hallway demonstrates perfectly the situation without the use of words.

In all red and with her sheer wrap about her head as she walks to the Wilkes’ door Scarlett harks back to the look of the Madam, Belle Watling from earlier in the film. Rhett’s choice in Scarlett’s dress equates her to a prostitute in his opinion though he holds Belle in high esteem.

Vivian Leigh in a fitting with Costume Designer Walter Plunkett for the gown, which was a large source of contempt during the film as Producer David O. Selznick wished Scarlett to year a plunging dress complete with a heaving chest. Leigh was small in the chest and felt demeaned to have to wear inserts for the gown to lay properly in the scene.

A replica of the gown made by the University of Texas, sadly most of the original gowns from the film have been lost over the years due to damage and poor tracking and upkeep of the gowns.

A side view of the replica, where the feathered bustle and circular train is visible

As you may already be able to tell from some of my previous posts I love nearly all of the gowns Scarlett dons in Gone With The Wind. This particular gown has been a standout among fans, the shot of Scarlett standing at the entrance of Melanie & Ashley’s home with a resolute look on her face is pure cinematic mastery.  Scarlet is commanded to put on the rather revealing gown by her husband Rhett for Ashley’s surprise birthday party after hearing what he believe to be a true rumor of Ashley and Scarlett’s affair.  In the book the gown worn to Ashley’s party was actually a green number much more period in description, “He was in her closet, going through her dresses swiftly.  He fumbled and drew out her new jade-green watered-silk dress.  It was cut low over the bosom and the skirt was draped back over an enormous bustle and on the bustle was a huge bunch of pink velvet roses.” The color of the gown was changed for the film because red shows up better in Technicolor and producer David O. Selznick thought it would be more fitting to dress Scarlet in a color befitting of adulteress (i.e. Scarlet Letter). The gown is dyed a deep red to literally match Scarlet’s namesake (though Scarlet’s actual first name is Katie) and was made from silk velvet. The gown is embellished with ostrich feathers dyed to match and ruby rhinestones. Despite its obvious ostentatious look which was meant to embarrass Scarlet, the loyal Melanie ignores its connation’s and complements her on the gown while literally taking her side.

An early sketch of the gown in green as described in the novel. Though very similar to its later incarnation upon first glance the green version is actually a different silhouette and a much less showy.

Plunkett’s sketch for the final version of the gown, it’s actually a lot more sleek than the previous version and contains the crucial element of rhinestones to really offset the gowns elaborateness.

Rose’s Jump Gown from Titanic

Several copies of the gown were actually made for the film due to the obvious damage that would occur to the gown during the filming of the scene.

The gown on display, it appears brighter than on film due to lighting

A detail shot of the circular beading pattern on the skirts; the beads are black jet beads hand sewn with rhinestones at the center.

Scott’s sketch for the gown, which originally planned for a matching beaded headband.

Yet more proof that redheads can rock the color red, this standout dress from Titanic became an instant classic. Rose DeWitt Bukater dons the gown for a stifled first class dinner with her fiancée and mother, realizing the futility of her future Rose decides to literally jump ship. Outside faced with the prospect of her freedom Rose literally lets down her hair and crosses the other side of the fence only to be convinced otherwise at the last minute by the handsome Jack Dawson. As lovely as the dress is, it does become rather pesky when Rose steps on her train a slips on its beading so she is left dangling over the edge.  Never mind the dress’s obvious devious demeanor, it sure is a handsome devil and a perfect example of high class Edwardian fashion. The dress consists of several layers and is tiered in the popular fashion of the period. The dress starts off with a nude bodice with black lace beneath a red silk underdress backed by stain to reinforce the dress so it would hold up the weight of the beads. Sheer black chiffon layers were then added for the tiered skirts. The skirts each feature black beaded circle and are trimmed with black beaded fringe. To tap the whole outfit off a final beaded vest layer was added, which contains the troublesome train which repeats the beaded circle from the other layers in addition to more intricate patterns around the collar and smaller breads throughout the layer. Costume Designer Deborah L. Scott stated that the inspiration for the costume came from “…a single piece of beading on net. Black jet beads in this circular pattern on a little strip of net. I fell in love with it and I said: ‘Okay, that’s the inspiration.’ There were lots of things like that about the movie. And I took that little design. Of course, I had to recreate it a couple of times and figure out how to place it on a dress.” The dress was the one used on the movie’s famous poster and is popular for fan recreations.

This entry was published on December 2, 2011 at 6:02 pm. It’s filed under Dec. 2011, Entertainment and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “Lady In Red

  1. Sharon on said:

    Audrey Hepburn is shown in the Louvre, not the Opera. The statue in the background is the Winged Victory of Samothrace and I do believe you can see a sign directing visitors to the ‘Galerie d’ Apillon’

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