Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label

Anyone who’s seen a starlet on the silver screen of 1930’s cinema is doubtless familiar with the glamorous designs of Gilbert Adrian. A leading fashion and costume designer from the 20’s through the 50’s, Adrian’s creativity influenced the entire fashion world, all the way from Parisian couture designs to the day-to-day fashions worn by American women of the era.

The 2008 book by Christian Esquevin, Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label provides a year-by-year summary of the ten years of designing couture and ready-to-wear fashions for his private clothing label, as well as detailing his Hollywood costume designs.

Born in 1903, Gilbert Adrian attended the New York School for Fine and Applied Arts and also studied fashion design in Paris. He designed the costumes for several productions, both in the US and in France, before being hired by MGM studios as a costume designer.

In designing costumes for more than 200 films, Adrian was instrumental in making Hollywood into the new epicenter of glamour on the global scene. He had the good fortune to dress such silver screen luminaries as Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland, Lana Turner and many others. Adrian even designed the costumes for The Wizard of Oz – right down to Dorothy’s ruby slippers. His designs went on to become the signature look of several trend-setting Hollywood starlets, such as Jean Harlow’s bias-cut silk dresses and Joan Crawford’s strongly-tailored, broad-shouldered suits. Unfortunately for Adrian and his fans, the first Academy Award for Costume Design was not awarded until 1948, after Adrian had retired from designing costumes for film. “When the glamour ends for Garbo, it also ends for me” said Adrian, when asked his reason for retiring from the world of cinema fashion.

After working in Hollywood, Adrian truly struck out on his own, refusing to collaborate with or hire any other designers for his private-label couture designs. He also only permitted his ready-to-wear designs to be sold in one store in each city, to promote their exclusivity. Despite this, his groundbreaking designs were widely copied in the marketplace and even termed “the Adrian silhouette.” At the high point of his success, Adrian had salons in New York City and Beverly Hills. His private label enjoyed a decade of success between 1942 and 1952. He retired to Brazil with his wife Janet Gaynor and lived there until his death in 1959. These days his name is not as widely known as other famous fashion designers, but his influence is unquestionable, as the man who was responsible for bringing golden-age cinema glamour to American women everywhere.

In this book, Christian Esquevin captures the essence of Adrian’s stylistic prowess in beautiful descriptions and photos of his classic designs. Covering the 1920’s through the 1950’s, we see the glamour and elegance of his influential creations on-screen and off. From the show-girl costumes to his private label creations, all are beautifully rendered and worthy of the great designer’s impeccable style.

Author: Maegen

My name is Maegen and I work in the Customer Service department for Frankel's Costumes. Most of my knowledge for costumes comes from anything ranging from movies, video games and cartoons to period studies and literature. Oh, and I am a nerd.

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