Friday, April 19, 2013

The Skinny: Gilbert Adrian

"Tigress Ensemble", from Adrian's 1949 collection
A Connecticut native, Adrian Adolph Greenberg began designing costumes while a student at the New York School for Fine and Applied Arts (now Parson's) in the early 1920s. He transferred to the school's Paris campus, where his designs caught the eye of Irving Berlin, who hired Greenberg to do the costumes for The Music Box Revue in 1922 and 1923.

Although he continued to produce costumes for Berlin's endeavors, his first real movie job was designing for an MGM production called The Merry Widow in 1925. The same year, he was commissioned to design custom costumes for Rudolph Valentino, as well as the wardrobe for the introduction to The Gold Rush. This work brought him to the attention of Cecil B. DeMille, one of the most famous film directors of the era (and possibly all time), who hired Greenberg to be the head of his wardrobe department. In 1928, DeMille signed with MGM, taking the designer with him, and when DeMille parted ways with the studio, Greenberg signed a contact directly with MGM, and worked for them until 1942.
Adrian gown for Eve Arden, Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

Adrian gown for Joan Crawford, Letty Lynton
Greenberg created a pseudonym using his father's name and his own first name, and was frequently credited as "Gilbert Adrian" for his costume work. However, the majority of his films simply stated "Gowns by Adrian" in the credits, and the name "Adrian" became known as a fashion institution of the 1930s and 1940s. In fact, when stores began producing knock-offs of his designs, the tag or advertisement often stated that the piece was "Adrian style" or "Adrian cut."

Adrian draped brown taffeta gown
His work is legendary--not only did he design the costumes for The Wizard of Oz (including the infamous ruby slippers!), he did gowns for Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year and The Philadelphia Story, as well as Marie Antoinette (1938) and The Women (1939), which featured a dazzling fashion show of Adrian's finest designs. Other films featuring costumes by Adrian include Ninotchka (1939), Broadway Melody of 1940, Lady be Good (1941), and around 242 other films. Leading ladies like Greta Garbo, Judy Garland, Greta Garbo, and Norma Shearer frequently wore his designs, and he is credited with creating Joan Crawford's iconic "triangle" look, with broad shoulders and a tiny waist. In fact, his looks for Joan Crawford are among his most famous, particularly those featured in The Bride Wore Red and Letty Lynton. He also perfected the classic 1930's-style bias-cut gowns that became Jean Harlow's signature style.

Beaded ensemble for Joan Crawford, The Bride Wore Red
Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story

Adrian gown for Marie Antoinette
Greta's Mata Hari costume weighed 50lbs.

Adrian also designed ready-to-wear for exclusive stores in several cities. He was particularly known for his hooded suits, which added an air of mystery to the woman who wore them.

And in case you are unfortunate enough to have never seen The Women (the original, of course, as the new one is a waste of film), you can view it here:

*Information obtained from and

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