EST. 2009

October 28, 2014

That Costume Queen












"WE MAY REHEARSE OUR LINES, OUR MOVEMENTS, AND OUR EXPRESSIONS," Bette Davis writes in the foreword to Edith Head's Hollywood, "but not until we finally slip into the costumes does everything come together so that we actually become the character. If we are not comfortable in those clothes, if they do not project the character, the costume designer has failed us. Edith Head never failed."

Bette Davis was just one of countless actors for whom Edith Head worked her sartorial magic. As chief designer at Paramount's costume department, Head designed for hundreds of films, starred in by some of Hollywood's most stellar leading ladies: Grace Kelly, Anne Baxter, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Gloria Swanson and Tippi Hedren, to name a few.

With a motto asserting that "the audience should notice the actors, not the clothes" Head created costumes that were flattering to the actors, but ultimately essential to the roles they played. It's hard to think of Anne Baxter's Nefertiri gowns without thinking of Anne Baxter, or Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond ensembles without thinking of Gloria Swanson. There is no other skirt suit for Tippi Hedren to be attacked by "the birds" in, and no other anything for Audrey Hepburn to do her Funny Face dance in. Under Head's charge, the roles, actors and costumes appeared one and whole, in a congruence we now seldom see in contemporary film.

For a position she somewhat cheated her way into, Edith Head proved phenomenally deserving. In 1924, with no relevant training or experience, she applied for a costume sketch artist job at Paramount, using illustrations that weren't even her own. A decade later, she was chief designer, and with the establishment of the Academy Awards category for costume design, Head went on to make history with 35 nominations and eight wins. She still holds the record for the woman with the most number of Oscars.

Edith Head worked industriously until her death in 1981, ending a career that spanned 57 years. For what would have been her 116th birthday, on this day last year, Head was commemorated with a Google Doodle featuring six of her costumes.

It feels almost serendipitous for a person, born just days before Halloween, to fashion a career in costume design. "Between magic and camouflage," as she herself put it, Head's work embodies the might and the mirth of costume, in transforming its wearers, and how other people perceive those wearers. "What a costume designer does" she said, "is a cross between magic and camouflage. We create the illusion of changing the actors into what they are not. We ask the public to believe that every time they see a performer on the screen, he's become a different person."

Comforting to know that we can emulate new personas with clothing and costume. What will you wear today?

Edith Head, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Gloria Swanson, Bette Davis, and Anne Baxter, images from oscars.org, fanpop.com, icollector.com, christies.com, gonemovies.com, classicflix.com, gettyimages.com

October 22, 2014

That Veneration









RUSSIAN ARTIST ANDREY REMNEV takes inspiration from his native town Yachroma, where as a child he watched small rivers and springs, woods, fields and villages, the railway, ships and trains, all through a window in his home. There are indeed touches of nature in Remnev's work but they are anything but pastoral landscapes. Most striking about his paintings is the opulent, somewhat devotional quality they possess, of characters rendered in elaborate costume and ornately ambiguous environments. They have no halos or wings but their poses and gazes remind almost of angels and saints in medieval paintings.

It was in 1996 that Remnev studied icon painting in Moscow's Spaso-Andronikov monastery. From Greek icon meaning "image" or "likeness", icon paintings depict sacred persons or events, and are normally venerated in Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. Russian icons in particular are painted on wood panels, with pigments tempered with egg or wax. They are sometimes displayed with a metal cover called riza to protect the paint from darkening. Made of gilt or silvered metal, the rizas are filigreed and at times set with artificial, precious or semi-precious stones, while being punctured to reveal elements of the painting underneath; the faces normally. Though some icons on their own contain gold or silver leaf, rizas are often more elaborate than the icons, looking like jeweled cases attached to the paintings.

Remnev's works do not come with rizas but their depictions of intricately-adorned garments and backdrops more than make up for the lack of a bejeweled cover. As with icon painting, Remnev paints with egg yolk, and bases his own technique on a combination of Russian icon painting, 18th century Russian painting, Constructivism and the composition methods of the Mir Iskusstva.

Of course, Remnev's paintings do not serve to inspire religious veneration. This, however, does not exempt its onlookers from other forms of reverence, be it for the paintings' sartorial aptitude or the artist's sheer talent, among other things. Are Remnev's icon-influenced paintings a reflection of the more trivial qualities we venerate today?

Paintings by Andrey Remnev, www.remnev.ru Images from artrussia.ru

October 9, 2014

That Roma Aeterna













THE AGE, THE SCALE, THE SPLENDOR. The geometric perfection. The monolithic might. The grandeur of millennia long past. If I am being verbose, it's because no small set of words can seem to describe what I found in Rome. A week now since we visited and I am still filled with awe.

At the major attractions, there is little escape from the hordes of tourists. But even motley crowds are unable to dilute Rome's cinematic appeal. From atop the Il Vittoriano, a vision in itself, views of the Eternal City sweep like a scene from a movie. Ornate domes tower over stone pines as Vespas splutter on the cobblestones below. Stealing the show is the Colosseum; iconic like a veteran star unfaded by age. Used originally for holding spectacles both grand and gruesome, the amphitheatre today is the main attraction, visited by thousands of tourists every year. The grand. The gruesome. We're all still here taking selfies.

Over at the Vatican, Bernini's Piazza San Pietro won my affection not only for being my namesake, but for its dramatic, almost theatrical layout. With colonnades on either side of St. Peter's Basilica, each lined with four rows of columns, the piazza was designed to "embrace visitors in the maternal arms of mother church." An obelisk moved thrice since importing from Egypt punctuates the center of the piazza, serving as a gnomon to a giant sundial on the limestone floor.

Also imported with such arduous performance were the columns fronting the Pantheon. Each weighing 60 tons, the columns were quarried in Egypt and either dragged or floated through the Nile, the Mediterranean, the Tiber, and any land mass along the way. The scene to see, however, is inside the building. Up top. Shining in through an oculus at the dome's apex, a spotlight of sunlight slowly circles the interiors, illuminating its rich carvings and marble patterns.

When in Rome, it seems, do look to the heavens. At the Vatican Museums' Gallery of Maps, paintings and decorations fill a 120-meter-long ceiling. But even with its length, it is no rival to Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel masterpiece. The Creation of Adam was directly above where we stood amidst a sea of other tourists, and like a true drama queen, I teared up in heart-swelling awe. “In a secularising world," says Alain de Botton, "art has replaced religion as a touchstone of our reverence and devotion.” But what then of art that depicts religious themes?

The trip was my first to Rome, and in just a few days, it made me wish I were an artist, an architect, a scholar, or even a mere resident of the city, just to be surrounded by its beautiful, millennia-spanning profundity. If I could channel Anouk Aimée in La Dolce Vita, I would love that too.

Maybe it's the spectacle of tourism. Maybe it's the glamor of cinema. Gore Vidal in Fellini's Roma calls Rome "the city of illusions. Not only by chance you have here the church, the government, the cinema. They each produce illusions."

No matter. "Veni, vidi, vici." I came. I saw. But it was Rome that conquered me.

Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Hotel Pulitzer Roma, La Zanzara, Pantheon, Vatican Museums, Tre Scalini Piazza Navona and Piazza San Pietro, Rome. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.
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LadyLikes is a culture blog by Lady San Pedro, a design and communications professional based in Barcelona. Text and images on this site are property of the author or of respective proprietors noted at the end of each post.

For inquiries, collaborations or just to say hello, contact me at lady@whatladylikes.com