FASHION IN FILM BLOGATHON: Influences of Schiaparelli in “The Women” (1939)

First off, let me extend a big thanks to Angela over at The Hollywood Review for hosting this excellent blogathon! Film fashion holds a special fascination for me, and I have a real soft spot for any film in which fashion is a key element. As such, it was a real task to try to come up with what I was going to focus on for Backlots’ contribution. A number of months ago I wrote a piece on the costumes of Mildred Pierce, but other than that, Backlots has not, in its young age, written in great detail about the rich history of fashion in cinema. So here, finally, is the opportunity! After much thought, the honor will go to the exquisite fashion in the 1939 classic The Women.

MGM costume designer Adrian was given the task of creating outfits worthy of this film, a witty, quirky, and often zany tribute to women, which features a cast completely devoid of men. It is fitting, then, that his chief inspiration in designing the costumes was that avant-garde female designer, Elsa Schiaparelli.

Known for her off-the-wall and unique approach to fashion, Schiaparelli’s designs occur frequently in the film, but are always modified by Adrian so as to make the costumes truly his own.

One of Schiaparelli’s most famous designs is the “broche d’oeil,” a brooch designed in the shape of an eye, which was the result of Schiaparelli’s collaboration with Jean Cocteau.

Schiaparelli and Cocteau's "broche d'oeil."

Now check out Rosalind Russell’s “Seeing Eye” dress:
Perfect for the nosy character of Sylvia Fowler (with prying eyes everywhere!), this dress exemplifies the forward-thinking fashion sensibilities of the film.

This strange cape closure with a gigantic hand on it, featured in the beautiful fashion show sequence (the only scene in color), is based on another Schiaparelli collaborative design with Cocteau.

Notice the hand holding the flower at the bottom of the dress. Adrian appropriated this design to create his own.

Also worth taking a look at in the fashion show sequence is the red-and-white gown seen below:

For those familiar with the designs of Schiaparelli, it is interesting to see what Adrian did here. The dress is reminiscent of the classic Schiaparelli “lobster dress,” without being a complete rip-off of the original:

A truly marvelous tribute to a truly marvelous designer.

Thank you again to The Hollywood Revue!

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8 responses to “FASHION IN FILM BLOGATHON: Influences of Schiaparelli in “The Women” (1939)

  1. Fabulous fashions. I am definitely going to have to watch this film again, paying more attention to details. Thanks for a great post, Lara.

  2. Fascinating stuff! Adrian always gets all the glory for the designs in The Women, but I love that you pointed out that Schiaparelli deserves some of the credit, too. Thanks for sharing this for the blogathon!

  3. What a great idea to go hunting for the Schiaparelli influences. Although that giant hand will give me nightmares…

  4. OMG! I remember that Seeing Eye dress. Not many people could get away with that one! And thanks for posting a photo of Schiaparelli herself. I never knew what she looked like.

  5. When I first saw that eyes on Rosalind Russell, I remember thinking that it was very Schiaparelli-esque. I love that you posted the comparison pictures.

  6. Excellent post! Schiaparelli is actually my favorite fashion designer-I look her up on Ebay alot 🙂
    I love that lobster dress! And the seeing eye blouse in The Women always made me laugh.
    Thanks for sharing all of your info! I never knew Adrian used Schiaparelli as inspiration for his designs in The Women. Looks like you did alot of research!

  7. Have been a huge Adrian and Schiaparelli fan forever. Also, have been searching for a copy of “The Women” that includes the fashion show sequence. Great!

  8. Oh, how fab! Vivien Leigh modeled her clothes quite often for Vogue!

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