Arguably the most famous costume designer of all time, Edith Head (1897-1981) made Hollywood history with her record eight Academy Award wins – and thirty-five nominations – and timeless style immortalized on the silver screen. Without any formal training, the California-raised Head started her career at Paramount Pictures, where she eventually stayed for forty-three years, first as a costume sketch artist before becoming a senior designer in 1938.
Her film credits are staggering, and her ensembles designed for some of Hollywood’s brightest leading ladies remain classics in the canon of great films, such as Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief, Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and Sabrina, Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve, Kim Novak in Vertigo, Shirley MacLaine in Sweet Charity, and Bette Davis in All About Eve. Bette Davis’ co-star in All About Eve, the smoldering Anne Baxter, would go on to become one of Head’s dearest friends and eventually, Head became godmother to Anne’s daughter, Melissa Galt. Now, Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery is pleased to be offering fashion sketches by the legendary designer from the collection of Ms. Galt, herself a celebrated Atlanta-based speaker, author & interior designer who knew Ms. Head simply as ‘Aunt Edie.’
The three lots on offer are of more contemporary designs executed in watercolor and pencil dating to later in Ms. Head’s career; the first two comprise a pair of designs for ladies evening wear for the holiday season, as noted by the inscriptions, while the third lot is composed of three sketches for brightly colored ladies evening or theatrical ensembles. These designs offer charming handwritten notes on cut, length, transition and material – one such sketch for a red evening gown even comes mounted with a fabric swatch – giving a glimpse into the nuances of design, taste and trends.
While a far cry from the high-voltage glamour of her famed Paramount costumes, the more casual sketches still betray a sense of playfulness and lady-like aesthetic that Head would become known for. A beautiful emerald green evening dress comes cinched with a flowing pink ribbon; a royal blue jumpsuit adds drama with a kimono-sleeve jacket and dramatic scarf, while a champagne pink dress can be worn with or without a ruffled bolero. It also appears to show different sides of the designer’s own personality.
While most photographs of Head circulate with her trademark dark glasses and barely a smile, Ms. Galt remembers a different woman during a decidedly famous point in Hollywood history. ‘Visiting Aunt Edie was always a special treat because she bore no resemblance to the buttoned-up, well-tailored, costume designer to the stars, who rarely smiled in the studio,’ she writes. ‘In fact, she wore bright colors, let her hair down, swapped her dark glasses for clear glasses, and generally bore a much closer resemblance to a Mexican senorita in a full skirt, relaxed blouse, with lots of smiling and laughter.
These visits to Head’s Casa Ladera – which was eventually bought by Carrie Fisher – left an impression on the young Ms. Galt, who also turned her attention to design at the fostering of her illustrious Auntie. When hesitant to pursue her dreams due to her lack of training, Aunt Edie dismissed Ms. Galt’s fears by cementing her own shortcomings early on – Head famously used sketches supplied by her art students for her portfolio to Paramount when first approached for the job. This wit and determination would serve both women, and now, lovers of old Hollywood, high fashion, and design have a chance to bid on works of art in their own right from a Galt’s personal collection, a name eternally linked to the glamour of a decidedly more high-wattage time.