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Adrian, Gilbert

costumes historical fashion garbo

B. 1903

D. 1959

Birthplace: Connecticut

Awards: Coty American Fashion Critic’s Award, 1944

Gilbert Adrian, born Adolph Greenburg, is considered by many to be the greatest costume designer in Hollywood history. He was discovered by Natasha Rambove, the wife of Rudolph Valentino, who commissioned him to design costumes for Valentino. Thus began the career that landed him at MGM, where he practiced his craft from 1928 to 1942.

Having studied in both Paris and New York, Adrian was greatly inspired by historical clothing and decoration. This love of lavish fabrics and attention to minute details was never more obvious than when he worked with Greta Garbo, whom he dressed for a number of historical films including Queen Christina (1933), Anna Karenina (1935), and Camille (1936). The little velvet hat with ostrich feathers that he created for Garbo to wear in Romance (1930) became a real-life fashion “must have” and was widely copied for years afterward, continuously referred to as the “Empress Eugenie” hat. In 1932 Adrian designed a wedding gown for Joan Crawford’s portrayal of Letty Lynton, in the movie of the same name. The ruffled white organdy dress was so angelic that the dress was copied in many price ranges. Macy’s supposedly sold 50,000 of them.

Adrian designed for many movies other than those starring Garbo, such as Romeo and Juliet (1936) and Marie Antoinette (1938). In both of these films, starring Norma Shearer, Adrian demonstrated that he was not as interested in authenticity and historical accuracy in his costumes as he was in dramatic effects and extreme opulence. In Marie Antoinette , for example, MGM is said to have brought as many as fifty women to Hollywood to sew thousands of sequins on 2,500 costumes. Many of the fabrics used were made in France according to Adrian’s specifications. From a historical perspective, the costumes were not completely accurate, but the public loved the extravagant display.

Perhaps Adrian is best known for the shoulder-padded ensembles he created for Joan Crawford which became a signature look during the 1930s. In 1942, largely as a result of the impact Adrian’s costumes had on the fashion industry (his costumes for film were so often translated into garments sold through retailers that he was voted one of the top three designers by 1,000 U.S. buyers in 1940), Adrian opened his own salon, headquartered in Beverly Hills, which was an instant success, and produced clothing based on many of the ideas he popularized in film. In 1952 Adrian Gilbert suffered a heart attack and eventually retired to Brazil with his wife, actress Janet Gaynor. He was working on the costumes for the Broadway musical Camelot when he died.

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about 5 years ago

very good information