Costume Designer. Nationality: American. Born: Waco, Texas, 18 August 1894. Education: Attended Columbia University, New York, 1916; Arts Student League, New York; apprenticed to dressmaker Madame Frances, New York, 1916–19. Military Service: Served briefly in the United States Navy during World War I. Career: 1919–24—worked for Madame France and Couturiere Lucille, and established his own salon; 1924—first designs for film, The Dressmaker from Paris; 1925–27—assistant to Howard Greer; 1927–38—head designer at Paramount; 1938–39—private couturier with Greer; 1939–41—designer for 20th Century-Fox; 1941–45—private designer; 1945–48—freelance designer (mainly for Universal), then designer for manufacturers, and for his own salon. Died: In Hollywood, California, 2 February 1958.
Films as Costume Designer:
Poppy (José) (asst)
The Dressmaker from Paris (Bern); Grounds for Divorce (Bern); The Little French Girl (Brenon); The Swan (Buchowetski)
The Palm Beach Girl (Kenton); The Cat's Pajamas (Wellman); The Grand Duchess and the Waiter (St. Clair); Dancing Mothers (Brenon); The Blind Goddess (Fleming); The Popular Sin (St. Clair); Love 'em and Leave 'em (Tuttle)
Children of Divorce (Lloyd); Beau Sabreur (Waters); Barbed Wire (Lee); It (Badger); Rolled Stockings (Rosson)
Red Hair (Badger); Doomsday (Lee); The Fifty-Fifty Girl (Badger); His Tiger Lady (Henley); The Fleet's In (St. Clair); Docks of New York (von Sternberg); Sins of the Fathers (Berger)
The Man I Love (Wellman); Abie's Irish Rose (Fleming); The Canary Murder Case (St. Clair); The Love Parade (Lubitsch); The Dance of Life (Cromwell and Sutherland); The Wild Party (Arzner); Four Feathers (Schoedsack, Cooper, and Mendes); Charming Sinners (Milton); Interference (Mendes); The Case of Lena Smith (von Sternberg)
Fast and Loose (Newmeyer); Slightly Scarlet (Knopf and Gasnier); Paramount on Parade (Arzner and others); Follow Thru' (Schwab and Corrigan); Morocco (von Sternberg); The Vagabond King (Berger); Safety in Numbers (Schertzinger); Monte Carlo (Lubitsch); Let's Go Native (McCarey); For the Defense (Cromwell); The Royal Family of Broadway (Cukor and Gardner)
Dishonored (von Sternberg); Girls about Town (Cukor); The Mad Parade (Beaudine); Once a Lady (McClintic); An American Tragedy (von Sternberg); The Ladies' Man (Mendes); Tarnished Lady (Cukor); Up Pops the Devil (Sutherland); It Pays to Advertise (Tuttle); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Mamoulian)
The Eagle and the Hawk (Foster); Blonde Venus (von Sternberg); Evening for Sale (Walker); He Learned about Women (Corrigan); The Man from Yesterday (Viertel); No Man of Her Own (Ruggles); Shanghai Express (von Sternberg); A Farewell to Arms (Borzage); The Phantom President (Taurog); Night after Night (Mayo); Trouble in Paradise (Lubitsch); Supernatural (Halperin); Stranger in Love (Intimate) (Mendes)
Brief Moment (Burton) (co); The Crime of the Century (Beaudine); Design for Living (Lubitsch); Disgraced (Kenton); From Hell to Heaven (Kenton); Girl without a Room (Murphy); International House (Sutherland); A Lady's Profession (McLeod); Midnight Club (Hall and Somnes); Song of Songs (Mamoulian); Terror Abroad (Sloane); Three Cornered Moon (Nugent); Torch Singer (Hall and Somnes)
All of Me (Flood); Belle of the Nineties (McCarey); Bolero (Ruggles); Death Takes a Holiday (Leisen); The Great Flirtation (Murphy); Here Is My Heart (Tuttle); Kiss and Make Up (Thompson); Menace (Murphy); The Scarlet Empress (von Sternberg); Search for Beauty (Kenton); You're Telling Me (Kenton); Cleopatra (DeMille) (co); Now and Forever (Hathaway); Nana (Arzner)
Enter Madame! (Nugent); All the King's Horses (Tuttle); The Crusades (DeMille); The Devil Is a Woman (von Sternberg); The Gilded Lily (Ruggles); Goin' to Town (Hall); The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (Hathaway); Ruggles of Red Gap (McCarey); Rhumba (Gering); So Red the Rose (K. Vidor)
The Bride Comes Home (Ruggles); Desire (Borzage); Yours for the Asking (Hall); Valiant Is the Word for Carrie (Ruggles); Rose of the Rancho (Gering); The Princess Comes Across (Howard); My Man Godfrey (La Cava); Love before Breakfast (W. Lang); Go West, Young Man (Hathaway); The Big Broadcast of 1937 (Leisen)
Maid of Salem (Lloyd); Angel (Lubitsch); Champagne Waltz (Sutherland); Artists and Models (Walsh); High, Wide, and Handsome (Mamoulian); I Met Him in Paris (Ruggles); Nothing Sacred (Wellman) (co); Swing High, Swing Low (Leisen)
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (Lubitsch); Fools for Scandal (Le-Roy) (co)
Made for Each Other (Cromwell); Eternally Yours (Garnett) (co); In Name Only (Cromwell) (co); The Great Commandment (Pichel)
Chad Hanna (H. King); Down Argentine Way (Cummings); Lillian Russell (Cummings); The Mark of Zorro (Mamoulian); The Return of Frank James (F. Lang); Tin Pan Alley (W. Lang); Hudson's Bay (Pichel); Raffles (Wood); Slightly Honorable (Garnett)
Blood and Sand (Mamoulian); Charley's Aunt (Mayo); Man Hunt (F. Lang); That Night in Rio (Cummings); A Yank in the R.A.F. (H. King); Moon over Miami (W. Lang); Western Union (F. Lang); How Green Was My Valley (Ford); Tobacco Road (Ford); The Great American Broadcast (Mayo); Sun Valley Serenade (Humberstone); Belle Starr (Cummings); Wild Geese Calling (Brahm)
Confirm or Deny (Mayo) (co)
What a Woman! (Cummings)
Cover Girl (C. Vidor) (co); A Song to Remember C. Vidor) (co)
Scarlet Street (F. Lang); Wonder Man (Humberstone); The Beautiful Cheat (Barton); Frontier Gal (The Bride Wasn't Willing) (Lamont); The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (Siodmak); This Love of Ours (Dieterle) (co); She Wouldn't Say Yes (Hall) (co)
Canyon Passage (Tourneur); Magnificent Doll (Borzage) (co); The Runaround (Lamont); Night in Paradise (Lubin); Tangier (Waggner); Sister Kenny (Nichols)
I'll Be Yours (Seitel) (co); The Lost Moment (Gabel); Smash Up (Heisler); The Paradine Case (Hitchcock)
A Double Life (Cukor) (co); Letter from an Unknown Woman (Ophüls); The Velvet Touch (Gage); The Secret beyond the Door (F. Lang)
Never a Dull Moment (Marshall)
Valentino (Marshall) (co)
By BANTON: articles—
"Fashions for the Stars," in Motion Picture Studio Insider, May 1935.
"Amusing Fashions from Auntie Mame," in Theatre Arts (New York), February 1957.
On BANTON: articles—
Photoplay (New York), April, May, and June 1936.
Chierichetti, David, in Hollywood Costume Design, New York, 1976.
Leese, Elizabeth, in Costume Design in the Movies, New York, 1976.
LaVine, W. Robert, in In a Glamorous Fashion, New York, 1980.
Mann, William J., "Costume Design: Travis Banton," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1996.
Shrewsbury, Judy, "Travis Banton et Adrian: Les créateurs de stars," in Positif (Paris), July-August 1996.
* * *
We characterize the European Baroque by its dramatic lighting, dynamic movement, frequent use of diagonals, repetition of motifs in infinite variation, forms built upon forms. Artists used lavish materials and embellished them with elaborate details. When individual works of art were brought together, sharing common styles and themes, they created even greater wholes. In the 1930s Travis Banton translated that spirit into pure Hollywood.
Banton's most "Baroque" examples of costume artistry were completed under director Joseph von Sternberg's visionary eye. Every detail in the von Sternberg films harmoniously meshed—scenery, costumes, makeup, even the postures of star Marlene Dietrich. Costume designer Banton, art director Hans Dreier, and photographer Lee Garmes, worked along with others toward an intricate and unified style.
Banton's careful choice of costume materials complemented the sophisticated lighting techniques found in von Sternberg productions. His fabric palette ranged from absorbent to highly reflective. The combined talents of Banton, von Sternberg and Dietrich constructed a femme fatale as ethereal as the sparkle of a diamond.
As moving pictures moved, so did costumes by Banton. Playing across his reflective surfaces, the light skimmed the screen like moonbeams on water. To increase this kinetic impact, Banton's couture sprouted feathers, fluttering veils, acres of chiffon, and anything else that moved with the slightest breeze or gesture. This assured Paramount that even in the midst of full-screen revolution, not an eye would stray from the star. Shanghai Express pitted guerilla leader Warner Oland against Marlene Dietrich, but she stole the scene, wearing hypnotic buttons that swung like swashbucklers on chandeliers.
Besides his technical and formal considerations, Banton concentrated on capturing the essential mystique. He created numerous guises to capture Dietrich's ambiguity—sexy masculine dress, elegant rags, etc. She even looked desirable in a gorilla suit. Dietrich glowed in glorious absurdity.
Love goddesses dressed by Banton spanned quite a range. Claudette Colbert alone crossed from temptress to dedicated wife. Banton "gilded" bawdy Mae West, investing her burlesque regalia with opulent class. Contrast West's grand-staircase curves with streamlined Carole Lombard, for whom Banton introduced a version of the bias cut to reveal her slender, natural form. Sculpting her body through drapery, he celebrated the anatomical ideal of the 1930s. Although West had the Rubensian body, Lombard's figure-caressing fabrics captured a sexuality just as potent.
—Edith C. Lee