Costume Designer. Nationality: American. Born: Irene Lentz in Montana, 1901. Family: Married the screenwriter Elliot Gibbons. Career: 1932—first costume designs for film, The Animal Kingdom; 1942–50—chief designer for MGM; 1950—formed own design manufacturing company, with some freelance film work in early 1960s. Died: (Suicide) in Hollywood, 15 November 1962.
Films as Costume Designer:
The Animal Kingdom (Griffith) (co)
Goldie Gets Along (St. Clair); Flying Down to Rio (Freeland) (co)
The Unguarded Hour (Wood)
Vogues of 1938 (Cummings) (co)
Algiers (Cromwell); Merrily We Live (McLeod) (co); There Goes My Heart (McLeod); Trade Winds (Garnett) (co); Vivacious Lady (Stevens) (co); You Can't Take It with You (Capra) (co); Blockade (Dieterle)
Bachelor Mother (Kanin); Eternally Yours (Garnett); Intermezzo (Ratoff); Topper Takes a Trip (McLeod); Midnight (Leisen) (co); The Housekeeper's Daughter (Roach)
Arise My Love (Leisen) (co); Lucky Partners (Milestone) (co); Seven Sinners (Garnett) (co); The House Across the Bay (Mayo)
That Uncertain Feeling (Lubitsch); Skylark (Sandrich ) (co); Sundown (Hathaway) (co); Escape to Glory (Submarine Zone) (Brahm); Bedtime Story (Hall)
The Lady Is Willing (Leisen); The Palm Beach Story (P. Sturges); The Talk of the Town (Stevens); They All Kissed the Bride (Hall); To Be or Not to Be (Lubitsch) (co); Twin Beds (Whelan) (co); Take a Letter, Darling (The Green Eyed Woman) (Leisen) (co); Reunion in France (Mademoiselle France) (Dassin); You Were Never Lovelier (Seiter); Three Hearts for Julia (Thorpe)
Song of Russia (Ratoff); The Heavenly Body (Hall); Cry Havoc (Thorpe); Lost Angel (Rowland); The Youngest Profession (Buzzell); Above Suspicion (Thorpe); Thousands Cheer (Sidney); Slightly Dangerous (Ruggles); The Human Comedy (Brown); The Man from Down Under (Leonard); Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case (Goldbeck); Whistling in Brooklyn (Simon); Cabin in the Sky (Minnelli) (co); Assignment in Britanny (Conway) (co); Du Barry Was a Lady (Del Ruth) (co); Swing Shift Maisie (The Girl in Overalls) (McLeod); Best Foot Forward (Buzzell) (co); Girl Crazy (Taurog) (co); Madame Curie (LeRoy) (co); No Time for Love (Leisen) (co); Broadway Rhythm (Del Ruth) (co)
Between Two Women (Goldbeck); The Seventh Cross (Zinnemann); Two Girls and a Sailor (Thorpe); An American Romance (K. Vidor); Nothing but Trouble (Taylor); Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble (Seitz); A Guy Named Joe (Fleming); See Here, Private Hargrove (Ruggles); Maisie Goes to Reno (Beaumont); Kismet (Dieterle); Mrs. Parkington (Garnett) (co); The White Cliffs of Dover (Brown) (co); Meet the People (Riesner) (co); Two Girls and a Sailor (Thorpe) (co); Bathing Beauty (Sidney) (co); Gaslight (Murder in Thornton Square) (Cukor) (co); Three Men in White (Goldbeck); The Thin Man Goes Home (Thorpe) (co); Marriage Is a Private Affair (Leonard) (co); Meet Me in St. Louis (Minnelli) (co); Blonde Fever (Whorf); Thirty Seconds over Tokyo (LeRoy) (co); Music for Millions (Koster) (co)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (Lewin) (co); Adventure (Fleming); The Sailor Takes a Wife (Whorf) (co); Weekend at the Waldorf (Leonard) (co); National Velvet (Brown) (co); This Man's Navy (Wellman) (co); Keep Your Powder Dry (Buzzell) (co); Anchors Aweigh (Sidney) (co); The Clock (Under the Clock) (Minnelli) (co); Without Love (Bucquet) (co); Son of Lassie (Simon); Valley of Decision (Garnett) (co); Thrill of a Romance (Thorpe) (co); Twice Blessed (Beaumont) (co); The Hidden Eye (Whorf) (co); Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (Rowland) (co); Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (Simon) (co); Dangerous Partners (Cahn) (co); She Went to the Races (Goldbeck); Yolanda and the Thief (Minnelli) (co); What Next Corporal Hargrove? (Thorpe); Up Goes Maisie (Up She Goes) (Beaumont)
Bad Bascomb (Simon); Easy to Wed (Buzzell) (co); Holiday in Mexico (Sidney) (co); Undercurrent (Minnelli); Two Smart People (Dassin) (co); Courage of Lassie (Wilcox); Boys' Ranch (Rowland); The Lady in the Lake (Montgomery); Love Laughs at Andy Hardy (Goldbeck); The Secret Heart (Leonard); No Leave No Love (Martin); The Green Years (Saville) (co); Faithful in My Fashion (Salkow) (co); The Postman Always Rings Twice (Garnett) (co); Little Mister Jim (Zinnemann) (co); Three Wise Fools (Buzzell) (co); The Dark Mirror (Siodmak); Undercurrent (Minnel li); My Brother Talks to Horses (Zinneman) (co); The Mighty McGurk (Waters) (co); Till the Clouds Roll By (Whorf) (co); The Yearling (Brown) (co); The Harvey Girls (Sidney)
Summer Holiday (Mamoulian); Fiesta (Thorpe) (co); This Time for Keeps (Thorpe) (co); The Arnelo Affair (Obeler); The Beginning of the End (Taurog); Undercover Maisie (Beaumont); Dark Delusion (Goldbeck); High Barbaree (Conway); Desire Me (Cukor and others—uncredited); The Hucksters (Conway); Cynthia (The Full Rich Life) (Leonard); Merton of the Movies (Alton) (co); Living in a Big Way (La Cava) (co); Song of Love (Franklin and Marion) (co); The Romance of Rosy Ridge (Rowland) (co); Song of the Thin Man (Buzzell) (co); The Unfinished Dance (Koster) (co); Green Dolphin Street (Saville) (co); 10th Avenue Angel (Rowland); If Winter Comes (Saville)
Three Daring Daughters (Wilcox); State of the Union (Capra); Easter Parade (Walters) (co); Cass Timberlane (Sidney); Julia Misbehaves (Conway); On an Island with You (Thorpe); B.F.'s Daughter (Leonard)
The Bribe (Leonard); The Great Sinner (Siodmak) (co); Neptune's Daughter (Buzzell); Malaya (Thorpe) (co); The Barkleys of Broadway (Walters); In the Good Old Summertime (Leonard) (co); The Sun Comes Up (Thorpe); The Shadow on the Wall (Jackson); The Scene of the Crime (Rowland); Please Believe Me (Taurog)
Key to the City (Sidney)
Midnight Lace (Miller)
Lover Come Back (Delbert Mann)
A Gathering of Eagles (Delbert Mann)
Film as Actor:
A Tailor Made Man (De Grasse)
On IRENE: articles—
Chierichetti, David, in Hollywood Costume Design, New York, 1976.
Leese, Elizabeth, in Costume Design in the Movies, New York, 1976.
LaVine, Robert, in In a Glamorous Fashion, New York, 1980.
* * *
Irene's first work in Hollywood was as a movie extra, but after studying at the Wolfe School of Design, she opened a dress shop at U.C.L.A., which attracted the likes of Lupe Velez and Dolores Del Rio. The actresses loved Irene's elegant evening gowns and gladly recommended her to their celebrity friends. Following a trip to Europe, where she studied the couturier collections in search of inspiration, Irene opened an even larger boutique, catering to scores of Hollywood starlets. Her reputation soon landed her a position as head of Bullock's Wilshire Custom Salon, during which time she often received commissions to dress clients such as Ginger Rogers, Myrna Loy, Rosalind Russell, Irene Dunne, and Claudette Colbert for their film roles. Her designs leant the actresses the level of taste and sophistication they sought to exude, both privately and on screen, and, in turn, the starlets were willing to champion Irene's work in film. By 1942, Irene had signed a seven-year contract with MGM to be Adrian's successor as executive designer
Irene's film specialty was an extension of her boutique work—the fabulous evening gown. Her soufflé gowns were soft and classic, draped elegantly, and clinging in such a way as to accentuate the flowing lines of the women she dressed. Those women were often likened to moving sculptures, and are best represented by Claudette Colbert in The Palm Beach Story and Rita Hayworth in You Were Never Lovelier. She was not limited to one style, though. Among her most famous works was Lana Turner's midriff blouse/turban/hot pants ensemble from The Postman Always Rings Twice. Irene was one of the most prolific designers in the screwball comedy genre. She dressed the actresses in confident-yet-feminine outfits that the strong female characters in these films begged for, such as with Carole Lombard in Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Claudette Colbert in Midnight. In addition, Irene perfected the sensible career gal look, which she favored for herself. Her suits were worn with flair by Rosalind Russell in Take A Letter Darling and Joan Crawford in They All Kissed The Bride.
Unfortunately, Irene's costumes had a reputation for being quite costly. A custom-tailored Irene gown sold for double what a Paris original of equal quality did, and her film designs were often just as extravagant. One failed outlandish outfit for Kismet had Marlene Dietrich wearing pants made entirely of hundreds of tiny gold chains, a creation that fell apart once Dietrich began performing in them. The mistake raised the ire of Irene's boss, Louis B. Mayer, who felt his executive designer wasted too much money. Irene's penchant for costly designs is very apparent in her period dresses. Because she was not comfortable with historical costumes, her designs were as indicative of the times Irene lived as of the times they were meant to depict. Meet Me In St. Louis, which took place in 1903, featured waltz length skirts, which were very popular in the 40s, and a striped dress which capitalized on a favored pattern of the decade. The Great Sinner, which took place in Germany in the 1800s, featured elegant gowns in popular 1940s soft fabrics, not the stiff silk used in the era. Period pictures dressed by Irene (such as the Oscar nominated Mrs. Parkington) were noted for their asymmetrical rayon crepe gowns draped with layered chiffon and other couture fabrics, resembling creations out of her own boutiques. But what Irene lacked in authenticity, she more than made up for in beauty. For The Pirate, because there were no records of dress styles in the West Indies in 1830, Irene created an original look based on European fashion of that time. While such films have created the negative notion of Irene's "fashion pictures," it is largely due to her sharp inventiveness in costuming, rather than a reliance on painstaking recreation.
Obviously suited for more personal and singular design work, and convinced her stint with MGM had been a mistake, Irene left the field of costume design almost completely in 1949, preferring to devote her full attentions to her boutiques, which she launched in 1947. She was lured back on a few occasions, most notably to dress Doris Day in a couple of films in the 1950s. In Midnight Lace, Irene created a very popular and memorable black lace negligee for Day to wear, which earned her an Academy Award nomination. In Lover Come Back, Irene furthered Day's cheerleader chic image with more white hats, dresses, and gloves, as well as favorable use of furs. Her last film, A Gathering Of Eagles, was completed shortly before her suicide in 1962. By the time Irene leapt from the Knickerbocker Hotel, the era of glamour which she had helped clothe so immaculately was long gone.
—John E. Mitchell