Costume Designer. Nationality: American. Born: Adrian Adolph Greenburg in Naugatuck, Connecticut, 3 March 1903; used the single name Adrian from 1921, then borrowed his father's given name, Gilbert, 1922. Education: Attended Parsons School of Fine and Applied Art (now Parsons School of Design), New York, 1921, and Paris branch, 1922. Family: Married the actress Janet Gaynor, 1939; son: Robin. Career: Costume designer for Broadway revues in early 1920s; 1925—in Hollywood: designer for Cecil B. De Mille, 1926–28; MGM, 1929–41; then freelance designer; also a painter (one-man shows, Knoedler Gallery, New York, 1949 and 1951); 1953–58—lived in Brazil. Died: In Hollywood, California, 13 September 1959.
Films as Costume Designer:
What Price Beauty (Buckingham)
The Eagle (Brown); Cobra (Henaberry); Her Sister (Franklin)
Fig Leaves (Hawks); Gigolo (Howard); Young April (Crisp);For Alimony Only (W. De Mille); The Volga Boatman (C.De Mille)
Almost Human (Urson); The Angel of Broadway (Sjöström);Chicago (Urson); Dress Parade (Crisp); His Dog (K.Brown); The Main Event (Howard); My Friend from India(Hopper); The Wise Wife (Hopper); The Country Doctor (Julian); The Fighting Eagle (Crisp); The Forbidden Woman (Stein); The Little Adventuress (W. De Mille); Vanity (Crisp); The Wreck of the Hesperus (Clifton); Love(Goulding)
The Blue Danube (Sloane); A Ship Comes In (Howard);Skyscraper (Higgin); Walking Back (Julian); Dream ofLove (Niblo); The Godless Girl (C. De Mille); Let 'er Go Gallagher (Clifton); Midnight Madness (Weight); Stand and Deliver (Crisp); A Woman of Affairs (C. Brown); A Lady of Chance (Leonard); The Masks of the Devil (Sjöström)
Marianne (Leonard); The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Brabin); Dynamite (C. De Mille); A Single Man (Beaumont) Their Own Desire (Hopper); Wild Orchids (Franklin); The Lastof Mrs. Cheyney (Franklin); Our Modern Maidens (Conway);Devil-May-Care (Franklin); The Single Standard(Robertson); The Thirteenth Chair (Browning); The Trial of Mary Dugan (Veiller); The Unholy Night (L. Barrymore)
Not So Dumb (K. Vidor); Passion Flower (W. De Mille); TheRogue Song (L. Barrymore); This Mad World (W. De Mille); New Moon (Conway); The Divorcee (Leonard); Anna Christie (C. Brown); The Floradora Girl (Beaumont); In Gay Madrid (Leonard); The Lady of Scandal (Franklin); A Lady in Love (Sjöström); A Lady's Morals (Franklin); Let Us Be Gay (Leonard); Madam Satan (C. De Mille); Montana Moon (St. Clair); Our Blushing Brides(Beaumont); Redemption (Niblo); Romance (C. Brown)
Inspiration (C. Brown); Laughing Sinners (Beaumont); AFree Soul (C. Brown); The Squaw Man (C. De Mille); TheBachelor Father (Leonard); Five and Ten (Leonard); Strangers May Kiss (Fitzmaurice); The Guardsman (Franklin); Susan Lennox, Her Rise and Fall (Leonard); Arsene Lupin(Conway)
Emma (C. Brown); Flying High (Riesner); Grand Hotel(Goulding); Strange Interlude (Leonard); Polly of the Circus (Santell); Rasputin and the Empress (Boleslawsky);Faithless (Beaumont); As You Desire Me (Fitzmaurice);Smilin' Through (Franklin); The Son-Daughter (C. Brown);The Wet Parade (Fleming); Huddle (Wood); But the FleshIs Weak (Conway); Lovers Courageous (Leonard);Unashamed (Beaumont); Red Dust (Fleming); Red-HeadedWoman (Conway); The Washington Masquerade (Brabin);The Mask of Fu Manchu (Brabin)
The Barbarian (Wood); Peg o' My Heart (Leonard); Made onBroadway (Beaumont); Midnight Mary (Wellman); QueenChristina (Mamoulian); Dancing Lady (Leonard); StageMother (Brabin); When Ladies Meet (Beaumont); HoldYour Man (Wood); Another Language (Griffith); The Womanin His Life (Seitz); Bombshell (Fleming); Men Must Fight(Selwyn); Reunion in Vienna (Franklin); Looking Forward(C. Brown); Gabriel over the White House (La Cava); TheWhite Sister (Fleming); The Secret of Madam Blanche(Brabin); Turn Back the Clock (Selwyn); Beauty for Sale(Boleslawsky); Dinner at Eight (Cukor); Storm at Day-break (Boleslawsky); The Stranger's Return (K. Vidor);Going Hollywood (Walsh); The Solitaire Man (Conway);Penthouse (Van Dyke); Secrets (Borzage) (co); The Catand the Fiddle (Howard)
Operator 13 (Boleslawsky); Forsaking All Others (Van Dyke);Riptide (Goulding); The Mystery of Mr. X (Selwyn); TheBarretts of Wimpole Street (Franklin); Outcast Lady (Leonard); The Girl from Missouri (Conway); Men in White(Boleslawsky); The Painted Veil (Boleslawsky); What EveryWoman Knows (La Cava); The Merry Widow (Lubitsch);Sadie McKee (C. Brown)
No More Ladies (Griffith); After Office Hours (Leonard);Mark of the Vampire (Browning); I Live My Life (Van Dyke); China Seas (Garnett); Broadway Melody of 1936 (Leonard); Reckless (Fleming); Anna Karenina (C. Brown); Naughty Marietta (Van Dyke)
The Great Ziegfeld (Leonard); Romeo and Juliet (Cukor) (co); The Gorgeous Hussy (C. Brown); Love on the Run (Van Dyke); San Francisco (Van Dyke); Rose Marie (Van Dyke); Born to Dance (Del Ruth); Camille (Cukor)
Parnell (Stahl); Maytime (Leonard); The Bride Wore Red(Arzner); The Double Wedding (Thorpe); Broadway Melody of 1938 (Del Ruth); The Firefly (Leonard); BetweenTwo Women (Seitz); The Last Gangster (Ludwig); Mannequin (Borzage); Conquest (C. Brown)
The Girl of the Golden West (Leonard); Marie Antoinette(Van Dyke) (co); Love Is a Headache (Thorpe); The Toy Wife (Thorpe) (co); The Shopworn Angel (Wallace);Sweethearts (Van Dyke); The Shining Hour (Borzage); Three Loves Has Nancy (Thorpe); Vacation from Love (Fitzmaurice); Dramatic School (Sinclair)
The Women (Cukor); Idiot's Delight (C. Brown); The Wizard of Oz (Fleming); Ice Follies of 1939 (Schunzel) (co); It'sa Wonderful World (Van Dyke); Broadway Serenade (Leonard) (co); Balalaika (Schunzel); Ninotchka (Lubitsch)
Escape (LeRoy); Boom Town (Conway) (co); Bitter Sweet(Van Dyke) (co); The Mortal Storm (Borzage) (co); Prideand Prejudice (Leonard) (co); New Moon (Leonard); Broadway Melody of 1940 (Taurog) (co); Waterloo Bridge (Le-Roy) (co); Comrade X (K. Vidor); Strange Cargo (Borzage);The Philadelphia Story (Cukor)
When Ladies Meet (Leonard); The Feminine Touch (Van Dyke); Smilin' Through (Borzage) (co); Two-Faced Woman (Cukor); Lady Be Good (McLeod); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Fleming) (co); They Met in Bombay (C. Brown) (co);Blossoms in the Dust (LeRoy) (co); Ziegfeld Girl (Leonard); A Woman's Face (Cukor)
Woman of the Year (Stevens); Hers to Hold (Ryan) (co);Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock) (co); Hi Diddle Diddle (Stone); Keeper of the Flame (Cukor)
His Butler's Sister (Borzage); The Powers Girl (McLeod) (co)
Humoresque (Negulesco) (co)
Smart Woman (Blatt)
Lovely to Look At (LeRoy) (co)
By ADRIAN: articles—
"Dressing the Stars," in The Picturegoer's Who's Who and Encyclopedia, London, 1933.
"Setting Styles through the Stars," in Ladies' Home Journal (Philadelphia), February 1933.
"Do American Women Want American Clothes?," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), February 1934.
"Garbo Goes Different," in Movie Classic (New York), July 1935.
"Garbo as Camille," in Vogue (New York), 15 November 1936.
"Costumes," in Romeo and Juliet: A Motion Picture Edition, New York, 1936.
"Costumes for the Screen," in Movie Merry-Go-Round, edited by John Paddy Carstairs, London, 1937.
"Clothes," in Behind the Screen, edited by Stephen Watts, London, 1938.
On ADRIAN: book—
Tomerlin Lee, Sarah, editor, American Fashion: The Life and Times of Adrian, Mainbocher, McCardell, Norell, Trigere, New York, 1975.
On ADRIAN: articles—
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.
Gibb, Bill, in Films and Filming (London), November 1983.
Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 6, no. 4, 1985.
Architectural Digest, vol. 49, April 1992.
Los Angeles Times, 17 August 1995.
* * *
Known for his impeccable styling, Adrian influenced the history of fashion with his camera-tailored costumes that set cinematic precedents. Also to his credit is a potent iconography of American mythology that lingers even today.
Adrian envisioned Norma Shearer as "everywoman's" ideal. Loaded with class, Shearer wore the kinds of fashions on which the "best-dressed" lists thrive. For her "prestige" pictures, Adrian featured the ultimate in opulent elegance. In Marie Antoinette, for instance, her wardrobe rivaled the magnificence of the historical originals.
For Greta Garbo, MGM had originally planned to laden the Swedish actress with junk jewelry and paraphernalia. Adrian protested vehemently, "Never put anything fake on Garbo!" and proceeded to dress her in his finest creations. Though his lines were simple, he often added precious details, such as exquisite embroidery or special sleeve treatments. Instead of presenting her as a flashy femme fatale, he translated her beauty as ethereal fantasy. In Camille Adrian costumes told the tale. Garbo as martyr wore a golden chain around her neck, while her shoulders were bared and vulnerable. Stars across the gown associated her with the heavens. This image suggested a Christian saint more than a demimonde courtesan. In other films, Adrian designed heavily glittered garments to counteract Garbo's purity. The fabric symbolized adultery in Wild Orchids and moral decay in Susan Lennox. Mata Hari shed her sequins as she spiritually progressed, for no material could outshine Garbo's natural brilliance.
While Adrian's Garbo bore the timeless beauty of geometry, with her abstract, linear proportions paralleling contemporary European design, all-American Jean Harlow hit with Yankee hard sell. Exaggerated but clever, brassy yet bold, Harlow was dressed with panache. Her "white on white" look could be traced to a British decorating vogue. It stood for a contemporary decadence rather than traditional purity. Adrian revealed Harlow's round, provocative form in the guise of an earthly Venus.
Adrian's Joan Crawford evolved. Beginning as an unadulterated moderne flapper, she combined Garbo's geometry with Harlow's visual chutzpah. Later, as a sleek, sophisticated socialite, she spurred glorious dreams of wealth for Depression audiences. But it is for her masculine padded shoulder style that we remember her best. With a torso as assertive as a yield sign, Crawford typified the aggressive woman. When the working woman returned to fashion in the 1970s, so did Adrian's padded shoulders.
Throughout his career Adrian designed fantastic frivolities. From Madam Satan to Ziegfeld Girl, erotica akin to Erté's sumptuous extravaganzas paraded down MGM's runways. Adrian dressed the nymphs of the chorus as chimeric birds, sprites, and demons. But his ultimate contribution to American myth was in The Wizard of Oz, a colorful, childhood allegory that remains one of Hollywood's most frequently seen films.
—Edith C. Lee
Born: Gilbert Adrian Greenburgh in Naugatuck, Connecticut, 3 March 1903. Education: Studied at Parsons School of Design, New York and Paris, circa 1921-22. Family: Married Janet Gaynor in 1939; son: Robin. Career: Film and theater designer, New York, 1921-28; designer, MGM studios, Hollywood, 1928-39; ready-to-wear and custom clothing salon established, Beverly Hills, 1942-52; fragrances Saint and Sinner introduced, 1946; opened New York boutique, 1948; retired to Brasilia, Brazil, 1952-58; film designer, Los Angeles, 1958-59. Exhibitions: Retrospective, Los Angeles County Museum, circa 1967; retrospective, Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, 1971. Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1944. Died: 14 September 1959 in Los Angelos, California.
"Do American Women Want Clothes?" in Harper's Bazaar (New York), February 1934.
"Garbo as Camille," in Vogue (New York), 15 November 1936.
"Clothes," in Stephen Watts, ed., Behind the Screen: How Films Are Made, London, 1938.
Powdermaker, Hortense, The Dream Factory, Boston, 1950.
Riley, Robert, The Fashion Makers, New York, 1968.
Lee, Sarah Tomerlin, ed., American Fashion, New York, 1975.
——, American Fashion: The Life and Lines of Adrian, Mainbocher, McCardell, Norell, Trigére, New York, 1975.
Lambert, Eleanor, The World of Fashion: People, Places, Resources, New York and London, 1976.
Pritchard, Susan, Film Costume: An Annotated Bibliography, Metuchen, New Jersey and London, 1981.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, Couture: The Great Designers, New York, 1985.
Maeder, Edward, et al., Hollywood and History: Costume Design in Film, New York, 1987.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, New York, 1989.
Leese, Elizabeth, Costume Design in the Movies, New York, 1991.
Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York, 1996.
Gutner, Howard, Gowns by Adrian: The MGM Years, 1928-1941,New York, 2001.
Gordon, James, "One Man Who Suits Women," in American Magazine (Philadelphia), March 1946.
Obituary, the New York Times, 14 September 1959.
Sims, Joseph, "Adrian-American Artist and Designer," in Costume, 1974.
Lambert, Gavin, "Janet Gaynor and Adrian," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1992.***
By the time MGM costumer Gilbert Adrian went into business for himself in the middle of World War II, his potential customers were already familiar with his work. For over a decade American women had been wearing copies of the clothes he had designed for some of the most famous movie stars of all time. Adrian's ability to develop a screen character through the progression of costumes, be they period or modern, was translated into dressing the newly modern career women while men were away at war.
Adrian was primarily an artist, having trained in France, and was able to perceive Greta Garbo's true personality—aloof, mysterious, earthy—and change the way the studios dressed her; insisting upon genuine silks, laces, and jewels to lend authenticity to her performances. For all the stars he dressed, Adrian believed the quality of materials worn by a woman affected how she behaved in the clothes, even if the details were not immediately obvious. He brought the same philosophy to his custom and ready-to-wear creations. Of course the copies MGM permitted to be made of Adrian's costumes, timed to coincide with the releases of the films, were not always of the same fine quality as the originals, but the overall look was what women were after. While films provided a great escape from the dreariness of the American Depression, the famous white organdy dress with wide ruffled sleeves that Adrian designed for Joan Crawford in the movie Letty Lynton offered cheer and flattery. Macy's New York department store alone sold nearly half a million copies in 1932. The artist's eye perceived the need to balance Crawford's wide hips, and the broad shouldered typical "Adrian silhouette" triggered a fashion revolution in America and abroad.
For Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight, Adrian created another widely copied sheer white bias-cut satin ballgown. Though Madeleine Vionnet invented the bias cut and Elsa Schiaparelli was credited with padded shoulders, at least in Europe, Adrian had the awareness to bring high fashion and glamour to the screen. Joan Crawford praised Adrian's emphasis on simplicity to make a dramatic point, as in the suits she wore in her later films. Even in lavishly costumed period dramas, Adrian was able to stop short of excess. Often, as in Garbo's Mata Hari, the character's evolution into purity of spirit would be expressed through increased simplicity of costume. Adrian's understanding of light and shadow made possible clothing that, due to clarity of line, looked as well in monochrome film as later black-and-white photographs of his commercial designs would show. His eye for perfect cut was impeccable. A day suit consisting of a beige wool jacket trimmed with loops of black braid, paired with a slim black skirt, black gloves, and beige cartwheel hat, looks as crisp and smart today as it did when featured in Vogue in 1946. Fluid floor-length crêpe gowns were dramatically yet whimsically decorated with asymmetrical motifs of horses, cherubs, or piano keys, or his taste for modern art would be indulged in gowns made up of abstract jigsaw puzzle shapes in several colors.
Just as in films Adrian worked within themes, so did his collections for Adrian, Ltd. develop according to such themes as gothic, Grecian, Persian, Spanish, or Americana. For the latter he appliquéd Pennsylvania Dutch designs on gowns and made tailored suits and bustled evening gowns out of checked gingham, echoing the gingham checks worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. Adrian costumed Garbo as the essence of romance in Camille, not only in 19th-century crinolines, but in white nightgown (which could have been any female viewer's late day dinner dress) for the film's death scene. For his average American customer, Adrian recommended clothes like the "costumes worn by the heroines of light comedies…in moderatesized towns." Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story was dressed by Adrian as the ideal girl next door, while conservative Norma Shearer mirrored the sophisticated simplicity of Adrian's future well-heeled Beverly Hills clients in The Women.
The spare, padded-shouldered, narrow waisted and skirted silhouette of the 1940s was the ideal medium for Adrian's artistry with fabric, while conforming to the wartime L-85 restrictions on materials—the U.S. government limitation on the amount of fabric used in a civilian garment for public consumption. The color inserts, appliqués, mitering of striped fabrics and combinations of materials in one ensemble allowed for savings in rationed fabrics, while creating the trademark Adrian look which was desired then and is still sought after by vintage clothing collectors. Old-time movie glamor would resurface in some of Adrian's elegant columns of crêpe, diagonally embellished by headed bands of ancient motifs, or thick gilt embroidery on dark backgrounds. Diagonal lines and asymmetry also lent interest, as in a short-sleeved wartime suit sewn of half plaid and half wool—completed by a hat trimmed in plaid edging. Having grown up observing his father's millinery trade, Adrian had included hats in his movie costuming and his designs, such as Garbo's slouch, cloche, and Eugenie, were widely copied in the 1930s.
Adrian unsuccessfully resisted Dior's round-shouldered New Look. Men returned from the war, and women returned to the home. Decades later, with the resurgence of women into the workforce, Adrian's broad shouldered looks enabled women to compete confidently with men, as designers resurrected the masterpieces of this truly American fashion virtuoso.