West, Claire (1893–1980)

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West, Claire (1893–1980)

One of the first costume designers in the American film industry . Born in 1893; died in 1980; graduated from college sometime in the 1910s; studied fashion in Paris.

Selected films:

Intolerance (1916); The Affairs of Anatol (1921); Adam's Rib (1923); The Ten Commandments (1924); The Merry Widow (1925).

In the early days of film, there was no such thing as a studio designer, and stars were expected to dress themselves. In fact, an actress' personal wardrobe was considered to be one of her assets, and if she came into an audition properly dressed for the part, she stood a good chance of being cast. Claire West changed that when she began working for D.W. Griffith, and later Cecil B. De Mille, as the first studio costume designer.

While she was still in high school, West began selling her sketches of clothing designs to women's magazines. She went on to college, and graduated sometime in the 1910s. Traveling to Paris for the purpose of studying a variety of fashion lines, she became one of a group of successful fashion designers. She had the rare good fortune of starting at the top of her chosen profession when her first film project was D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, released in 1916. The two-year project required all of her talent and skill to dress the famous scenes of Babylon, and it provided the perfect showcase for West's abilities.

When West went to work for De Mille, he was making expensive, sophisticated films with stars like Gloria Swanson who expected to have a different lavish outfit for every scene. Foregoing realism in favor of the extravagant costumes which were part of the De Mille formula for success, West worked closely with De Mille and scene designer Jeanie Macpherson in dressing, on average, three pictures a year for De Mille Studios. She left in 1923 to enter into a contract with the actresses Norma and Constance Talmadge as their personal costumer.


Acker, Ally. Reel Women. NY: Continuum, 1991.

Leese, Elizabeth. Costume Design in the Movies. NY: Dover, 1991.

Malinda Mayer , writer and editor, Falmouth, Massachusetts

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West, Claire (1893–1980)

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West, Claire (1893–1980)