Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection explores five themes: Studios, Genres, Designers, Wardrobe, and Stars. Over the next few weeks, we'll bring you blog posts highlighting each of these topics. Today's post explores costume design during the early years of the studio film industry. As you'll learn in this post, dedicated costume designers weren't always a part of the filmmaking process.
See Designing Hollywood at the FIDM Museum Tuesday-Saturday, from 10am-5pm through November 1, 2014.
Paramount Pictures (founded 1914), Warner Brothers (1923), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (1924), RKO Radio Pictures (1928), Twentieth Century-Fox (1935)—these great “Golden Age” studios spanned the silent 1920s though the turbulent 1960s, and except for RKO, transitioned into a digital age unknown to their founders.
The earliest moving pictures were shot in the late 19th-century. Studios were established in Europe and in New England, but due to the need for brilliant light for filming, the industry trekked west and settled in perpetually sunny Southern California, particularly around a developing area known as “Hollywoodland.”
Early film actors were required to supply their own costumes, a holdover practice from theatre work. Specialized wardrobe departments were soon established to deal with ever more complex and large-scale productions that required highly organized labor forces to dress vast crowd scenes in ballrooms and on battle fields. Contracted designers and their assistants churned out thousands of sketches for fifty or more movies per year at the largest studios. Every historical era was recreated with costumes stylized into the prevailing mode, while contemporary plots set fashion trends as the stars were worshiped globally by millions of fans. But this aura of glitz and glamour cloaked a dog-eat-dog industry where you were only as good as your last picture.