An Adrian RTW look, 1945

Joan Crawford as Letty Lynton, 1932

In her early career Joan Crawford’s physique did her a disservice; the frail elegance of the 20’s made no use for her square shoulders and athletic figure. But, in 1932 for the film Letty Lynton, it was her costume designer who decided that instead of toning down the actress’s unruly breadth he would instead exaggerate them by adding outlandish ruffled trim. Crawford’s natural proportions thus became the style code for thousands of girls looking to Hollywood as their guide to womanhood. Crawford and Adrian unwittingly planted a seed for a bold shoulder that would steadily grow through the rest of the decade and define the next. The Letty Lynton dress, a white organdy gown with beyond real proportions, would be copied by Macy’s and sell out of 500,000 units. It marks Hollywood’s lasting influence on American fashion (evidence that America’s taste for the ubiquitous square shoulder of the 40’s was homegrown and not imported from Paris) and more so, Adrian’s adept ability to catch the current in the air and translate it into commercial charisma.

Joan Crawford, 1932, Adrian adapts Vionnet for the American audience

photo by Gjon Mili, 1947 showcasing Adrian’s prowess at gowns

1949, drama in the back

Because he worked in film he understood the myriad opportunities for drama a garment could command. And because he was a perfectionist he employed the most exquisite dressmaking techniques to accomplish them. His tendencies for extreme proportions, sharp angles, and bold graphics have since been ingrained our contemporary ideas of severe glamour. A cold and wicked kind, the kind that would be appropriated by contemporary designers (chiefly Thierry Mugler, John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier) and yet his own commercial line (which expanded into menswear as well) was some of the finest fashion on 7th Ave.

Adrian struggled to adapt to Dior’s New Look, he was never able to let go of his strong and hardened femininity, the variety he found in the stars he designed for and the clients he dressed during the war. His own label never quite became the 7th ave fashion house success that other names were able to sustain but his contribution to the film industry has had lasting imprints on the hearts and minds all over the world, creating the fundamentals on our ideas on glamour.


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