Edith Headquarters 4: The Torch-Bearer

When Turner Classic Movies (TCM) needed a podcast expert for their marvelous month-long “Battle of the Blondes” series in November 2011, they turned to Los Angeles fashion and film blogger Kimberly Truhler. Kimberly is a brainy blonde beauty who is the smarts and savvy behind www.GlamAmor.com, the shop, the site, the sartorial lifestyle. (And she just HAPPENS to be Edith Head’s number one fan–present company excepted.) As I watched this vivacious blonde wax enthusiastic to TCM producer Scott McGee about the classic movie costume designers and stars I love, I thought, “Kindred spirit!” and immediately emailed her a gushy note of praise, then spent hours wandering in her amazingly informative and well-designed blog. Major girl crush!

Well, thanks to the wonders of modern communication (and a few hastily shared meals at this past year’s TCM Film Festival), I not only got to know Kimberly, I now count her as a very dear friend. She’s incredible generous with her cinema style knowledge. She shares it weekly with her blog readers and did so with TCM fans when she and TCM producer Scott McGee chatted about designer Helen Rose in July of 2011. Kimberly’s blend of beauty, zeal, insight, and information proved so popular, Scott tagged her again for the aforementioned Battle of the Blondes series in November of that year. (Those podcasts are among TCM’s most popular ever.)

Kimberly shares her passion for fashion online at her Etsy shop, and in her hometown LA, at her snazzy shop and pop-up vintage clothing events, where her trademark rainbow racks of pristine vintage dresses started a trend for color-aligned marketing.

Most recently, Kimberly has been sharing her encyclopedic knowledge with enthralled (and lucky!) design students at Los Angeles’ prestigious Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM). And, oh, yeah, she had an on-air interview with Robert Osborne, which is rather the Holy Grail for all TCM fans. 

I could rattle on more, but I share this abbreviated list of her accomplishments to provide a bit of background as to why I called on Kimberly to wrap up my month-long series starring birthday girl Edith Head (click here for first in the series). I see Kimberly as a sort of “successor” to Edith…a torch-bearer for the timeless allure of classic cinema style.  Kimberly champions how that style influences today’s fashions, and her personal appearance is a walking testament to the simple elegance of great vintage design.

And—like Edith—Kimberly is a gutsy entrepreneur, self-promotional genius,

public relations and social media guru, brand expert, artist (her expert photography graces her cinema-centric LA landmarks blog posts-like Union Station above), teacher, and clothing designer! I know!! But, well, let me have Kimberly share her unique connection to Edith in her own words.

Q: Tell us about how you first “met” Edith Head, please.
A: One roastingly hot July weekend in Los Angeles twenty years ago, my beau–a film buff–rented REAR WINDOW for us to watch during the heat wave (appropriate, no?). My life changed when I saw it. It was like Dorothy going from the black-and-white of Kansas to the color of Oz. I thought, “Why doesn’t everyone dress like this?” Those costumes by Edith Head, I concluded, represented what style should be.

Q: Love that! So, was that the start of how you became an expert on style in the movies?
A: It all started about twenty years ago. That’s when I began a passionate, ongoing study of costume design that has never ended. Edith Head was at the top of a long list of incredible costume designers and influential cinema style. It all informed the design and style choices I made in my life, and that led to my love of vintage fashion. I just could not find the style (or quality) of the clothes I wanted in the modern stores! As a result, most of my wardrobe started to come (and still comes) from vintage stores–dresses, coats, purses, jewelry.

People really responded to my choices, which was a manifestation of the style I had learned from the movies. When people discovered it was vintage, they were blown away and wanted to buy the looks, too.

That’s when I started my own vintage boutique. But right away, people also wanted to learn the inspiration behind my style and what other films from classic cinema I considered Style Essentials. I started writing about all I knew…publishing lengthy photo-essays on iconic costume design and style in the movies as well as its continuing influence on fashion on GlamAmor.com. Today I’m called as an expert by groups in both film and fashion–from TCM to FIDM.

I appear around Los Angeles speaking on the History of Fashion in Film and have just been hired as a Professor for Woodbury University to teach an entire class on the subject of iconic costume design in the movies. People know my passion for this subject, which is finally getting the respect and recognition it deserves. I love sharing with others online and in person, and am moving toward publishing a book on iconic costume design as well. Oh, and in my spare time [laughs], I also run a new retail company called Time & Silence. It’s considered luxury casual, and even that design is heavily influenced by the style I learned from the movies. (Example: Redford in Three Days of the Condor) .

Q: What do you think is Edith’s strong suit, as a designer?
A: Mostly her modernity, I think. I like to credit her with being one of the first Minimalists in costume design and fashion.

Overall, she stayed away from much of the excessive details and frills that others loved (like Adrian, for example).

Her default setting in design was to be classic and timeless rather than of the moment. It’s one of the reasons her work did not suffer as much as others did when Christian Dior’s New Look exploded in 1947. (Ed. note: Above, Adrian’s fluffy and famous Letty Lenton look and below, a sewing pattern featuring one of Edith’s clean-lined suit–hers, you could still wear today. At least, I would.)

Because of the controversy of her career–for example, often taking credit for other designers’ work–people often underestimate her own talent and lasting contributions as a designer. I mean, one only need mention the words “Hitchcock Style” and you can visualize Edith’s work.

And let’s not forget this woman essentially BS’d her way into a position at Paramount, worked her way up to head designer, and had a career in Hollywood and the mainstream for decades! She had an incredible design eye, was clearly determined, and very hard worker.

Q: Are there any constants in her work?
A: The constants I see are what I admire most–clean lines, tailored fit, and controlled pops of color. They’re what I live by today. (Ed. note: I must have this suit below.)

Q: Which film era do you think was Edith’s finest hour…can you mention a few examples of “prime Edith?”
A: Though she had great success in the 1940s, such as in film noir–Barbara Stanwyck in DOUBLE INDEMNITY…

 and Veronica Lake in THE GLASS KEY

are but two iconic looks that I cover on GlamAmor–it is the 1950s when she really shined. In your earlier interview with Christian Esquevin, he really hit the nail on the head with REAR WINDOW (1954) and TO CATCH A THIEF (1955). In fact, her costumes for Grace Kelly in TO CATCH A THIEF are her own personal favorites and what she considered her best work. She was furious she didn’t win the Oscar that year (she lost to Charles LeMaire for LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING).

I did a video on that movie’s cinema style, though I accidentally credited Edith with too much [laughs]…she didn’t do the costumes for NORTH BY NORTHWEST. But it’s a compliment to her that Hitchcock clearly carried on her style voice in that picture.

Q: Share your thoughts on Edith as an entrepreneur and business woman and branding expert?

A: Talk about being ahead of her time! She was an entrepreneur from the word GO. She had no experience when she approached Howard Greer for a job in the costume design department atParamount. Quite infamously, she reportedly used a bunch of her art students’ sketches to represent her work and get in the door. I don’t condone the behavior, but one must admit that it took guts and shows her ambition. She somehow worked her way up to head designer…surpassing Greer and even mentor and friend Travis Banton to have perhaps the longest career out of any of the classic era’s costume designers.

That’s just on the design side. Edith took it even further, coming out from the studio’s shadows so that everyone learned who she was through books, speaking engagements, appearances in the media, and product endorsements.* (Below, Edith at her Macy’s booksigning.)

This is a blueprint for marketing that everyone follows today. Even her look was part of her brand with the severe hair and giant round glasses. She took things she considered physical weaknesses–such as straight hair and bad eyesight–and made them her image strengths.

That branding still lives on…think of the cartoon character Edna in The Incredibles. I can’t help but think what Edith would have done today with social media.

Probably even reality television [laughs]. (Here’s Edith on TV, promoting The Dress Doctor, on CBS.)

She loved attention and never missed an opportunity to further the brand.

*(Ed. note: Kimberly’s not kidding. Edith was a guest on Art Linkletter’s “House Party” radio show in 1945, moving with Art to TV in 1952 to become a proto What-Not-To-Wear expert, doing on-the-spot makeovers for female audience members. She did that until the show was cancelled, in 1969! She also had her own radio show on CBS “Edith Head’s Fashion Notes” from ’63–’65, and wrote dozens of fashion features in women’s magazines and had a syndicated newspaper wardrobe advice column for decades. AND, Edith was the only offical Oscar Night fashion consultant–the first “personal stylist”..she showed up for the Red Carpet party with a fix-it kit of tape, tulle and safety pins. Edith said once, “I received so much response from my public that I finally realized I was a celebrity in my own right.” )

Q: What about Edith inspires you as a designer and as a woman in the world of fashion design?
A: Mostly that if you focus on designing classic pieces today, they’ll be stylish forever.

Her ambition and work ethic are also quite inspirational.

Q: If you could own ONE Edith Head garment, which would it be?
A: This is way too hard to choose! Of course the opening gown in REAR WINDOW is iconic.

But I also remember being blown away by her green suit in that picture–the backless halter paired with the skirt and all the accessories (from jewelry to the overnight bag). They’re all too sexy for words.

But it’s kind of hard to beat the white strapless goddess dress in TO CATCH A THIEF, though. Timeless. Perfection.

Q: Talk a little about Edith’s partnership with Hitchcock.
A: For all the stories about the two of them individually, they worked surprisingly well together. He knew what he wanted and Edith respected that. But he also recognized that she knew what she was doing and really respected her style. Even when she skipped a movie with him–NORTH BY NORTHWEST–he still maintained her vision in the costumes.

I think “Hitchcock Style” has much more to do with her than it has to do with him. After all, he did movies for two decades before anyone went nuts over the style. You can thank Edith for that.

Q: Why do you call yourself “the Edith Head of Bloggers?” What is it about Edith that you relate to and want to translate to modern social media?
A: That was a nickname my audience gave me. I wear that badge with honor! Edith led by example with her classic design and style choices while also teaching through her personal appearances and the media. I think I do much the same thing.

Q: What do you think Edith would say about the costuming in today’s movies?
I’m sure she would have comments a-plenty about the loss of women looking ladylike. Clearly, this was a woman who knew how to make ladies look sexy without needing to bare all to do it.

Q: Is there an enduring legacy of Edith Head in the world of contemporary fashion, on the screen or off?
A: Well, her accomplishments in establishing “Hitchcock Style” certainly lives on. That alone is enormous.

Year after year, it continues to appear on the fashion runways and magazines in the design of the clothing and the overall styling. One of the reasons this happens is that people both in and out of fashion appreciate the reference and the enduring design. It’s wearable, aspirational art that doesn’t scream costume as so many others did. That period of hers also essentially sums up her broader design decisions–clean lines, tailored fit, and controlled pops of color. Interestingly, those qualities are all on trend today. But they are also equally timeless. That’s the magic of Edith.

14 thoughts on “Edith Headquarters 4: The Torch-Bearer

  1. I love it, Kay!!! Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of your Edith Head series–it means the world to me. And had such a great time with the interview! We share so many of the same opinions and are inspired by Edith, so our time talking was pure joy. GREAT photos to go with the article. LOVED seeing the behind the scenes memos and letters. Really lovely all the way around and I really can’t thank you enough. Love you!

    • As you know, it’s been sheer heaven for me to spend so much time on one of my idols! Thanks ever so much for agreeing to take time from your insanely busy schedule to wrap up my series with such panache! See you in April, my friend! Love, K

  2. Kay and Kimberly – what a wonderful post and a great series on Miss Head. Kimberly captured her essence and really brought home its relevance for today. Edith was the model for so much of what we take for granted, and with a career that lasted nearly sixty years, she saw it all and was an active part in all of Hollywood’s major changes. Bravo to you both.

    • Thanks, Christian, for your support and kindness and these kind words. It’s been an honor and pleasure to share what the experts have to say on St. Edith!! I’m so looking forward to the 3 of us lifting a glass of champagne to toast the divine Miss Head in LA in April! See you then and can’t wait! Warmly, Kay

  3. I am a huge Edith Head fan and really loved this interview. She was pure genius, including marketing her own personal brand. Also, I love the photo of Edith that you used at the end of your post. Well done!

    • Thanks so much for your kind words! I love that photo, too! When I saw it, I knew it had to be the last hurrah for the series. I hope you got the chance to read the other 3 posts to round out your Edith Head knowledge! Today’s her birthday, so what better way to celebrate! Thanks for stopping by today and please come visit often!
      Warmly, Kay

    • Thanks for stopping by, Theresa! So nice to see you here! And yes, don’t you love that shot of her? I thought conductor or magician, which tied in so neatly with Kimberly’s last quote. I was over the moon when I found that image! Hugs, K

  4. This is so great! I love Edith Head even more than ever now, if that was possible. The scene with Edna Mode in THE INCREDIBLES is my favorite, but none of my friends understand why! I guess it can be my little in-joke for the time being. 😉

    • Thanks, Margaret! How nice of you to pop in and learn more about Edith! Please enjoy the other posts and let me know what you think of them, too. Edith is endlessly fascinating, as I’m sure you can tell! Warmly, Kay

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  6. Thanks Kay, this is your best work yet! I just loved everything about Edith Head and her fashion style. Keep it up, you get more interesting every day! Helene

    • Thanks, Helene, for your kind words and taking the time to share your thoughts. I love Edith and am so happy to share that passion with my readers! Warmly, Kay

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