Adrian was born on March 3, 1903 in Naugatuck, Connecticut to Jewish immigrant parents Gilbert and Helena (Pollack) Greenberg. He attended the New York School for Fine and Applied Arts (now Parsons School of Design). In 1922, he transferred to NYSFAA's Paris campus and while there was hired by Irving Berlin. Adrian then designed the costumes for Berlin's The Music Box Revue.
Adrian was hired by Rudolph Valentino's wife Natacha Rambova to design costumes for A Sainted Devil in 1924. He would also design for Rambova's film, What Price Beauty? (1925). Adrian became head costume designer for Cecil B. DeMille's independent film studio. In 1928, Cecil B. DeMille moved temporarily to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Adrian was hired as chief costume designer at the studio. While DeMille eventually returned to Paramount, Adrian stayed on at MGM. In his career at that studio, Adrian designed costumes for over 200 films.
Adrian, "Shades of Picasso", 1944–45. Adrian developed a style in the mid-1940s that echoed the Cubist paintings of artists like George Braque (1882-1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). A painter as well as a designer, Adrian manipulated pieces of fabric as deftly as his paintbrush, juxtaposing colors and shapes in a style that would become a signature of his designs in the mid and late 1940s. This dress, titled "Shades of Picasso," was included in the "Modern Museum" collection of 1945. Garments from the collection, along with other Adrian designs, were featured at the 1945 American Fashion Critics awards ceremony when Adrian won his Coty award.
During this time, Adrian worked with some of the biggest female stars of the day like Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Jeanette MacDonald, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford. He worked with Crawford 28 times, Shearer 18 and Harlow 9. He worked with Garbo over the course of most of her career. Adrian was behind Crawford's signature outfits with large shoulder pads, which later spawned a fashion trend.
Adrian was most famous for his evening gown designs for these actresses, a talent exemplified in The Women. The Women (1939), filmed in black and white, originally included a 10-minute fashion parade in Technicolor, which featured Adrian's most outré designs; often cut in TV screenings, it has been restored to the film by Turner Classic Movies. Adrian was also well known for his extravagant costumes, as in The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and opulent (if not historically accurate) period dresses such as those for Camille (1936) and Marie Antoinette (1938)
Adrian is perhaps best known today for his work on the 1939 movie classic, The Wizard of Oz. Adrian custom-designed the film's signature red-sequined ruby slippers for Judy Garland.
Adrian left MGM in 1941 to set up his own independent fashion house, though he still worked closely with Hollywood.
Though he was openly gay, he married Janet Gaynor in 1939, possibly in response to the anti-gay attitudes of the movie studio heads and the sex-negative atmosphere created by the Production Code. They retired to their ranch in Brazil and remained married until his death in 1959.
After leaving MGM, he established his own fashion house. Some of his designs were sold through Macy's. He only returned to MGM for a final film, 1952's Lovely to Look At. Despite his success, Adrian was never nominated for an Academy Award. He came out of his retirement and returned to the States in 1959 to design the costumes for the upcoming Broadway musical Camelot. In the early stages of this project, Adrian died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 56. He was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Adrian, Dress, ca. 1940
Adrian, Gamboling Lambs, 1940s
Adrian, Evening Dress, ca. 1942. Many of Adrian's designs were influenced by his Southern California surroundings and the lifestyle of the San Fernando Valley. Many stars, including Adrian and his wife, actress Janet Gaynor, owned homes in the valley, which was an early suburb of Los Angeles. Properties there served as retreats for those working in Hollywood in the late 1930s and 1940s. The casual lifestyle of the suburbs required an informal wardrobe and Adrian designed a series of whimsical "patio dresses" suitable for outdoor entertaining. Donated to the collection by Janet Gaynor, this dress, with its pattern of gamboling lambs, also illustrates Adrian's affinity for animal motifs in his designs.
Adrian, Dinner Suit, ca. 1942. Donated to the Brooklyn Museum collection by the designer's wife, actress Janet Gaynor (1906-1984), this dress provides an example of Adrian's recurring use of animal prints and patterns in his designs. Here a snakeskin pattern appears on a lamé fabric and elevates a basic suit silhouette into a dramatic ensemble that recalls some of the designer's well-known Hollywood costumes. Adrian made several versions of this suit, of which one appeared in American Vogue.
Adrian, Dress, ca. 1942
Adrian, Dress, ca. 1942
Adrian, Dress, ca. 1942
Adrian, Dress, ca. 1944. As a successful designer in the 1940s, Adrian proudly helped to build the reputation of American fashion during that decade. After a prolific career designing Hollywood film costumes, he began designing for his own label in 1941. Adrian celebrated simple, American-made fabrics in his designs, frequently using gingham or simple organdy for evening, as well as daywear. Here, the designer paired red and white striped cotton with red, white and blue eyelet to create a dress that embodies both his own aesthetic and post-war American patriotism.
Adrian, Dinner Dress, ca. 1944. Elaborate piecing became a hallmark of Adrian's designs in the mid 1940s. Garments composed of bright colors, often in surprising combinations and juxtapositions, resemble the Cubist paintings of artists like George Braque (1882-1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). In this example, Adrian has invigorated a staid silhouette by piecing splashes of pink, purple and orange boldly across the bodice and skirt of the garment. The designer's wife, actress Janet Gaynor (1906-1984) owned this dress and donated it to the Brooklyn Museum.
Adrian, Suit, 1944
Adrian, Evening Dress, 1944
Adrian, Dress, 1944
Adrian, Evening Dress, ca. 1944. In his quest to use unique textiles, ranging from luxurious satin to simple gingham, Adrian frequently incorporated those of designer Pola Stout, whose fabrics often featured blocks and stripes of color. Adrian found Stout's geometric patterns well-suited to his pieced garments where he employed a favorite technique of manipulating striped fabrics to make them serve a dual purpose, as structure and as ornament. While this dress has very little additional trimming, the pattern of the fabric has been used ingeniously to enliven the sleeves, skirt and collar, and create interest in the back drapery.
Adrian, Evening Ensemble, 1945. In February 1945 Adrian was awarded the third annual American Fashion Critics Award. Thirty-two of the designer's garments were displayed at the award ceremony, including this ensemble which was part of his "Modern Museum" collection. With a palette inspired by Cubism, Adrian extended the abstractions of his earlier designs of the 1940s. Harper's Bazaar described this series as, "intricate as a puzzle and as modern as Picasso." Exploiting the dynamism of the Futurists and the geometric minimalism of the Constructivists, the interconnecting cell-like shapes reflect an abstract bimorphism. Adrian, however, eschewed the utopianism of the Futurist and Constructivist movements with a design philosophy that was firmly grounded in the realities of American life.
Adrian, "Roan Stallion", 1945
Adrian, Dress, 1945
Adrian, Evening Dress, ca. 1946
Adrian, "Pennsylvania Dutch", 1947
Adrian, Ensemble, ca. 1947
Adrian, Dress, 1947
Adrian, Dress, 1947
Adrian, Dress, ca. 1947
Adrian, Ensemble, ca. 1948. Gilbert Adrian designed numerous ensembles for his friend and client, Millicent Rogers (1902-1953), yet few as personal as this dress. Adrian and his wife introduced Rogers to the American southwest by inviting her to Taos area in 1947, igniting a love of the region that lasted for the remainder of Rogers' life. She named the home she bought there "Turtlewalk." Here, Adrian used an appropriate turtle pattern for Rogers and a design that referenced the long fringe of Native American women's traditional dress. Incorporation of these elements suited Rogers, who preferred to wear fashionable garments that referenced local traditional clothing when in residence at each of her homes around the world. With her keen interest in Native American art and folklore, Rogers may also have appreciated her friend's choice of the turtle pattern for its symbolic meaning; the turtle figures prominently in some Native American creation stories and is a symbol of balance, patience, tenacity and self-reliance.
Adrian, Suit, 1948
Adrian, Dinner Dress, 1948–49. Adrian developed a signature style in the mid 1940s that echoed the Cubist paintings of artists like George Braque (1882-1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). A painter himself, Adrian manipulated pieces of fabric as deftly as his paintbrush in designing dresses like this, juxtaposing bright colors and bold shapes. Here his use of bright pink and emerald green accentuates the skillful piecework. Adrian's wife, the actress Janet Gaynor (1906-1984), included this dress in her wardrobe for the couple's African safari in 1949 and later donated it to the Brooklyn Museum.
Adrian, Evening Ensemble, 1949. While he often incorporated animal motifs or patterns in designs throughout his career, Adrian likely found new inspiration for this dramatic dress during an African safari the designer took with his wife, the actress Janet Gaynor (1906-1984) in 1949. The choice of a bold textile, custom-made for Adrian by the French house of Bianchini Ferrier, ensured the dress received significant attention in the fashion press that season. Gaynor wore this gown to an event at the Los Angeles showroom and headquarters of Adrian Ltd. in Los Angeles and later donated it to the Brooklyn Museum's collection.
Adrian, Suit, ca. 1949
Adrian, Suit, ca. 1949
Adrian, Evening Dress, late 1940s
Adrian, Evening Dress, late 1940s
Adrian, Evening Ensemble, 1949–50
Adrian, Evening Dress, ca. 1950
Adrian, Suit, ca. 1950
Adrian, Evening Dress, 1950
Adrian, Suit, fall/winter 1950–51
Adrian, Evening Dress, 1950–55
Adrian, Dress, ca. 1952
Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label by Christian Esquevin
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: The Monacelli Press (April 10, 2008)
Amazon: Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label
This book highlights and showcases many of Adrian great costume and fashion designs from the 1920s through the 1950s. Not only are his timeless glamour gowns, period costumes, and amazing show-girl costumes shown from the movies, but also his impeccable suits and beautiful gowns from his private label. The ten years of Adrian Ltd. are summarized year-by-year, and his life with Janet Gaynor and his taste for decorating and art are described.
Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969 by William J. Mann
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books (October 1, 2002)
Amazon: Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969
Whether in or out of the closet, gays and lesbians played an essential role in shaping studio-era Hollywood. Gay actors (J. Warren Kerrigan, Marlene Dietrich, Rock Hudson), gay directors (George Cukor, James Whale, Dorothy Arzner), and gay set and costume designers (Adrian, Travis Banton, George James Hopkins) have been among the most influential individuals in Hollywood history and literally created the Hollywood mystique. This landmark study-based on seven years of exacting research and including unpublished memoirs, personal correspondence, oral histories, and scrapbooks-explores the experience of Hollywood's gays in the context of their times. Ranging from Hollywood's working conditions to the rowdy character of Los Angeles's gay underground, William J. Mann brings long overdue attention to every aspect of this powerful creative force.
A City Comes Out: The Gay and Lesbian History of Palm Springs by David Wallace
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Barricade Books (October 9, 2008)
Amazon: A City Comes Out: The Gay and Lesbian History of Palm Springs
Today, Palm Springs' gay-owned businesses are flourishing, and even the Palm Springs Art Museum cashes in by hosting gay fundraising events. Quite a change from the 1960s, when a local pastor was run out of town when it was discovered that he was gay. But one thing is still missing from Palm Springs--a history of the city's transformation from a winter family resort town into a year-round, world-famous gay destination.
More Fashion Designers at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Art
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