TAC Book Club: Edith Head’s Hollywood and A Perfect Red

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Edith Head’s Hollywood, written by Paddy Calistro and partly by Edith Head herself, is well summarized by the publisher who states, “In the 1920s, bored with teaching art to school kids, Edith Head bluffed her way into a job in the Paramount wardrobe department. Soon she rose to the position of Chief Costume Designer, and supervised virtually every Paramount film until the late 1960s. This book traces a career that spanned the history of 20th-century film.”  Truly impressive, Edith claimed to have contributed to 1,131 films during this era (781 of which are listed in the back of the book) and received 35 Academy Award nominations. She won 8 Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, which is still more than any other person.

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The 25th Anniversary Edition contains a forward by Bette Davis and three hefty sections of photographs displaying the fabulous ensemble of stars that wore her designs. From Mae West, Barbara Stanwick, and Elizabeth Taylor to Cary Grant, Robert Redford and Paul Newman, Edith dressed all the greats. Edith is shown above on the left with Ginger Rogers and on the right modeling a hand painted blouse which features a safety pin motif, safety pins for buttons and even safety pin earrings as inspiration for women to economize their clothing during World War II.  Below are three images of Hedy Lamarr (including the infamous peacock cape) from one of Edith’s Academy Award winning films, Samson and Delilah. 

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A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield is a historical gem written through a literal rose colored lens. Beginning in the thirteenth century, the pursuit of red dyes and pigments motivated exploration and was a key player in trade and commerce. Once considered as valuable as precious metals, red fabrics were extremely difficult to create and acquire. The introduction of cochineal changed this entirely. Cultivated in Central and South America for generations but a mystery to the rest of the world, cochineal did not reach it’s height of popularity until Cortés explored the mainland of Central America and began shipping the dyestuff to Spain. Cochineal became the most coveted red dyestuff in Europe and it took several more decades of scientific advancement until Europeans realized this ravishing dye is created from the carcass of an insect. Pivotal to trade, economy, and fashion, cochineal was pursued by explorers, pirates, scientists, and royalty until it’s decline in the late 18th century due to the appearance of synthetic dyes.

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photo 3 (5)The images above portray fields of the Nopal cactus (also known as the Prickly Pear cactus) on which the cochineal insect feeds and lives and on the right some of the first diagrams of the elusive insect. Below are paintings featuring red garments to display status, power, wealth or even proof of an artist’s success as speculated in Portrait of a Man by Jan van Ecyk.

Two captivating tales told through unique perspectives and definitely worth checking out. Bonne lecture!

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