“What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage.” Edith Head once described her profession as, "a cross between magic and camouflage."
With a French degree from Stanford University and with no background in costume design at all, Edith Head has become one of the most world-renowned film costume designers, working with some of the greatest film personalities ever. But as with every job, there are the hard clients and the more pleasant ones.
For reasons unapparent, there was a mutual dislike between her and Claudette Colbert while working on the film “Zaza” (1939). During filming of “Vertigo” (1958), Edith and Kim Novak had a dispute over the gray suit Ms. Novak was to wear. Head recalls of Ms. Novak of having a distinct dislike for the color gray. Unfortunately, that was the color of the suit Hitchcock wanted Novak to wear in the film. Head neglected to mention to Novak she had already made a gray suit design. After the session, Head phoned Hitchcock. “Handle it, Edith. I don't care what she wears as long as it's a gray suit.” Hitchcock said. In their second session, Head gave Novak a selection of gray fabrics in different shades from which to choose in order to make her comfortable with the suit.
With other films, Head was in the company of more amicable subjects. Head became great friends with Bette Davis. First meeting Davis on the set of “June Bride” (1948), later Davis would read the eulogy at Head’s funeral. While designing the costumes for “All About Eve” (1950), Head would become lifelong friends with Anne Baxter. Head would later dress Baxter once again in “The Ten Commandments” (1956) and become godmother to one of Baxter’s children.
Which was her favorite star to work with? "Grace Kelly. She is a charming lady, a most gifted actress and, to me, a valued friend." Edith has commented. As a testament to Head’s talent and skill, she dressed Kelly in “Rear Window” (1954) and “To Catch a Thief” (1955) where she played two high society roles required to wear beautiful gowns to accentuate her status and beauty. In 1955, Kelly was selected to play Georgie Elgin, the depressed wife of alcoholic singer-actor Frank Elgin (Bing Crosby) and Head was hired as the film’s costume designer. Not only is the role a stark contrast to Kelly’s other “ingenue” roles but the dress is as well. Kelly’s costume consisted of her blonde hair being pushed back in a small messy knot, eyeglasses drooping off the end of her nose, a lackluster floral dress and a ratty sweater settles along her shoulders. With this role, Grace Kelly went on to win the Oscar for Best Actress.
With almost 500 screen credits to her name, Head has won eight out of her thirty-four Academy Award nominations