Presentations abroad!

As mentioned in this post, FIDM Museum staff are constantly engaged in collection-oriented research. Currently, Christina Johnson (Collections Manager) and Kevin Jones (Curator) are at the Fashion & Materiality symposium hosted by the Centre for Fashion Studies at Stockholm University in Stockholm, Sweden. Click on the link above for more information on the conference and the other presenters. Today’s post consists of their respective presentation abstracts and images. Enjoy!

“In my case the face was created.”1 Fashion and Identity in the Life of Marlene Dietrich

by Christina Johnson

Marlene Dietrich was married to the same man for over fifty years. She did not gain notoriety in Hollywood until age thirty. She was a mother and grandmother. She was self-conscious to the point of obsession regarding her perceived bodily imperfections. She was a recluse for the last ten years of her life. She longed to be accepted, admired, and loved. These personal facts are in direct opposition to Dietrich’s public identity. She was a bisexual siren with multiple lovers. She was a self-assured woman who took pride in showcasing a “perfect” body, eternally youthful and beautiful. She basked in the admiration and awe bestowed upon her from legions of fans and friends. A glamorous public identity was materialized by Marlene Dietrich through her appearance.

This paper will study fashion and identity in the life of Marlene Dietrich focusing on a rare group of her garments and accessories from the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles. This significant collection is comprised of over fifty personal wardrobe and movie costume ensembles in addition to twenty pairs of custom shoes donated by Dietrich to a now-defunct museum from 1964 to 1966 before arriving at the FIDM Museum in 1990. These pieces date from her early career in Berlin, her Hollywood years, USO tours, and stage performances.

Blog photos 2dietrich, marleneSnapshot of Marlene Dietrich during her USO tour
Museum Purchase

Marlene Dietrich purchased this paisley gown in Los Angeles in the early 1940s and wore it frequently, as evidenced by the many extant photographs. During her 1944-45 USO tour, she was photographed wearing the gown onstage, as seen in the snapshot above. Dietrich also wore the gown in the 1948 film, A Foreign Affair. The image below shows how this illustrious gown is stored at the FIDM Museum.

Marlene beaded gownGown worn by Marlene Dietrich
c. 1941
Department of Recreation and Parks, City of Los Angeles, FIDM Museum
INV. 3633

This embellished jacket was part of Dietrich’s personal wardrobe.

Marlene Greer JacketEvening Jacket worn by Marlene Dietrich
Travis Banton/Howard Greer
c. 1936
Department of Recreation and Parks, City of Los Angeles, FIDM Museum
INV. 1137

Greer Jacket DetailDetail of INV. 1137

Hollywood Scandal! : Edith Head and Celanese “Star in Crepe”
by Kevin Jones

This is a convoluted story of eleven dresses in the FIDM Museum’s Hollywood Costume Collection. The collection came as a loan to FIDM in 1990 from the City of Los Angeles, California, after being stored in an abandoned city jail for more than twenty years. Many of the garments have been exhibited around the world as authentic; half of these gowns, though, are spurious. While dressing the costumes for an exhibition, it was noticed that some of them did not look as they appeared in publicity stills. Were these the same garments? Had they been altered? A detailed analysis of the gowns ensued. The gowns’ provenance, though, proved to be the thriller of this drama.

In 1960, the rayon manufacturer Celanese teamed with Paramount Pictures costume designer Edith Head to launch a new material called “Star in Crepe” by showcasing eleven original “Golden Era” crepe gowns in fashion shows in the United States, with contemporary interpretations of the garments to inspire consumers to purchase the new material so they too could dress like a star. The first fashion show was held at The Plaza Hotel in New York. Thereafter, identical copies of the gowns and their interpretations were worn in fashion shows around the country. Later, the costumes were donated to Hollywood Museum Associates, an organization planning a museum of Los Angeles movie history. The copy gowns were donated to various other institutions. By 1968, Hollywood Museum Associates was defunct, bailed out of debt by the City of Los Angeles who twenty years later loaned the eleven gowns to the FIDM Museum.

Which famous dresses are these? Who were the movie queens wearing such beautiful creations? Have any of the original dresses survived? Stay tuned for the ending to this most dramatic Hollywood Scandal!

Sketch of the gown worn by Greta Garbo in the film Inspiration

GarboMSmar-editedGilbert Adrian design for Greta Garbo in Inspiration, 1931
Modern Screen Magazine, March 1931
Image courtesy of Richard Atkins
FIDM Museum

Actual gown worn by Greta Garbo in Inspiration

Drexel Garbo Front (2)

Gilbert Adrian for Greta Garbo in Inspiration, 1931
Silk velvet and rhinestones
Image courtesy of the Drexel University Historic Costume Collection, PA
Gift of Mrs. Thomas E. Burns Jr., 76-1-1ab
Photography by Dave Gehosky
Image courtesy of the Drexel Digital Museum Project,

Fake version of the gown worn by Greta Garbo in Inspiration, created in 1961.

FIDM Garbo-edited
Fake by Edith Head for Celanese Corp., 1961
Representing Greta Garbo in “Inspiration,” 1931
Department of Recreation and Parks, City of Los Angeles, FIDM Museum

Image of model wearing fake Inspiration gown in 1961 fashion show.

Model wearing fake garbo-edited

Fake gown by Edith Head for Celanese Corp., 1961
Representing Greta Garbo in Inspiration, 1931
Model wearing the costume for a Celanese Fashion Show,
Department of Recreation and Parks, City of Los Angeles, FIDM Museum

1 Dietrich, Marlene. Marlene. trans. Salvatore Attanasio. New York: Grove Press, 1989.

One response to “Presentations abroad!

  1. Julia Nunn says:

    It’s good to know others are alert and on the lookout for the subtle ‘wrongness’ of a great pretender garment! I recently inventoried and appraised a vast museum collection which the Seattle Goodwill has been collecting for 30 years. Most of the collection had gone un-described, stored horrifically and un-cleaned for most of that time, so it was a six month journey of discovery and righting of wrongs for these poor garments, and a thrilling opportunity for me to use my 35 years of antique textile knowledge! I found almost a dozen pieces of clothing in this collection which had been passing for everything from 1880s traveling dresses to 1920s pajama bottoms, which were not at all what they seemed. They had been displayed and even modeled as the real thing, and I was now able to firmly label them as ‘costume only’! I love your site and am especially so happy to see examples of heartbreakers like the Boue Souers dress. Thanks, Julia Nunn

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