WOMEN CRUSH WEDNESDAY: Edith Head
Known for her record number of Oscar nominations (and wins), sarong dress, and thick-framed round glasses, Edith Head is truly one-of-a-kind.
This amazing woman was born Edith Claire Posener in San Bernadino, California on October 28, 1897. Growing up, Edith and her family moved frequently when she was young. In 1919, Edith graduated form the University of California, Berkeley with a BA degree in Letter and Sciences with honors in French. The following year, she added an MA degree in Romance Languages and began teaching French in La Jolla, California. In her second teaching job at the Hollywood School for Girls, Edith, hoping for a higher salary, let the school know that she was also willing and capable of teaching art as well as French, despite having only studied art in high school. Pretty bold move, I think. But it paid off and motivated her to study art at the Chouinard Art College in the evenings to improve on her drawing abilities.
While in art school, Edith met her first husband, Charles Head. Even after divorce and a second marriage (to set designer Wiard Ihnen, which lasted nearly 40 years until his death in 1979), she was known professionally as Head until her death.
Just five years after her first degree, Edith Head became a costume sketch artist for Paramount Pictures. Lacking in design experience, she admitted to "borrowing" sketches from other students for her interview. She definitely had talent though, and went on to become a design assistant at Paramount Studios in LA and eventually was named Chief Designer at Paramount Pictures. Edith worked for Paramount for 44 years before moving to Universal Pictures, at age 70, where she remained until her death.
Edith gained public popularity with her design of the "sarong" dress worn by Dorothy Lamour in The Hurricane (1937) and continued to build on that with her amazing mink-lined dress donned by Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark (19). Considered one of the most expensive dresses ever made, Edith spent $35,000 on the piece. Later, due to WWII, studios were unable to produce extravagances like that because of rations on fabrics.
In 1949, the Academy Awards created a category for Costume Designer where Edith Head not only had a record-breaking of nominations, but of wins as well. Winning a total of eight Oscars, she holds the title of most wins for any woman. But perhaps even more than her wins, Edith was also renowned for her desire to work closely with the women she was designing for and cultivating close relationships with them while creating beautiful pieces of art and setting her apart from her mail contemporaries. Despite working with the stars of Hollywood for years, Edith felt that highlight of her career came in the late 1970's when she was requested to design uniforms for the women of the US Coast Guard and received the Meritorious Public Service Award for her work.
After the move to Universal Pictures, Edith received her final Oscar for The Sting. She started working more with television, including the designs of Endora's clothes in Bewitched. Just days before her 84th birthday, Edith Head passed away in 1981. Leaving a legacy of tenacity, Edith launched women in the spotlight as designers that not only designed what they wanted, but cared enough to work directly with the women that they were designing for.