(Gilbert) Adrian - Writer

Costume Designer. Nationality: American. Born: Adrian Adolph Greenburg in Naugatuck, Connecticut, 3 March 1903; used the single name Adrian from 1921, then borrowed his father's given name, Gilbert, 1922. Education: Attended Parsons School of Fine and Applied Art (now Parsons School of Design), New York, 1921, and Paris branch, 1922. Family: Married the actress Janet Gaynor, 1939; son: Robin. Career: Costume designer for Broadway revues in early 1920s; 1925—in Hollywood: designer for Cecil B. De Mille, 1926–28; MGM, 1929–41; then freelance designer; also a painter (one-man shows, Knoedler Gallery, New York, 1949 and 1951); 1953–58—lived in Brazil. Died: In Hollywood, California, 13 September 1959.

Films as Costume Designer:


What Price Beauty (Buckingham)


The Eagle (Brown); Cobra (Henaberry); Her Sister (Franklin)


Fig Leaves (Hawks); Gigolo (Howard); Young April (Crisp); For Alimony Only (W. De Mille); The Volga Boatman (C.De Mille)



Almost Human (Urson); The Angel of Broadway (Sjöström); Chicago (Urson); Dress Parade (Crisp); His Dog (K.Brown); The Main Event (Howard); My Friend from India (Hopper); The Wise Wife (Hopper); The Country Doctor (Julian); The Fighting Eagle (Crisp); The Forbidden Woman (Stein); The Little Adventuress (W. De Mille); Vanity (Crisp); The Wreck of the Hesperus (Clifton); Love (Goulding)


The Blue Danube (Sloane); A Ship Comes In (Howard); Skyscraper (Higgin); Walking Back (Julian); Dream of Love (Niblo); The Godless Girl (C. De Mille); Let 'er Go Gallagher (Clifton); Midnight Madness (Weight); Stand and Deliver (Crisp); A Woman of Affairs (C. Brown); A Lady of Chance (Leonard); The Masks of the Devil (Sjöström)


Marianne (Leonard); The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Brabin); Dynamite (C. De Mille); A Single Man (Beaumont) Their Own Desire (Hopper); Wild Orchids (Franklin); The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (Franklin); Our Modern Maidens (Conway); Devil-May-Care (Franklin); The Single Standard (Robertson); The Thirteenth Chair (Browning); The Trial of Mary Dugan (Veiller); The Unholy Night (L. Barrymore)


Not So Dumb (K. Vidor); Passion Flower (W. De Mille); The Rogue Song (L. Barrymore); This Mad World (W. De Mille); New Moon (Conway); The Divorcee (Leonard); Anna Christie (C. Brown); The Floradora Girl (Beaumont); In Gay Madrid (Leonard); The Lady of Scandal (Franklin); A Lady in Love (Sjöström); A Lady's Morals (Franklin); Let Us Be Gay (Leonard); Madam Satan (C. De Mille); Montana Moon (St. Clair); Our Blushing Brides (Beaumont); Redemption (Niblo); Romance (C. Brown)


Inspiration (C. Brown); Laughing Sinners (Beaumont); A Free Soul (C. Brown); The Squaw Man (C. De Mille); The Bachelor Father (Leonard); Five and Ten (Leonard); Strangers May Kiss (Fitzmaurice); The Guardsman (Franklin); Susan Lennox, Her Rise and Fall (Leonard); Arsene Lupin (Conway)


Emma (C. Brown); Flying High (Riesner); Grand Hotel (Goulding); Strange Interlude (Leonard); Polly of the Circus (Santell); Rasputin and the Empress (Boleslawsky); Faithless (Beaumont); As You Desire Me (Fitzmaurice); Smilin' Through (Franklin); The Son-Daughter (C. Brown); The Wet Parade (Fleming); Huddle (Wood); But the Flesh Is Weak (Conway); Lovers Courageous (Leonard); Unashamed (Beaumont); Red Dust (Fleming); Red-Headed Woman (Conway); The Washington Masquerade (Brabin); The Mask of Fu Manchu (Brabin)


The Barbarian (Wood); Peg o' My Heart (Leonard); Made on Broadway (Beaumont); Midnight Mary (Wellman); Queen Christina (Mamoulian); Dancing Lady (Leonard); Stage Mother (Brabin); When Ladies Meet (Beaumont); Hold Your Man (Wood); Another Language (Griffith); The Woman in His Life (Seitz); Bombshell (Fleming); Men Must Fight (Selwyn); Reunion in Vienna (Franklin); Looking Forward (C. Brown); Gabriel over the White House (La Cava); The White Sister (Fleming); The Secret of Madam Blanche (Brabin); Turn Back the Clock (Selwyn); Beauty for Sale (Boleslawsky); Dinner at Eight (Cukor); Storm at Day-break (Boleslawsky); The Stranger's Return (K. Vidor); Going Hollywood (Walsh); The Solitaire Man (Conway); Penthouse (Van Dyke); Secrets (Borzage) (co); The Cat and the Fiddle (Howard)


Operator 13 (Boleslawsky); Forsaking All Others (Van Dyke); Riptide (Goulding); The Mystery of Mr. X (Selwyn); The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Franklin); Outcast Lady (Leonard); The Girl from Missouri (Conway); Men in White (Boleslawsky); The Painted Veil (Boleslawsky); What Every Woman Knows (La Cava); The Merry Widow (Lubitsch); Sadie McKee (C. Brown)


No More Ladies (Griffith); After Office Hours (Leonard); Mark of the Vampire (Browning); I Live My Life (Van Dyke); China Seas (Garnett); Broadway Melody of 1936 (Leonard); Reckless (Fleming); Anna Karenina (C. Brown); Naughty Marietta (Van Dyke)


The Great Ziegfeld (Leonard); Romeo and Juliet (Cukor) (co); The Gorgeous Hussy (C. Brown); Love on the Run (Van Dyke); San Francisco (Van Dyke); Rose Marie (Van Dyke); Born to Dance (Del Ruth); Camille (Cukor)


Parnell (Stahl); Maytime (Leonard); The Bride Wore Red (Arzner); The Double Wedding (Thorpe); Broadway Melody of 1938 (Del Ruth); The Firefly (Leonard); Between Two Women (Seitz); The Last Gangster (Ludwig); Mannequin (Borzage); Conquest (C. Brown)


The Girl of the Golden West (Leonard); Marie Antoinette (Van Dyke) (co); Love Is a Headache (Thorpe); The Toy Wife (Thorpe) (co); The Shopworn Angel (Wallace); Sweethearts (Van Dyke); The Shining Hour (Borzage); Three Loves Has Nancy (Thorpe); Vacation from Love (Fitzmaurice); Dramatic School (Sinclair)


The Women (Cukor); Idiot's Delight (C. Brown); The Wizard of Oz (Fleming); Ice Follies of 1939 (Schunzel) (co); It's a Wonderful World (Van Dyke); Broadway Serenade (Leonard) (co); Balalaika (Schunzel); Ninotchka (Lubitsch)


Escape (LeRoy); Boom Town (Conway) (co); Bitter Sweet (Van Dyke) (co); The Mortal Storm (Borzage) (co); Pride and Prejudice (Leonard) (co); New Moon (Leonard); Broadway Melody of 1940 (Taurog) (co); Waterloo Bridge (Le-Roy) (co); Comrade X (K. Vidor); Strange Cargo (Borzage); The Philadelphia Story (Cukor)


When Ladies Meet (Leonard); The Feminine Touch (Van Dyke); Smilin' Through (Borzage) (co); Two-Faced Woman (Cukor); Lady Be Good (McLeod); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Fleming) (co); They Met in Bombay (C. Brown) (co); Blossoms in the Dust (LeRoy) (co); Ziegfeld Girl (Leonard); A Woman's Face (Cukor)


Woman of the Year (Stevens); Hers to Hold (Ryan) (co); Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock) (co); Hi Diddle Diddle (Stone); Keeper of the Flame (Cukor)


His Butler's Sister (Borzage); The Powers Girl (McLeod) (co)


Humoresque (Negulesco) (co)


Rope (Hitchcock)


Smart Woman (Blatt)


Lovely to Look At (LeRoy) (co)


By ADRIAN: articles—

"Dressing the Stars," in The Picturegoer's Who's Who and Encyclopedia , London, 1933.

"Setting Styles through the Stars," in Ladies' Home Journal (Philadelphia), February 1933.

"Do American Women Want American Clothes?," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), February 1934.

"Garbo Goes Different," in Movie Classic (New York), July 1935.

"Garbo as Camille," in Vogue (New York), 15 November 1936.

"Costumes," in Romeo and Juliet: A Motion Picture Edition , New York, 1936.

"Costumes for the Screen," in Movie Merry-Go-Round , edited by John Paddy Carstairs, London, 1937.

"Clothes," in Behind the Screen , edited by Stephen Watts, London, 1938.

On ADRIAN: book—

Tomerlin Lee, Sarah, editor, American Fashion: The Life and Times of Adrian, Mainbocher, McCardell, Norell, Trigere , New York, 1975.

On ADRIAN: articles—

Chierichetti, David, in Hollywood Costume Design , New York, 1976.

Leese, Elizabeth, in Costume Design in the Movies , New York, 1976.

LaVine, W. Robert, in In a Glamorous Fashion , New York, 1980.

Gibb, Bill, in Films and Filming (London), November 1983.

Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 6, no. 4, 1985.

Architectural Digest , vol. 49, April 1992.

Los Angeles Times , 17 August 1995.

* * *

Known for his impeccable styling, Adrian influenced the history of fashion with his camera-tailored costumes that set cinematic precedents. Also to his credit is a potent iconography of American mythology that lingers even today.

Adrian envisioned Norma Shearer as "everywoman's" ideal. Loaded with class, Shearer wore the kinds of fashions on which the "best-dressed" lists thrive. For her "prestige" pictures, Adrian featured the ultimate in opulent elegance. In Marie Antoinette , for instance, her wardrobe rivaled the magnificence of the historical originals.

For Greta Garbo, MGM had originally planned to laden the Swedish actress with junk jewelry and paraphernalia. Adrian protested vehemently, "Never put anything fake on Garbo!" and proceeded to dress her in his finest creations. Though his lines were simple, he often added precious details, such as exquisite embroidery or special sleeve treatments. Instead of presenting her as a flashy femme fatale , he translated her beauty as ethereal fantasy. In Camille Adrian costumes told the tale. Garbo as martyr wore a golden chain around her neck, while her shoulders were bared and vulnerable. Stars across the gown associated her with the heavens. This image suggested a Christian saint more than a demimonde courtesan. In other films, Adrian designed heavily glittered garments to counteract Garbo's purity. The fabric symbolized adultery in Wild Orchids and moral decay in Susan Lennox. Mata Hari shed her sequins as she spiritually progressed, for no material could outshine Garbo's natural brilliance.

While Adrian's Garbo bore the timeless beauty of geometry, with her abstract, linear proportions paralleling contemporary European design, all-American Jean Harlow hit with Yankee hard sell. Exaggerated but clever, brassy yet bold, Harlow was dressed with panache. Her "white on white" look could be traced to a British decorating vogue. It stood for a contemporary decadence rather than traditional purity. Adrian revealed Harlow's round, provocative form in the guise of an earthly Venus.

Adrian's Joan Crawford evolved. Beginning as an unadulterated moderne flapper, she combined Garbo's geometry with Harlow's visual chutzpah. Later, as a sleek, sophisticated socialite, she spurred glorious dreams of wealth for Depression audiences. But it is for her masculine padded shoulder style that we remember her best. With a torso as assertive as a yield sign, Crawford typified the aggressive woman. When the working woman returned to fashion in the 1970s, so did Adrian's padded shoulders.

Throughout his career Adrian designed fantastic frivolities. From Madam Satan to Ziegfeld Girl , erotica akin to Erté's sumptuous extravaganzas paraded down MGM's runways. Adrian dressed the nymphs of the chorus as chimeric birds, sprites, and demons. But his ultimate contribution to American myth was in The Wizard of Oz , a colorful, childhood allegory that remains one of Hollywood's most frequently seen films.

—Edith C. Lee

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