On this day: Adrian, Hollywood’s most influential designer


In 2022, fashion continues to take inspiration from the spectacular creations of Hollywood film costume designer Adrian. The legendary American couturier died on September 13, 1959.

Adrian costumed over 250 films beginning in the silent movie era before retiring in 1941 to open his own fashion house.

Unlike other costumers whose credit read Costumes by So&So, Adrian was credited as Gowns by Adrian. The gowns he designed for stars like Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and Katharine Hepburn went beyond mere costume. Adrian introduced couture to Hollywood movies.

Fans began to dress like the movie stars they admired. Half a million women brought copies of a gown he designed for Joan Crawford to wear in a 1932 movie. Fluffy ruffles added volume to the shoulders, a silhouette Adrian often favoured, especially for Crawford. (A style much borrowed by drag queens everywhere.)

Later, he adopted the shoulder pads worn by American footballers for women’s wear. When Joan Crawford transformed from abandoned wife to strong-shouldered business tycoon in Mildred Pierce, ambitious women everywhere adopted power dressing.

Shoulder pads have returned to the catwalks over and over in the decades since. Notably in the eighties when viewers watched the shoulders of Linda Evans and Joan Collins expand with every new episode of Dynasty. I suspect Aaron Spelling cancelled the show while the two stars could still walk through doors without turning side on.

As well as beautiful and flattering gowns, Adrian also designed some of the best-known costumes of all time.  His designs for The Wizard of Oz included Dorothy’s iconic red-sequinned ruby slippers.

Lavender Marriage

Despite being openly gay, in 1939 Adrian married Hollywood star Janet Gaynor, the first recipient of an Oscar for Best Actress. They married soon after her triumph in the first movie version of A Star is Born.

Until the late twentieth century, Hollywood movie studios relentlessly propagandised fairy-tale heterosexuality. Happiness was only possible through a faithful heterosexual marriage. The only other option was heterosexual adultery but that inevitably led to misery and ruination.

Studio heads required their stars to marry. At the very least, they needed to be publicly considering marriage. Janet Gaynor and a group of her Hollywood girlfriends relied on male stars like Cesar Romero and Liberace (both gay) to squire them to public events and dispel any suspicion of homosexuality.

The other option was a lavender marriage like that of Adrian and Janet Gaynor where a lesbian or bisexual woman married a gay or bisexual husband and each allowed the other freedom to enjoy themselves with partners of the same sex.

Adrian and Janet’s was a happy and devoted marriage that produced a son and lasted until Adrian’s death.

In 1941, Adrian left the MGM studio to open his own fashion house. The business proved a great success but after suffering a heart attack in 1951, Adrian closed up shop. He died in 1959, but his fashion innovations seem destined to live forever.

Read also: The High Priest of 20th-century haute couture, Cristóbal Balenciaga.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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