Do you ever fantasize about what it would have been like to go through the Hollywood studio system? With an army of businessmen, stylists and cosmeticians deciding whether you'll be a wife or a mistress, blonde or brunette, and even what your new name will be, you would soon be pummeled, bobbed, and straightened into a screen-ready siren.
One of these Pygmalions was Gilbert Adrian, MGM's in-house dress designer. Discovered by Irving Berlin while studying at Parson's in Paris, Adrian dropped out and within a few years, found himself traveling to La La Land by train with Valentino and a monkey.
The padded shoulder is probably what Adrian is most identified with. By making the shoulders strong, he could make even pear-shaped figures like Norma Shearer look sleek. It is interesting to think about the new active roles women were taking on during WWII, and compare it to the 80s when this style was revived and women were climbing the corporate ladder to new heights.
The power of color - even though most of Adrian's work was captured on screen in black and white, he knew the emotional power of color and dressed his ladies in their favorite hues. Crawford had a preference for blues while Garbo liked olive and burgandy... That said, he was a master at the dramatic use of black and white....
And no less an important ingredient in the Adrian cocktail was his wit. Note the three eyes on the blouse of Rosalind Russell in The Women, which perfectly plays up her character Sylvia's meddlesome ways. He also gave his creations the most terrific names - the evening is already a success as soon as you've put on "To Enchant Him" or "Doctor I see Spots", and even more so if it features one of Adrian's amusing signature prints, such as "Queen Bee" or "Fish and Chips".
"It was because of Garbo that I left M-G-M. In her last picture [Two-Faced Woman] they wanted to make her a sweater girl, a real American type. I said, 'When the glamour ends for Garbo, it also ends for me. She has created a type. If you destroy that illusion, you destroy her.' When Garbo walked out of the studio, glamour went with her, and so did I."
Yet it is Adrian's legacy that continues to define Hollywood glamour to this day.