While most of the costumes featured in San Diego Comic-Con’s annual Masquerade typically run towards video game, comic, anime, and blockbuster genre film characters, this year’s had a little something special for the classic film fan: Edith Head!
Yes, legendary costume designer Edith Head—who’s the subject of an upcoming retrospective at UCLA—was represented amongst the orcs and time lords in the prestigious cosplay showcase, for which contestants must apply months in advance. In addition to the design and construction of the clothing, entrants must also present the costumes to the stage—these performances range from simply walking out and doing a spin, to scripted skits and dances with fully coordinated lights and music. Here, we saw “Edith” hard at work designing the costumes for Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 epic Samson and Delilah, finding her task all the more difficult because of Hedy Lamarr’s very censorable navel. Our costumed “Edith” came to a similar conclusion as the real Edith would in 1949, and the answer was BELTS. Ornately designed, bejeweled belts that would allow the audience to see some skin—but not be subjected to the crassness of a belly button, of course.
Throughout the real design process, Head—who was a notorious stickler for authenticity—utilized studio researchers, who deemed the peacock feathers “close enough” for the location and time period. The feathers reportedly came from DeMille’s personal stock of peacocks (I’m sure many a costume designer today would kill to have such access!), humanely gathered throughout the molting season. The result was a stunningly ornate display meant to demonstrate Delilah’s power, and the gown is truly a showstopper even watching the film today.
Sadly, the recreated costumes seen here at San Diego Comic-Con did not win a prize at this Masquerade, but hopefully we can expect more classic film inspired entries in the years to come. Edith was portrayed by Elizabeth De Boer, who, appropriately, also made the costumes for the whole group. Hedy, before and after peacock transformation, was played by Danielle Luntz and Monica Wright. There was also a “Pluck Peacock” manipulated by Catherine Pugliaresi—of which, sadly, I did not manage to get a photo.
Elsewhere, the UCLA Film & Television Archive is preparing a new film series called, “What I Really Do Is Magic: Edith Head and Hollywood Costume Design.” The program runs from August 8 through September 27, opening with the noir spoof Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and closing with Sweet Charity. You’ll also find classics like Sunset Boulevard, She Done Wrong, Roman Holiday, and, well… everything Head touched is a classic, really, so if you’re in the area, just consider yourself booked for the next two months or so. Many of the screenings also include documentaries and behind-the-scenes footage of Head at work, as well as Q&As with filmmakers (Carl Reiner), fellow costume designers (Deborah Nadoolman Landis), and authors (David Chierichetti, Paddy Calistro). All screenings will be held at the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood (10899 Wilshire Boulevard), and all tickets are $10. For more information, or to buy your tickets in advance, check out their website.