Today my post is in part soppy I love my friends, and also part fashion/film history.
My friend Caro is seriously an amazingly special lady, we’ve known each other since we were 4 (gulp. 19 years) and went to both primary school and high school together. Caro has, over the years, educated me well in old films. We’ve watched countless films together (more Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn than you can shake a stick at) and last night decided to go for two Fred Astaire/ Ginger Rogers classics. First off was Roberta (1935) , the focus of my post.
My squealing throughout the film says something about how much I enjoyed the costumes I think….
I won’t give away the whole story but as a quick overview Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire are almost the second pairing in this film (the main one being Randolph Scott and Irene Dunne). And the film centres mostly around the high end fashion house of Roberta and Huck’s (Fred Astaire’s) band ” Wabash Indianians”. But, for me the plot of the film is secondary (or even tertiary) to the insane costumes and dancing that feature throughout.
Of all Fred and Ginger films I have seen the costumes in this are my favourite hands down. The costumes were designed by Bernard Newman who designed for quite a number of RKO pictures (including Swing Time and Top Hat) , although understandably as this film is about a fashion house these are amongst the most spectacular. Newman had couture credentials and was actually also the head designer for Bergdorf Goodman. The majority of Newman’s film credits come from the years 1935 and 1936, although he designed for RKO from 1933. Apparently (although I can’t say for absolute certain on this) Newman was used for this film on Dunne’s recommendation.
The costume budget for the film was huge, hitting in at $250,000 but I have to say, well worth it. I think this film is particularly striking for the detail in the costumes, the cut of the sleeves, collar detailing, necklines etc. etc. I really could go on, but I recommend you watch it for yourself.
One such amazing necktie with matching cuffs. (Irene Dunne)
The cut of the sleeves on this dress were just perfect, with sleeves and bodice in contrasting fabric.(Claire Dodd)
The “wet look” was one of Newman’s design signatures. This is one of the most striking of the film (although as Caro and I discussed it has a bit of a fetish look to it)
This crazy cowl neck coat (that I am sure must have been weighted to sit in this way) as worn by Dunne also has a fabulous reverse fastening detail to the back.
The film is also great for fur accents, which even in black and white seem to come completely to life.
Daringly sensational black backless dress. As also worn in the film by Claire Dodd.
Crazy chevron dress which has a real Schiaparelli feel to it.
Utterly amazing 3 piece swimsuit worn in the fashion sequence towards the end of the film. The styling of this swimsuit seems particularly modern.
A still from the fashion show towards the end of the film.
A small snippet about the film from Ginger:
With handsome clothes by my favorite designer, Bernard Newman, and beautiful songs to dance to, I had the time of my life playing this role.
“Bernard Newman’s clothes in Roberta for me and for Irene Dunne were exceptionally clever and handsome. The gold lamé dress I wore for the “I Won’t Dance” number was a dress I had bought while in New York as part of my trousseau. That was the first time I ever wore a personal dress in a motion picture, and it was probably because Bernard Newman had designed it. For the “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” number [sung by Dunne], he created a long black satin dress, with a wonderful piece of faux jewelry on the chest. Men always commented on that gown; indeed, I never met a man who didn’t like that dress.”
(From Ginger Rogers memoir)
That Gold lame dress
The black dress worn by Ginger Rogers whilst Irene Dunne sings “Smoke gets in your eyes”
Headdress worn by Dunne for “Smoke gets in your eyes” The dress was actually red even though it looks very pale in thefilm stills (can’t get a picture that isn’t terribly fuzzy of it mind you!). This headdress cost an eyewatering $6,000.
My personal favourite though is not one of the striking gowns, but the incredible jumpsuit worn by Ginger Rogers in one of the dance sequences “I’ll be hard to handle”.