*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.
A costume designer creates clothing for actors, clothing that helps the actor exemplify the role s/he is playing. For example, a costume designer would dress actors portraying Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley far differently than actors portraying Samson and Delilah! A fashion designer, on the other hand, creates clothing for the general public, or perhaps a certain segment of the public. And yet, function plays a role here, too: a pair of pants designed for a person out for a night on the town would not be the same as those designed for a person going hiking. Haute couture designers like Coco Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Hubert de Givenchy, and Manolo Blahnik have crossed the line, designing for movies and for the public.
University Archives and Special Collection holds the Beardsley, Montgomery, and Gordon Families Collection of vintage clothing (MSS 297). This collection was donated by Evadean Gordon in 2002, begun by her husband’s great-grandmother, Martha Cooper Beardsley (1831-1922), and passed down through the generations to Evadean. There are three pieces of clothing in this collection designed by men who also designed for Hollywood, in the latter half of the 20th century.
The first (MSS 297-20-6) is this black chiffon rayon crepe cocktail dress with long sleeves and a lace bodice, in a size 8. This is a 1950 creation by Don Loper, worn by Ruth Montgomery Gordston (1891-1975), the “aunt-in-law” of donor Evadean Gordon.
Born Lincoln George Hardloper in 1907 in Toledo, Ohio, there’s not a lot of factual information about Loper. He was said to have attended school in London or Paris from ages 9-12, meaning that his family must have been fairly well do do. He began as a dancer (with the Chicago Civic Ballet as a child) and later in movies and theatre, often with long-time partner Maxine Barrat. “By 1942 he had settled into a somewhat regular dancing/producing gig at the Copacabana in New York City with his partner Maxine Barrat, producing a show for which he also directed and designed the costumes called “Flying Down to Rio – and Back”, also designing clothes for his society lady friends on the side. Loper designed most of Barrat’s onstage costumes, as well as her real life wardrobe.”[i] In 1942, having moved to Hollywood, he made his screen debut dancing with Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark. In 1946 he opened his own salon. “Even amid the gilded pleasure domes and palaces of Hollywood, the Don Loper fashion salon is something ultra in swank and shimmer. To Loper’s Grecian temple-like establishment on the lush “Sunset Strip” come movie stars and others who can afford to pay $500 for a gown and prices scaled accordingly for hats, shoes and other accessories. Loper, a former ballroom dancer, several years ago turned his very apparent talents to the fields of interior decorating and exterior adornment for women. First he designed his salon to provide the proper setting of luxury and classic grace, then he began whipping up luscious one-of-a-kind creations that soon had movie queens treading a path to his portals. Loper’s creations seem to vary from numbers cut briefly but strategically, to cunningly swathed and draped affairs which cover, but certainly do not obscure the wearers.”[ii] He went on to do some work in interior decoration, and dress stars like Lana Turner, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Ella Fitzgerald, and Lucille Ball. He made an appearance as himself in a 1955 episode of I Love Lucy.
The following items of Don Loper attire are held by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. All date to the 1950s. For more information, click on the image(s) found here link near each.
Not a lot of information could be found about the next designer, Paul Parnes (1898-1978). He was born into the business….his father, Louis, began a dress business in 1895 called the Kings County Net Waist Company, some time after coming to New York from Ukraine. The company was later renamed Samuel R. Parnes after his oldest son. In 1922 Paul started his own business, which had a number of name changes over the next few years. In 1931 he, his father, and brother Edward formed the Paul Parnes Corporation that made the clothing we’re looking at today. The 1950 two piece wool ensemble seen below was designed by Paul Parnes and owned and worn by Ruth Montgomery Gordston (1891-1975). Seen here in entirety, this little “black” (actually, it’s charcoal gray in color) dress, here unhemmed, is far more attractive with the jacket removed. I think it’s the lace bodice that makes the dress. The third photo shows the lace in detail on the rear of the dress. This dress is identified as MSS 297-24-1.
These other examples of Paul Parnes jackets and dresses were found for sale on eBay. All date to the 1950s..
The final designer discussed here is Donald Brooks (1928-2005). Born Donald Marc Blumberg in New Haven, Connecticutt, Brooks was a graduate of the Parsons School of Design. “Brooks began his fashion career working on window displays at Lord & Taylor’s Fifth Avenue store in the early 1950s. He was a student at Parsons School of Design in New York City at the time, and store president Dorothy Shaver saw some of his fashion sketches. She asked him to design a collection exclusively for Lord & Taylor. … He was known for his simply cut dresses, often worn with a matching stole or coat. He liked bright colors and prints and used fabrics that he designed, including python-skin printed jersey, geranium-printed and sunflower-printed cottons. He also liked bold, graphic black-and-white prints. Brooks opened his own business in 1965 with the backing of Ben Shaw, a fashion entrepreneur who also financed the launch of Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene and Halston. Inside the industry, Brooks became known as one of fashion’s “three Bs” with Blass and Beene. “Donald never looked to Paris or Rome for ideas about women’s fashion,” said Blum, who met Brooks in the mid-1960s. “He thought about how an American woman should look, how she should dress.””[iii]
Brooks designed costumes for more than 20 Broadway shows and a number of films. In 1964, 1969, and 1971 he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design. He won a Primetime Emmy in 1982 for his costumes for Lee Remick in the television movie The Letter, and was again nominated for his work on the costumes for Claudette Colbert in The Two Mrs. Grenvilles in 1987. He designed (either for film/theatre or personal use, or both) for stars Liza Minnelli, Diahann Carroll, Barbara Harris, Julie Andrews, Carol Channing, Carol Burnett, and Ethel Merman. Princess Grace of Monaco, Barbra Streisand, and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy were also clients. “Jacqueline Kennedy wore a Brooks-designed sleeveless pink silk sheath on a tour of India in 1962, Newsday reported. And when Truman Capote threw his famous “Black and White Ball” at the Plaza Hotel in 1966, there were more Brooks gowns at the party than those of any other designer.”[iv]
The Donald Brooks’ two-piece dress in our collection, seen below, dates to 1960. It is black, pink, and chartreuse in color and is identified as MSS 297-21-1. Note the button detail on the back.
This dress (left) is housed in the Archives of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Made by Donald Brooks, “it’s a shift dress in pink silk shantung with four large covered buttons down the side. This dress is sleeveless with an empire waist. For Mrs. Kennedy, they were useful supplements to the formality of her state wardrobe. This dress was worn by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy on a cruise of the Ganges River in Benares during her State visit to India, March 16, 1962. In the second picture you can catch a glimpse of it being worn by Mrs. Kennedy. (Image found here.)
Above are two images of a black sequined halter-style long gown ornamented throughout with white beaded magnolias. It was designed by Donald Brooks in 1968 for Julie Andrews for her role as Gertrude Lawrence in Star.
“Barbra Streisand wore this Donald Brooks color blocked gown on the cover of LIFE magazine on May 22, 1964. Barbra’s Brooks maxi dress is Grecian style empire waist with a V-neck. The front is color blocked vertically with two layers of light pink and pale green chiffon. The back of the dress features a bias cut and is forest green. The dress is fully gathered and has a silk lining, rolled hem and zipper, hook & eye closure. This look perfectly encompassed Barbra’s favorite style elements that we would see her wearing for the vast majority of her career.” Images and quote found here.
Whether you go about your day attired in haute couture or are strictly an “off the rack” kind of person, I hope you’ll agree that it’s fun to explore this aspect of the Beardsley, Montgomery, and Gordon Families Collection of vintage clothing (MSS 297).
“Don Loper, Fashion Impresario To Hollywood Stars, Dies at 65.” New York Times obituary, November 23, 1972.
Koshetz, Herbert. “Garment maker calls industry a challenge: Paul Parnes asserts search for ideas is 24-hour job.” New York Times: July 15, 1964, p. 45, 49.
Lipton, Brian Scott. “Donald Brooks, Legendary Costume and Fashion Designer, Dies at 77.” TheaterMania website, August 3, 2005.
“Obituary: Donald Brooks, a Creator of ‘America’s Look’.” Women’s Wear Daily, August 3, 2005.
“Parnes, Paul.: Vintage Fashion Guild website, July 25, 2010.
Rourke, Mary. “Donald Brooks, 77; Fashion Designer Also Created Costumes for Broadway and Film.” Los Angeles Times, August 6, 2005.
Simonson, Robert. “Donald Brooks, Costume Designer Who Jumped from Fashion to Broadway, is Dead at 77.” Playbill, August 3, 2005.
1 Don…No Accounting…
ii Don…No Accounting…, as quoted in the Buffalo Courier-Express, May 4, 1947