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Head to Head

An icon and an ingenue will be on view tonight when MoMA screens brand new prints of Paramount classics "Roman Holiday" and "Sunset Boulevard" at The Gramercy Theatre, both starring a reticent leading lady — legendary Hollywood costume designer...

An icon and an ingenue will be on view tonight when MoMA screens brand new prints of Paramount classics “Roman Holiday” and “Sunset Boulevard” at The Gramercy Theatre, both starring a reticent leading lady — legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head. She created Cinderella-like gowns for Audrey Hepburn’s Princess Ann in “Roman Holiday” and modified the New Look (sans waist-cincher) for Gloria Swanson’s turn as Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard.”

The frame-by-frame restoration coincides with the DVD release of the films, each featuring a short documentary entitled “Edith Head: The Paramount Years,” a nostalgic look at Head’s remarkable career.

“She was smart about what worked in a film and what didn’t,” Bob Mackie says during the short. “You can spot an Edith Head film a mile away.”

In her 60 years as a costume designer, Head worked on hundreds of films such as “Funny Face,” “The Birds” and “The Sting,” giving fashion advice to Clara Bow in “Wings” and befriending Elizabeth Taylor during the filming of “A Place in the Sun.” She famously stuck a large diamond pin to Rosemary Clooney’s derriere in “White Christmas” and the outrageous gold lamé gown she designed for Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief” — Head’s favorite movie — stole the show. And she knew how to mask an actor’s flaws, covering Audrey Hepburn’s prominent collarbone with scarves throughout “Roman Holiday.”

Of course, Head didn’t merely dress the stars, she was one, and was as well known for her glamorous gowns as her savvy self-promotion and trademark look — dark glasses and blunt bangs. Though her own uniform was decidedly drab, during her reign, Head was the authority on Hollywood style.

Her prescription for up-and-comers? “Your dresses should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show you’re a lady.”

This story first appeared in the December 2, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.