Tinseltown was flexing its style muscle long before red carpet pre-shows and Rachel Zoe ever came on the scene. In 1919, WWD’s reporters caught up with Clare West, head of the costume staff of the Laskey Famous Players Co. — one of several companies which would become Paramount Pictures Corporation — on a fabric-buying trip to New York.
According to Miss West, Los Angeles and the film industry were the perfect incubators for fashion innovation. For her, one factor was the sunny climate. “We can wear different types of clothes all the year round here,” she said, “and can dispense with the heavy out-of-doors clothes that are necessary in New York.” And as for the role played by the motion picture industry, in West’s opinion there was no limit. “We have the ideal conditions under which fashion should be created,” she said.
The innovative — and sometimes controversial — Laskey Famous Players Co. had devoted a three-story building to their costume department with over $200,000 worth of stock, a staff that included tailors and hair dressers and even their own floral workshops. “When designing a costume, the designer is unlimited with regard to price, the effect is the only thing considered.”
Ultimately it was the combination of that design freedom and exposure to the public through movies that fueled L.A.’s early growth as a fashion center. Actresses-turned-style-icons like Gloria Swanson and “America’s Sweetheart,” Mary Pickford, were the ideal mascots. As West put it, “Women who never saw New York or Paris styles are thoroughly familiar with the latest fashions on motion picture film.”