Charles Head (1923–1938; divorced) Wiard Ihnen (1940–1979; his death)
Edith Head (October 28, 1897 – October 24, 1981) was an American costume designer who won eight Academy Awards, more than any other person in the category of costume design. During a career lasting more than half a century, while her 'home' studio was Paramount (later Universal) her favour with female performers meant that her services were frequently loaned to other studios.
She was born Edith Claire Posener in San Bernardino, California, the daughter of Jewish parents, Max Posener and Anna E. Levy. Her father was a naturalized American citizen from Prussia, who came to the United States in 1876. Her mother was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of an Austrian father and a Bavarian mother. It is not known where Max and Anna met, or if they ever married. Just before Edith's birth, Max Posener opened a small haberdashery in San Bernardino which failed within a year. In 1905 Anna married mining engineer Frank Spare, from Pennsylvania. The family moved frequently as Spare's jobs moved, and the only place whose name Head could later recall from her early years was Searchlight, Nevada. Frank and Anna Spare passed Edith off as their mutual child. As Frank Spare was a Catholic, Edith ostensibly became one as well.
Edith received a bachelor of arts degree in letters and sciences with honors in French from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1919, and earned a master of arts degree in romance languages from Stanford University in 1920. She became a language teacher with her first position at Bishop's School in La Jolla teaching French as a replacement. After one year, she took a position teaching French at the Hollywood School for Girls. Wanting a slightly higher salary, she told the school that she could also teach art, even though she had only briefly studied the discipline in high school. To improve her drawing skills, at this point rudimentary, she took evening classes at the Chouinard Art College.
On July 25, 1923, she married Charles Head, the brother of one of her Chouinard classmates, Betty Head. Although the marriage ended in divorce in 1936 after a number of years of separation, she continued to be known professionally as Edith Head until her death.
The Paramount years
In 1924, despite lacking art, design, and costume design experience, Head was hired as a costume sketch artist at Paramount Pictures in the costume department. Later she admitted to borrowing another student's sketches for her job interview. She began designing costumes for silent films, commencing with The Wanderer in 1925 and, by the 1930s, had established herself as one of Hollywood's leading costume designers. She worked at Paramount for 43 years until she went to Universal Pictures on March 27, 1967, possibly prompted by her extensive work for director Alfred Hitchcock, who had moved to Universal, in 1960.
Head's marriage to set designer Wiard Ihnen, on September 8, 1940, lasted until his death from prostate cancer in 1979. Over the course of her long career, she was nominated for 35 Academy Awards, annually from 1948 through to 1966, and won eight times – receiving more Oscars than any other woman.
Although Head was featured in studio publicity from the mid-1920s, she was originally over-shadowed by Paramount's head designers, first Howard Greer, then Travis Banton. It was only after Banton's resignation in 1938, that she achieved a high profile as a designer in her own right. Her association with the "sarong" dress designed for Dorothy Lamour in The Hurricane (1937) made her well-known among the general public, although Head was a more restrained designer than either Banton or Adrian. She gained public attention for the top mink-lined gown she created for Ginger Rogers in Lady in the Dark (1944), which caused much comment owing to it countering the mood of wartime austerity. The establishment, in 1949, of the category of an Academy Award for Costume Designer further boosted her career, because it began her record-breaking run of Award nominations and wins, beginning with her nomination for The Emperor Waltz.
In 1967, she left Paramount Pictures and joined Universal Pictures, where she remained until her death in 1981. As studio-based feature film production declined and many of her favored stars retired, Head became more active as a television costume designer, often designing outfits for film actors, such as Olivia De Havilland, who were now working for television. In 1974, Head received a final Oscar win for her work on The Sting.
During the late 1970s, Edith Head was asked to design a woman's uniform for the United States Coast Guard, because of the increasing number of women in the Coast Guard. Head called the assignment a highlight in her career and received the Meritorious Public Service Award for her efforts. Her designs for a TV mini-series based on the novel Little Women were well received. Her last film project was the black-and-white comedy Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982), starring Steve Martin and Carl Reiner. For the production, she re-created fashions of the 1940s, extensively referencing the clips from classic noir motion pictures used in Martin and Reiner's film. It was released shortly after her death and dedicated to her memory.
Note: Although Edith Head won an Oscar for Best Costumes, the Capri Collection (Capri Skirt, Capri Blouse, Capri Belt, Capri Pants) was, in fact, designed by the European fashion designer Sonja de Lennart. However, since the outfits were actually made in Edith Head's Roman temporary Atelier of the sorelle Fontana—that acted as the costume department—Edith Head, Paramount's costume designer, used only her name without giving credit to the original designer, Sonja de Lennart, as it was pretty common at that time in history. Costume designers around the world used only their names, regardless who created the costumes. However, Edith Head was given credit for the costumes, even though the Academy's votes were obviously for Hepburn's attire. Sonja de Lennart's Capri Pants were sewn and used in the next movie, Sabrina, by Hubert de Givenchy. Edith Head did not refuse that Oscar either.
Note: Although Edith Head won an Oscar for Best Costumes, most of Audrey Hepburn's "Parisian" ensembles were, in fact, designed by Hubert de Givenchy and chosen by the star herself. However, since the outfits were actually made in Edith Head's Paramount Studios costume department, some felt that doing so created enough of a technicality to nominate Head, instead of Givenchy. And, indeed, since she refused to have her name alongside Givenchy's in the credits, she was given credit for the costumes, even though the Academy's votes were obviously for Hepburn's attire. Head did not refuse the Oscar, however.