Designing Woman

It takes a creative genius to think up fake bangs, ones that always fall evenly and never need to be trimmed. Ones like Edith Head wore.

The slightly cross-eyed lady didn’t just sport fake bangs. She also designed costumes for such films as The Birds, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Rear Window, Sabrina, The Ten Commandments and — her last — Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.

David Chierichetti met her thirty years ago. The first time he dialed her number at Paramount Pictures requesting an interview, he was hoping to find out not about her but about a director with whom she had worked.

Later, Chierichetti conducted more extensive interviews with Head as part of an oral history he was compiling for the American Film Institute. Head was notoriously secretive and much more consumed with costume designing than with socializing. (According to the Costume Designers Guild, she averaged 35 film projects a year, ultimately working on more than 500 films.) Yet she invited Chierichetti over for a meal, and he slowly became a regular dinner guest, which allowed him to get to know her as a friend.

Chierichetti completed the majority of his research for Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer after her death in 1981, and the book is not primarily about her work. “Nobody really knew her very well, and I felt that the private person was very interesting,” he tells the Pitch. For example, Chierichetti’s suspicion that Head was Jewish in spite of her having spent a lifetime professing to be Catholic was confirmed when he interviewed her maids.

The book also reveals how certain costumes were designed to hide the flaws of leading ladies like Bette Davis, about whom Chierichetti says, “She had bowed legs, very round shoulders and a long and broad neck. Worst of all were her breasts, which hung almost to her waist.”