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Dressmaker for stars and secretaries: couturier Adrian dressed some of MGM's biggest stars--then took his designs to the mass market. (culture).

Joan Crawford. Judy Garland. Greta Garbo. Katharine Hepburn. Norma Shearer. MGM may have virtually owned these actresses in the 1930s and '40s, but only one man dressed them: Adrian. Regarded as one of the foremost costume designers during Hollywood's golden age, Adrian is finding a new audience with exhibit of his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. "The general public only know Adrian as a designer," says Bernice Kwok-Gabel, press officer for the museum's Costume Institute. "There isn't a lot information about him after his years in Hollywood. [But] he is truly an American designer."

"Adrian: American Glamour" should raise visibility for his career work. On display until August 18, the exhibit features some iconic Hollywood essentials--Hepburn's white-and-gold dress from The Philadelphia Story, Garbo's throne-room ensemble from Queen Christina--but mainly on the designer's couture work after departing MGM in 1941. Adrian, who went by only one name, took what he had developed for the movies and integrated it into the fashion of the day. His greatest inspiration was giving Joan Crawford shoulder pads to narrow her hips and improve her appearance on the screen; instantly his signature "inverted pyramid" dress style was born. He rarely strayed from it again, and we're still seeing its revolutionary influence over 60 years later. "If you look at the broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted suit he created for Joan Crawford, we see that today, we saw it in the '80s, and we saw it in the '90s," says Kwok-Gabel.

The inverted pyramid was just the beginning, however. According to Jane Trapnell Marino, guest curator of the exhibit, "He had a wonderful fount of creativity and ideas, even during the war, when the government was dictating the circumference of a hem. He made a virtue out of necessity [and] created a new kind of glamour."

A great lover of art, Adrian found ways to incorporate cubism, futurism, and surrealism into his designs. "[His critics said,] `You're not designing what people want; you're designing what you want,'" says William J. Mann, author of Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969. "[But] Adrian was so innovative that what he wanted soon became also what other people wanted."

Adrian's insistence on forging his own way carried over into his personal life. He was openly gay within his Hollywood circle--at least until he married Janet Gaynor, who became his muse. "[He] was really thinking beyond convention and living that way too," Mann says. "He'd walk around town in these capes and this extravagant clothing and was pretty open about being with men. [But] when the Hays Code came in, Adrian looked at the changing times and acted accordingly."

Mann is quick to point out, however, that Adrian's marriage shouldn't negate his importance as a gay innovator. "It's important not to pass a contemporary judgment on him. We're not inside his head, and sexuality is fluid."

Regardless of his orientation, Adrian left an indelible mark on the American--and gay--landscape. "He created the look of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz!" says Mann. "These are iconographic images in our culture. Hollywood is filled with all sorts of expressions of gay creativity, and Adrian's a very big example of it."

Habib wrote about the book The Soul Beneath the Skin in the June 25 issue of The Advocate.
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Title Annotation:Adrian; costume design; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Author:Habib, John Philip
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 9, 2002
Words:551
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