I’m fortunate to have been brought up by a very glamorous and sophisticated mother, who at an early age, introduced me to the wonderful world of vintage Hollywood. I was mesmerized by the performances and beauty of such stars as Veronica Lake, Rita Hayworth and particularly Joan Crawford, of whom I’ve read probably every biography that’s ever had pen put to paper. Of those, one caused a huge controversy, its title is Mommie Dearest and it was written by her daughter Christina.
Christina Crawford is Joan’s adopted daughter and her hugely successful 1978 biography of her mother was turned into a 1981 film starring Faye Dunaway. Mommie Dearest, either rightly or wrongly, portrayed Joan as a very cruel woman, an alcoholic and an abusive mother, an image that many of her adoring fans have found difficult to accept. Nevertheless, the film has found a place in popular culture and for me, it’s been an inspiration set-piece for my 1940s costuming and styling.
A few years ago, by sheer coincidence, I went to an auction at Bohnams , that consisted of clothing from some of the films that Angels has been involved in the production of. Amongst the odd assortment, I stumbled upon two dresses from Mommie Dearest that were being sold as one lot. I tried them on, they fitted me like a glove and I knew then that I simply had to win them, it was beyond my control.
Well I did win the auction and two wonderful outfits that were worn by Ms Dunaway are now in my possession and just so we’re clear, that means FOREVER and I will never ever sell them. Why? Well, one of the dresses was worn in what has become the seminal scene of the film and arguably its most controversial. It’s the “No wire hangers!” dress that puts in an appearance when an off-the-scale with rage Joan return home to beat her daughter senseless for hanging her clothes on a wire hanger. The other dress was worn in the opening scene of the film. In it, Joan is preparing for a dance scene in The Ice Follies of 1939. It’s a blue ice-skating outfit made from thousands of hand-sewn sequins and from what I’ve been told since meeting someone who worked in the costume department for Mommie Dearest, the hat alone for it was more expensive to make than many designer dresses of the day. The reason for this? The perfectionism that is the legendary Irene Sharaff, Chief Costume Designer for the film and who’s last film work this was to be. Ms Sharaff created costumes for Hello Dolly!, The King and I, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf , West Side Story and is second only to Edith Head in Oscar count for film costume designing.
So, sometimes I guess, dreams do come true and I’m also guessing that you’d all like to see what these dresses look like.
And on a final fashion note, it seems I’m not the only one to take a keen interest in the film, back in 2008 Numero Magazine devoted an editorial to the film. Here’s their take – Model: Siri Tøllerod, Photographer: Sofia Sanchez & Mauro Mongiello, Stylist: Samuel François