I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s version of Rear Window recently. Although many aspects of the film seemed quaint and dated, the fashions worn by Grace Kelly were still eminently wearable. The costume designer was Edith Head (1907 – 1981). The timelessness of her designs was part of studio policy, so that the films did not date quickly, but the panache was her own. In a career that spanned four decades, she was nominated for 35 Academy Awards and won 8 – more than any other woman in film history. She was exceptionally savvy. She knew her job was to make the stars look good, not to try to steal the limelight. She consulted extensively with them, clad in her trademark little beige suits, hair pulled severely back, enormous black-framed glasses hiding her eyes, so that she attracted no attention. She was half designer, half psychologist.
Today’s expression, l’habit ne fait pas le moine, literally means “the habit doesn’t make the monk” or, as we say, “the clothes don’t make the man.” This is a sentiment with which Edith Head would have heartily disagreed. Her clothes did indeed make the actor or actress for whom she designed them into any number of different people, all of them dressed in the finest quality.