There’s no surprise that the wardrobe on display in the Katherine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen exhibition is sharp, clean, and perfectly turned out. Finishing its run at NYPL at Lincoln Center this month, the Library has imported this stunning tribute developed by Kent State University. Check out this promo produced by WNET Channel 13:
The first clothes you encounter are a collection of her famous trousers and jodphurs, but tucked away in the corner to the right of the entrance is an item that underscores the purpose of this tribute – the Ernest Trova statuette that she received in 1985 from the Council of Fashion Designers of America for Lifetime Achievement (and inspiration).
A fashion icon for the 20th Century, the show highlights her collaborations with the best designers throughout her life. The first gallery features her stage clothes – Valentina’s creations for the Broadway production of The Philadelphia Story, which look like they were made yesterday, and the Chanel outfits that she commissioned for her performances in Coco. Apparently she did not think that Cecil Beaton’s vision could compare to the real thing, so she wore genuine Chanel in the play. Beaton did get Hepburn to wear some of his creations, and you’ll see a gorgeous black gown there, too.
It was the same story for films. Edith Head said, ““One does not design for Miss Hepburn, one designs with her.” Hepburn bought hats directly from Hattie Carnegie for Alice Adams. Margaret Furse, who loved working with the perfectionist Hepburn, said that she was glad to “share credit” for the contemporary designs in A Delicate Balance. You’ll see her solution – to simply let Bergdorf Goodman make the leopard-print caftan and other stuff.
Almost everything for Hepburn later in life had high necklines and longish sleeves. Still, the stunner is the revealing form-fitting black gown she wore in Adam’s Rib (1949) by Walter Plunkett, the designer who also did Gone With The Wind. (It’s the one in the video promo.)
Her theatrical make-up kit is also on display in the back room. Who else? Max Factor.