Monday, August 2, 2010

Jean Louis Loved Muffs

Muffs were a fashion accessory from the old days. Really, they were. These “nests” or “little barrels”, as they were called, were made of sable or skunk or musquash (aka muskrat) among other materials, and they kept the hands of fine ladies cozy from as early as the 15th century. Sometimes these charming hand warmers did double duty and carried a latchkey, a tiny dog, or a pistol.

Renowned costumer Jean Louis designed fabulous muffs for Kim Novak in Bell, Book and Candle and Rita Hayworth in Tonight and Every Night. In addition to a fuchsia muff, Kim wore opera gloves of the same colour in BB&C to accent her burgundy dress. That outfit was topped by a hooded cape of deep wine-red that flashed fuchsia lining when she walked. An enchanting look for a beguiling witch.

Jean Louis also designed the famous black silk gown for the striptease number in Gilda. There’s no muff in sight for this costume. The black opera gloves are all that get removed before Rita Hayworth’s troubled heroine is escorted from the stage. But the muff Rita sports in Tonight and Every Night had purpose beyond style – it hid Rita’s pregnancy.

In a career full of amazing frocks and headdresses and muffs, a standout was Marilyn Monroe’s rhinestone encrusted Happy-Birthday-Mr-President gown, which she had to be sewn into. Jean Louis was nominated for an Academy Award 14 times and won but once, for Judy Holliday’s chic threads in The Solid Gold Cadillac.