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Fashion in Film Blogathon: Carole, designed by Irene



We're going to discuss fashion in this entry, because today is the "Fashion In Film Blogathon" hosted by Hollywood Revue (http://hollywoodrevue.wordpress.com).



Carole Lombard was recognized for her fashion sense; she worked with many designers, but two in particular stand out. In the early and mid-1930s, Paramount's Travis Banton helped craft her look (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/76862.html); for the final few years of Lombard's life, she worked with a lady named Irene Lentz Gibbons, professionally known by her first name.



Irene designed the outfit Carole wore in the top photo, taken by John Engstead in 1941. She created clothes for several of her films, including "In Name Only"...



..."Mr. & Mrs. Smith"...



...and this ethereal gown from Carole's final film, "To Be Or Not To Be."



This blend of elegance and sexiness perfectly conveyed the persona of Lombard from 1939 on. Carole frequently praised her work, calling Irene her favorite designer.

Their rapport likely stemmed from many things they had in common -- and one of them was a tie to Mack Sennett. Several years before Lombard joined his troupe, Lentz appeared in a few of his films, including at least one with Ben Turpin. She married Sennett director and producer F. Richard Jones, whose directing work on the early talkie "Bulldog Drummond" won plaudits. Unfortunately, he fell victim to tuberculosis and died in 1930.

Irene, by now out of acting, decided to open a dress shop. Her impeccable style and taste helped her reputation grow, and soon she was hired by the famed Bullocks Wilshire department store, which had opened 82 years ago this upcoming Monday, Sept. 26, 1929:




Lombard was among the many Hollywood notables who shopped at Bullocks Wilshire, and this is likely where she met Irene, who worked in the ladies' custom salon.

Independent film companies soon called for Irene's services in the early '30s, but her first notable work came a few years later, when she designed Ginger Rogers' gowns for "Shall We Dance"...



...and Constance Bennett's in "Topper Takes A Trip":



Irene then remarried; her husband was writer Eliot Gibbons, brother of MGM art director Cedric Gibbons. That helped her replace the fabled Adrian as MGM's costume designer in the early 1940s. However, the marriage was not a happy one, and by the end of the decade, the studio's gradual decline was making work difficult. She left MGM in 1950 to open her own fashion house in conjunction with Bullocks Wilshire, creating designs such as these:




In 1960, Irene's good friend Doris Day asked her to design her gowns for the thriller "Midnight Lace," whose supporting cast included Myrna Loy (a Montana native like Irene):



These stylish outfits gained Irene her second Academy Award nomination (the first was for "B.F.'s Daughter" in 1948), and she followed with work on another Day film, "Lover Come Back":



But unbeknownst to the public, there was turmoil in Irene's private life, beginning with the death of fellow Montanan Gary Cooper in 1961. Irene confided to Day in 1962 that Cooper was the only man she had ever loved, although in Day's autobiography, she said she wasn't certain if there had been any kind of affair between them.

In November 1962, only weeks before she was to turn 62, Irene entered the Knickerbocker Hotel under an assumed name, leaping that afternoon from the ninth floor to her death on the roof atop the lobby, although her body was not discovered until nightfall. She was buried alongside her first husband at Forest Lawn.

To learn more about this designer, whose works are still valued and praised today, visit http://www.irene-lentz.com, maintained by her great-niece. It's a splendid site, with all sorts of photos, designs and information. From time to time, you can find some of Irene's gown and dress designs on eBay -- though these items won't come cheaply. It's a tribute to one of the greats of the fashion industry.

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