Today, I discovered someone at Facebook's Turner Classic Movies Fan Site asked members, "What is your all-time favorite dress from a classic movie?" Many famed costumes received votes -- Vivien Leigh's outfits in "Gone With the Wind," Rita Hayworth's black gown in "Gilda," and so on. Among those with votes was Carole Lombard's spectacular beaded gown, shown above, in "My Man Godfrey."
I voted for it too, as you might expect, but while looking for a pic I could post, I discovered an item about the outfit written three years ago, about the time it went on display at the "Hollywood Costume" exhibit at the former May Co. Miracle Mile building at Wilshire and Fairfax, which is now being converted into the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures:
Still can't figure out how I missed the story -- I had moved to Los Angeles that summer, and perhaps was still settling in. Anyway, here's more information about the gown, from the man who uncovered it and now owns it. His name is Larry McQueen, and he is owner of The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design. That collection includes, from left, two 1920s outfits Julie Andrews wore in 1967's "Thoroughly Modern Millie," and Barbra Streisand's 1890s gown from 1969's "Hello, Dolly!"
McQueen gave jewelry designer Kathleen Lynagh notes about the "Godfrey" gown (https://kathleenlynagh.me/2014/10/23/notes-from-larry-mcqueen-on-carole-lombards-beaded-gown/), and I'm happy to belatedly supply some excerpts:
"Even though the film was produced by Universal, Carole Lombard had the 'clout' to insist that her costumes be designed by the lead designer at Paramount, Travis Banton. They had worked together at Paramount where he designed her on- and off-screen wardrobes and helped to create the Lombard image by teaching her how to stand, move and how to wear clothing. ...
"...[Banton] became known for the 'Paramount Look,' which epitomized the timeless understated glamour of the 1930s and stood apart from Adrian's over-the-top, dramatic designs at MGM."
Here's that iconic gown as Banton designed it...although in this image, it lacks one very crucial accessory:
More on the gown from McQueen:
"...For the opening scenes of the film during the scavenger hunt, Lombard wears a silver/white bias cut and scalloped chiffon gown and duster that is solidly beaded with bugle beads. The ensemble is extremely heavy and it is a testament to Lombard's skills in her ability to handle it and make it look effortless, But it is the combination of these two materials that often destroy these garments and one of the reasons so few of them exist."
But fate was on the side of this classic gown. McQueen:
"The acquisition of this costume was one of those rare and gratifying accidents.
While working with a company that had assisted the Hollywood fashion machine for years, but was going out of business and liquidating all assets, we found two falling-apart boxes that hadn't been touched in over sixty years. I purchased both boxes, one of which contained the 'My Man Godfrey' costume in almost pristine condition. ...
What a break for fashion mavens and Lombard fans, true buried treasure. Below is a close-up of the gown, paired with Lynagh's re-creation of the accessory shown in the film, Carole's own 152-carat star sapphire brooch surrounded with diamonds. No one knows what happened to the original, which she reportedly bought in 1935 and sold as part of her collection three years later.
This page from Lynagh's site links to numerous entries on the original brooch, how Lynagh and her crew created this superb re-creation (with glass as a substitute for sapphire), and on Lombard the sapphire lover: https://kathleenlynagh.me/category/re-creative-jewelry-design/carole-lombards-brooch-from-my-man-godfrey/. A few pics from the process:
You can see the star design in this close-up:
The star sapphire's backstory can be found at https://kathleenlynagh.me/2014/10/15/it-was-in-all-of-the-newspapers/. To McQueen, Lynagh and company, belated kudos on a job well done.