Murder Mystery Fashions: The Golden Age of 1930’s Cinema

The Kennel Murder Case” (1933) starring William Powell and Mary Astor.  As the character PHILO VANCE some say is is a “preview” to his later career as “The Thin Man” which debuted later in the decade and into the 1940’s as audiences could not get enough of his crime solving skills and debonair manner.  The THIN MAN series gained much acclaim and success.  It’s a favorite series on many TCM lists of Detective genres but this early mystery is considered one of the best.  It’s a short skip and jump to the “Film Noir” genre that is related though not the same.  My obsession with these films is the look and feel of the atmosphere, and especially the costumes. The 1930’s was the era of the depression when the movies provided the a lifestyle that audiences could only dream of.  The perfect suit worn by William Powell is in stark contrast to his cohorts down at the police station as he is a cut above in social class. The big stars of the film would have had their clothes especially tailored  and designed and Mary Aster’s clothes would have been created by a studio costume designer to reflect her high social class and taken from the pages of a fashion magazine.

ORRY KELLY was a well known costume designer known for his elegance for both women costumes and his filmography is long and contains some of Hollywood’s most famous films.  This film was one of his works and you can easily see Mary Astor and a few of the female main characters wearing his elegant designs.  The looks of the film were contemporary, and not fantastical.  A wardrobe mistress would have dressed the remaining cast members and extras.  Bill Powell most likely has a tailor who made his suits (at least 3 for the shoot) and costume stock from studio wardrobe would have dressed the cops, extras, and smaller characters in the film.  Before there were huge 531572240costume houses in Hollywood, there were huge wardrobe departments and stock that provided the costumes.



The black and white film is a challenge that is unique to the art of costume and scenic design. Exploring the tones, textures and lines of the clothes is an important aspect to telling the story of the characters. When captured in black and white, the story becomes even more stark as the lights and shadows become as important as the fashions depicted.

What makes the genre of the detective story so fun, is the rooms are often bathed in shadows, characters emerge into the light, their clothes sometimes blending into the background until they are revealed and often with critical plot points. Satins and fur trim are important fabrics of the period as are silk crepes lending the look and feel for the bias cut dresses, coats and gowns; they lend specific textures and play with light which was the second most important aspect of the clothes next to the depiction of character.  Murder mysteries and ‘who-dunnets’  are peculiar in their aspects of “conceal and reveal” of each character in a story line; characters experience a progression as plots unfold and giving things away too soon can ruin the best plotlines.  The art of making sure the characters can both tell their stories and also emerge from the shadows at the right moment is a key aspect of a design.  Orry Kelly was a unique designer in his relationships with female stars as well as his unique ability to design both an ‘everyday’ look that also rises to the heights of movie star style.

The familiar faces of the often repeated cast of actors in this film are like old comfortable sweaters; you are happy to see them as they appear in yet another role perfectly cast for their personalities. The marvelous characters of the film seem to have been lifted right out of the pages of the original novel in their dusty and rumpled clothes; the stars pop off the screen in their beautifully tailored clothes that are a testament to both the designers and craftsmen who created them.

Editor’s Note:  Film historians such as William K. Everson, who pronounced The Kennel Murder Case a “masterpiece” (in the August 1984 issue of Films in Review) consider it one of the greatest screen adaptations of a Golden Age mystery novel; ranking it with the 1946 film Green for Danger.

Mary Astor and Her Dirty Diary via @DixieLaite

The Kennel Murder Case”  is available to Amazon Prime Members and a fun mystery to watch for the early career for William Powell.

Related Costume Research: for more information on the genre of the Murder Mystery in Hollywood’s Golden Age.

San Francisco University of Art

2019 Graduating Class of Future Fashion Stars

Graduating  Class of Fashion Forward Future Stars 2019

by Pikke Allen, Editor at Large

Graduation Fashion Show 2019

The history of the SF Art Academy is a unique one and particular to the city of San Francisco.  Their students and graduating class are a part of fashion history, as the school hasimage1developed and put out into the fashion world many luminaries over the years. It is always a unique and wonderful experience to see what students are doing, their vision of the world and their wonderful spontaneous take on what fashion really means.  The Academy of Art is the largest school of art disciplines in the US today, so it may surprise you that its importance to both fashion and culture on the West Coast, can’t be compared to anything else for fashion education in the country today. So, the over 2,000 attendees of the graduating class this year made it the hottest ticket in town.


Drawing on their own personal experiences that are a combination of the naive, or perhaps tentative. Some of the work might even pulled from both internal or external cultural references; sometimes the work is outside the box and inspiring.  Some of the designer’s work and creations are so non-commercial as to be commendable. Always, the students present their knowledge gained in this program whether it be textiles, fabric cutting, patternmaking or handcrafts, there is a unique mixture of disciplines expressed in their final collections.  Here are some of the highlights that I truly enjoyed and those I felt had real promise in their future in the fashion industry.

One of the unique areas in the show was the menswear, with CHRISTOPHER CABALENA a stand out with his series of white suits, vests and truly futuristic looks that will be a unique addition to a brand looking for new directions in menswear.  I feel his work has already predicted a red carpet choice for any music or cinema star and ready for Pharrell Williams, for example would be quite at home in these looks.

My next favorite designer was CLARA M CHANDRA & JACK GUNNIN whose unique placements of textiles and colors harkened back to one of San Francisco’s most unique designers, the team of JEAN MARC who were a powerful duo in the 1970s. mood board says it all and sketches say it all.  With contrasting colors and sculptural sleeve extensions, I urge them to go back to see the work of this unique team as they can learn from them. Her cultural heritage from China and Indonesia are expressed in remembrance of her mother’s courage and beauty.  Together they worked some magic, whimsey and fun.

My next choice for designer favorite, is ZIYI  YE who used her cultural experience of a Chinese folktale to begin her inspiration that ended up in a collection of feminine and soaring shapes in shades of pink red and rose tones.  The clothes had a chance to breath on the models are the first steps of what I feel will be a successful evening wear or bridal designer in the future.  Her lovely eye for color and shape will be an asset in bringing her ‘youthful’ eye to clothes that will be very appealing to both young and old.

HANAN SABIR ARGAW was another woman designer who really put the graphics and pop back into a runway show, and her work was a crowd pleaser. Her outfits featured the pill-popping colors you see below in her mood board and the circles of pills and related shapes were built into garments that really had a sense of fun and point of view. This is a critical moment for any young designer, trying for and getting a worldview that is just the open door to more exciting things.

ANAN YINAN ZHOU was a remarkable show of how black can have a variety of moods from sad to exultant. The mood board says is all; both despair, extreme emotions and also a poetic glamour that reminded me of work by ALEXANDER MQUEEN in its devastating approach to glamour.   There is an opportunity to go beyond the black; I hope this young woman will envision the light as well, but her exploration of the dark side was a standout.

Her runway looks were crowd pleasers, almost mystical and strange but beautiful. Her use of Black in all its forms made us take a closer look at the color, that in itself is both a mood, a design point of view and one of fashion’s favorite ‘non-colors’.  I understood the fabrics though basic, were molded into unique shapes. A higher fabric budget will allow her to soar to great heights in the fashion world as she has a deep understanding of the way fabrics can work in sculptural elegant shapes, and so her future looks bright, indeed.

Here are some links for you to see the show in person, yourself in this online reportage of the show.  More information on the show is also below.

WATCH the fashion show: For more information, please visit

School of Fashion Blog:


About the University:  ‘Academy of Art University is the largest private university of art and design in the United States. Established in 1929, the Academy imposes a rigorous curriculum that requires the students to produce a portfolio of work that demonstrates a mastery of their field’.

Luminaries and Attendees:

Livia Stoianova, Co-founder and Designer, On Aura Tout Vu (2019 honorary doctorate recipient) Yassen Samouilov, Co-founder and Designer, On Aura Tout Vu (2019 honorary doctorate recipient) Edwin Mohney, Fashion Designer

Andre Walker, Fashion Designer (2018 honorary doctorate recipient)

Sara Kozlowski, Director of Education and Professional Development, CFDA

Olya Kuryshchuk, Founder and Editor in Chief at 1 Granary

Lara Lettice Johnson-Wheeler, Writer, Editor, Broadcaster / Contributor with SHOWstudio Bernhard Wilhelm (artist / designer)




Discover Organic Fragrances: Henry Rose

33AA3244-8BBF-4DA4-92B2-0F511E9403BBThe New Organic Fragrance collection by Michelle Pfeiffer.

HENRY ROSE, named for the line up of creations approved by Ms. Pfeiffer are offered in full sizes and you can sample the collection for a mere $20.00 plus shipping. It is a nice way to be introduced to her collection and this is just what I did.

Frankly, what has happened in the fragrance industry is nothing short of criminal as chemicals begin to replace real essences, what you see, is not always what you get. The amount of fillers in fragrances is legendary, and can give rise to many allergies. So, getting personal with Michelle Pfeiffer’s own tastes in fragrances was an exciting thought for a fragrance addict like me. I was also impressed by her desire to create a organic formulated fragrance, devoid of anything that many people are allergic to and blessed by the organic powers-that-be. This was going to be a fragrance adventure, and I was all in.

So, the reality is that the modern world is a pretty stinky place and filled with chemicals that are doing us no good at all. However, I can say from experience that the mass market fragrance world has literally been turned on its ear by boutique fragrances and namesake brands that have littered the grave yard of either big failures or success. One of them (believe it or not) is Elizabeth Taylor’s own series of fragrances that are still available and selling very well. While not my personal taste, its just shows you how important a fragrance and its namesake, or “zeitgeist” is so important for its success. So, a Michelle Pfeiffer fragrance that she has lovingly worked on is admirable, and with the gaging of which ones are the most successful, it will be interesting to see which ones will take off.

Enter the organic, curated and uniquely formulated HENRY ROSE fragrance collection.

What I believe to be true, is that this is not just a selection of options, but a collection that is meant to be worn alone or mixed with other from the collection. Their names are:

  • JAKE’S HOUSE – Green /Woodsy
  • DARK IS NIGHT – Oriental – Patchouli
  • TORN – Fruity /Sweet
  • LAST NIGHT – Candy Sweetness
  • FOG – Mysterious

So do you see the moods here? I suggest that by trying the sampler you can literally create your own mood, and this is very successful for many higher end fragrances.

So, I suggest you order the set and mix away, and let me know what you think. I took my many fragranced arm and shared it with the girls in my local coffee shop. Well, they responded to with “that’s nice” or “I have smelled it before” and “Might only want to wear that one at night” or “I like that one the best” etc.

I found the fragrance collection to be a unique mixture of moods. Organic fragrances are new to me; but these will add to the wardrobe of many who are allergic or prefer ingredients that are not technically “natural” but formulated with essences that meet the standards of the organic stipulations.

Enjoy the collection and let me know if you find a combination you wish to share.

Full Disclosure: Ms. Allen sells fragrances by INDIA HICKS at: These fragrances were originally formulated for Crabtree & Evelyn and now are sold under the namesake of INDIA HICKS, Inc.

Versailles: Fashion Trends for the Ages

Popular culture often hints at trends and moods or ideas that influence fashion. The show VERSAILLES now on NETFLIX is a unique viewpoint into the court of Louis 14th at Versailles during the years before the French Revolution (and two kings) afterwards.

Versailles should be on everyone’s list who is a fashionista, or history buff. It is more than a chateaux, more than a place. For a fashion historian, it is the backdrop of extraordinary parties, revelries and fashion for a court that has little more to do than intrigue and maneuver politically. The many fashion creators, and craftsmen were all part of this extraordinary machine of style that furnished the fashions for the nobility of France. This was the period of the first discovery of Champagne, the invention of the lace and brocades, furnishings, silver plate, porcelain and many other luxury goods. Production and costumes for the show are beautifully rendered in period style but with modern fresh approach to the Baroque period. What is essential to this period that still seems fresh today? Here is just s short list of trends you will see on the show that have shown up on the fashion runway.

  • Brocades with rich jeweled colors and tones
  • Jewelry with a mix of bold stones and raw pearls
  • Lace and Lace
  • Leather slippers with buckles
  • Ribbons & Embroidered trims
  • Pearl chokers & embroidery
  • Pleated skirts with deep Box style pleats
  • Tailored men’s vest and buttons
  • Corsets & laces
  • Men’s tailored Coats, Capes and Jackets
  • Updos and hair jewels and clips.

Raise your handblown glass goblet, fill it with champagne and have a nibble on some lovely cheese and baguet while  enjoying the binge-worthy world of the kings and nobles of VERSAILLES.  Then, join me and the rest of the world as the final season 3 ends this year (alas, they producers have said there will be no more) and then start it all over again, as the clothes, the fashions, the parties, the passion, are all entertaining and (mostly) adapted from real historical events.

A Day at the Museum: Wardrobe Wizardry at FIDM

Film Costumes at FIDM – Academy Award Nominated Films and the 2019 Season
Taking an ART & CULTURE tour of Downtown LA? This is a great stop for everyone in the whole family.
The first time I saw a costume exhibit was in England at an ancient castle on a tour (I was still in high school). The costumes for a Henry VIII television series that had been shown on PBS were displayed and it literally changed my life. I decided I had found my passion for fashion and history; I decided to pursue a career in costume making and design that led me on a unique journey. People often ask me – what sort of job is this?

What does a Costume Designer Do?
People often forget that there is a costume designer who partners with an actor on the journey of creation when creating a story on film that is guided by a director who acts as the leader of the band. The ‘wizards of wardrobe’ bring bring the look and feel of a world with a number of unique skills to the process: painting, crafts, plastic injection molding or metalwork, sculpture and all forms of decoration with sewing and pattern. making (much like fashion) living at the heart of it. The knowledge of story, character and history is also an intrinsic part of making costumes; all contributing to a process of ‘willing a character into existence’.  A whole group of talented artists go along on the journey to add to the Costume designer’s vision that is an interpretation of the director’s take on the story to be told. Other artists join in such as hair, make-up and a production designer for the environments that make project a collaborative effort that is ideally the sum of its parts. The art of the media itself (film, television, stage) can change some processes, but telling a story with a character is always the same.

The Exhibit Experience: A Classic Museum with a dash of Multi-Media

Once inside the museum…you will take a path along the way through the many films of 2018 including those that were nominated and the winner of the Oscar for Best Costume Design Ruth Carter (Black Panther) herself a veteran of the industry.
Media is on display throughout the gallery space with interviews and backstage video of how the clothes are made and the people behind them. Interviews with costume designers, producers and actors share in the story.
Costumes in Films are Unique to Their Time: They are both a link to the Present and the Past.
Costumes in film often are inspired by fashion runways and are seen through the looking glass of the epochs they inspire reflected back to our own time. One interesting aspect of the show was just how many late 1930s and 1940s looks inspired the modern fashion whereas the period clothes had a very modern and edgy spirit that made the period seem even more fresh and modern. Surprises like the AQUA MAN outfit up close (he is really tall!) or the magic of the NUTCRACKER (Trim Heaven) or MARY POPPIN’S travel ensemble (for her flying entrance) tailored to perfection really brings the viewer into the artistry and skill of this unique art form. The outfits for the FANTASTIC BEASTS could have easily marched down the Thierry Mugler runway (super fashionable) making it hard to pick a FAVORITE which by the way was one of the most modern takes I had seen of this period (The Restoration of England) that in other hands tend to make actors look like “moving pieces of furniture” in their heavy brocades and starched collars. I had a difficult time picking my favorite set of costumes; I am sure if you put the kids in the car and take them over to see their favorite films up close, it will be a great experience for everyone.

What a year for the Period Costume…and even the Modern ones which require their own special kind of art as well.

Editor’s Note:
This should be on your list of things-to-do after a nice lunch at one of the many restaurants in the area and easy parking for just $5.00 in the building also makes it convenient. Our thanks to Costume Designer & Creative Director, Jacqueline St. Anne for the invitation to the show. For more information on FIDM and the museum please see their website at:

Karl’s Leading Ladies

Karl Lagerfeld’s Oscar Red Carpet Gowns tell a fashion story that is part of the Oscar red carpet history and of a cultural lexicon of Chanel fashion that has permeated our culture. It is with great sadness that the world mourns the death of a man who seemed literally, so ageless. From afar his irascible personality always amused, his marketing genius and creativity inspired and lately his love for a white fluffy cat, “Choupette” endeared him to a new generation of fashion followers all over the world. As the Oscar red carpet is just a few hours away, I join the audience of fashion-watchers who are anxiously awaiting  to see who will wear a Karl Lagerfeld creation this year.

Karl’s masterful Oscar gowns were based on a his constant search for a new story or his own casting of a role for his leading ladies; princesses, fairies, winter sprites, grand dames, showgirls and every sort of female fantasy projected onto these unique ladies who willingly played along just to be included in this ultimate exclusive club. Artful spangles, sheerness or feathers or jewel encrusted glories became jewels in themselves. His ability to cast his ladies in the perfect dress was almost uncanny; he could see Kirsten Dunst in a sexed up Peter Pan collar or ‘JayLo’ wearing a sheer bodice that revealed her (almost) nude upper torso or Penelope Cruz looking like a heroine from a 19th century Manet painting; using art deco tailoring on Juliette Moore she always resembled an upscale 1920s film star. Nicole Kidman’s unique height and coloring placed her into the world of forest sprite, with lightness and air that never weighed down her personality.  Some of these dresses were ‘Good Luck’ charms for the wearers, as well.  All in all, Karl seemed to capture the star’s inner personality and the zeitgeist of the moment but then, he always did it so beautifully in all his CHANEL collections where his settings spared no expense and took us from airports, to fairy forests, to nightclubs to even the streets of protest for women’s rights.  Karl was always about the women, the stars, the glamour and everything a girl could want in a fashion brand, never forgetting the leading lady of his fantasies, Coco herself.

Take a moment to look at the gallery and see for yourself  just how unique, glamorous and extraordinary these fashion moments are.  I am not sure they will ever be repeated. The HOUSE OF CHANEL appropriately will go through a period of mourning before they announce his replacement (an unimaginable idea) just 24 hours before the Oscars.  Fashion and Oscar have sometime had a dubious history (remember the moment BJORK showed up dressed like a swan?) but this is almost forgiven when Karl’s dresses grace the red carpet.  We must all raise our glasses (exquisite cut crystal of course) and drink a champagne to Karl’s unique life and art in the history of fashion and for Hollywood, the passing of a mastermind who made his leading ladies of the red carpet rise above the earth and into the stars, above.

(Editor’s Note: See photo credits are at end of the post).

Photos Distributed by AP: Mario Anzuoni, Eric Gailland, Lucas Jackson, Richard Shotwell, Jordan Strauss, Mark J. Terrell

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen


Awards season has brought with it the well dressed and well turned out gentlemen of the A-List on Hollywood’s red carpets. This year the guys have stepped it up on the redcarpet and made use of their swoon worthy looks in a variety of tuxedo looks that ranged from the classical to the updated in both color, lapel shape, and combinations of fabrics.  Too vest, or not to vest, that is the question! What a dash of color does for one tuxedo and the use of neutrals or textured fabrics does for another.  A dash of bowtie, pocket square or cufflink finishes the look and the shoe ranges from a slip on to the classic lace-up to versions in-between.   An option to wear a trainer or sport shoe once reigned on the carpet but this year gentlemen seem to have fallen for the classics.  I have put many a tuxedo on screen and tv talent and when a man puts on the finishing touches he always feels good and ready to take on the world. Up next in awards season is the OSCAR carpet so we are already gearing up for the ultimate in Tuxedos at this Red Carpet show.



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