Life of Adrian
The Atelier

Hollywood years

The beginnings at MGM

A Star rises

Born in Connecticut in 1903, Gilbert Adrian was exposed to the fine arts of fashion from a young age by his parents who ran a successful millinery business. Adrian’s passion came alive as he studied costume design at the Parson’s New York School for Fine And Applied Art in New York City, ultimately transferring to Parson’s Paris branch to be closer to Parisian style and couture. While in Paris, he was noticed for his talent, and as a result, returned to New York to design for Irving Berlin’s “Music Box Revue” on Broadway.

Adrian’s first big break for costume design for the movies happened in 1925 in the first MGM film of Mae Murray, “The Merry Widow”. Following that, he started working with Cecil B. DeMille, and in 1928, they both moved to MGM, where Adrian remained at the studio until 1942. At MGM, Adrian meets his first muse, Greta Garbo, whom he transformed into a goddess of glamour adulated by women worldwide. Adrian dressed and transfigured the constellation of all their stars including Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Judy Garland and many others for some of their most memorable film roles.

On a normal day, the highly creative Adrian produced 50 to 75 sketches. Over the course of his career at MGM, Adrian designed and created costumes for over 250 films.

Glamour and innovation

Adrian’s unique sense of style on screen

For the next decade, by becoming Director of MGM’s Costume Department, Adrian upset the notion of glamour in just thirteen years of his career. He possessed the instinct for designing for the camera and the shot, dressing his stars in the most dramatic, scene stealing silhouettes, of signature bias-cut gowns, sharp tailored suits, and draw dropping fabric and embellishment choices. For example, he made the masculine shoulders of Joan Crawford more distinct and used shoulder-padded tops to enhance them. This look made her the diva we know today and invented the silhouette of the 1940s.

Not only were his designs glamorous and inspiring, they were also universal and democratic, as Adrian would design all the garments in a film, from the top star to the lesser associated supporting roles. His creations transcended the screen and soon became desired worldwide. In 1932, his white mousseline de soie dress worn by Joan Crawford in “Letty Linton” was copied for the masses and sold over 500,000 units of this one dress throughout the country. Adrian knew how women liked to look, feel, and move in a beautiful dress, on screen or off.