Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fashion In Film Blogathon: Cleopatra Fashionista (aka Claudette Colbert)

Today is Fashion in Film Day, a Blogathon hosted by Angela, at her fabulous HOLLYWOOD REVUE blog.

It's a day for us movie mavens to celebrate all the very talented people who created the costumes we swooned/swoon over at the movies. Let's face it, many a gorgeous outfit has saved a movie or two, so a film's costume designer is a very important personage. (And to think that in the early days, sometimes a costume designer went uncredited. Sacrilege!)

Don't forget check in at Angela's HOLLYWOOD REVUE and see what fashions and films other bloggers are featuring today. It's an extravaganza of film fashion!

Since nothing succeeds like excess, I've done two posts for today's Blogathon.

This first post features the dazzling costumes designed by American designer Travis Banton for one of the most fashionable women in films, Claudette Colbert as she appeared in Cecil B. DeMille's 1934 version of CLEOPATRA.

(1934 was a bumper crop year for great films. CLEOPATRA and THE THIN MAN were nominated for Best Film. The eventual winner was the wonderful screwball comedy, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable who also won Best Actor and Actress Oscars.)


Banton and Marlene Dietrich.

Travis Banton (1894 - 1958) was one of the more talented and important fashion designers of the 30's and 40's. He worked with, among many others, brilliant film director Josef von Sternberg, designing for style icon, Marlene Dietrich in three Sternberg films.

Banton was born in Waco, Texas, but the family moved to NYC when he was a child. He was schooled there - later studying art and fashion design and apprenticing with a society dressmaker. His work was noticed by Mary Pickford who chose one of his designs for her wedding dress.

Banton began designing costumes for the famed Ziegfield Follies on Broadway and soon moved on to Hollywood. His first film was, THE DRESSMAKER FROM PARIS, in 1924.  (Though it appears he might have worked as an assistant on an early silent film, POPPY, in 1917.) His last film job was designing the costumes for Rosalind Russell in AUNTIE MAME in 1958, the year of his death.

As well as Marlene Dietrich and Claudette Colbert, Banton's fashions styled many movie icons of the times, such as Pola Negri, Clara Bow, Mae West, Carole Lombard, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, Linda Darnell and even Carmen Miranda. Famed for his work's elegance and sensuality, Banton was chief designer at Paramount and was responsible for 'the Paramount look' created for the studio's stars. Later he also worked at 20th Century Fox and ran his own private fashion business.

Banton's assistant for twelve of those Paramount years was Edith Head who would go on to become the more famous, easily recognizable (for her bangs and dark glasses) multi-Oscar winner.

To learn more about Travis Banton and his work, please go to the following links: Film Reference, Travis Banton.  And here: Films of the Golden Age. To see more of Banton's costume work, please check Banton's Flicker page and google.


Though sequins, lame and chiffon would not have been invented in 29 (or so) B.C. that didn't stop Travis Banton from using same in his costume designs. Since when have pesky facts stopped the march of Hollywood glamor?

Cleo ousted from her throne by opponents and dumped in the desert to flee or die. Basic black is tasteful in any emergency.

Cleo, smuggled into Caesar's presence rolled in a rug - revealed in all her skimpy glory. Note the saucy high heels. You think Cleo wore heels in life? Perhaps. It's not only diamonds that have always been a girl's best friend.

The actual halter top. This is my favorite of all the ensembles worn by Colbert in CLEOPATRA. She looked simply fabulous in this amazing top.

Cleo vamping Julius Caesar (Warren Williams) in her flashy halter. Williams' chiseled profile is pretty flashy in itself. Note the buckles on his shoulders. I don't think the Romans had these sorts of buckles then. But, maybe...

Cleo's drop dead gorgeous gold lame gown. Spectacular doesn't quite do it justice.

Gold, gold and more gold. Too much is never enough for Cleo.

For a change of pace: Chiffon and pasties. Just the ticket for puttering about the palace.

The actual gown. The fetching top modestly sewn onto nude chiffon.

Caesar never stood a chance.

Neither did Marc Anthony (Henry Wilcoxon). You think the Egyptians invented pleats? I always thought it was Mariano Fortuny.

It's good to be the Queen.

Besides gorgeous gowns, Cleo also wore these amazing headpieces all done in 1930's art deco style. A rare left profile shot of Colbert (unless they flipped the negative) who preferred her right.

Another stunning art deco headpiece.

Despite Cleo's ravishing gowns and crowns, Marc Anthony still got down in the dumps. Men.

That's why the lady is a vamp.

Just a little something I threw on at the last minute.

When will this torment end?

My kingdom for an asp.

Cleopatra Fashionista.



  1. Yummy! These costumes were out of this world and you have displayed them beautifully. What can I say - a real eyeful! Cleopatra has been such a muse for designers. Now, if we could only find out who designed those costumes for Theda Bara's "Cleopatra"!

  2. Thanks, FlickChick! I watched the film just the other night and got inspired to do my post around her dazzling costumes. What an eyeful is right. :)

  3. Love it! I just watched this movie recently and adored all the costumes in it. Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra tends to get all the credit for being a trend-setting movie, but Claudette Colbert's version is pretty darn glam, too. Thanks for participating!

  4. Angela: Thanks! I saw the film last week and got all inspired. I thought Banton's costumes for Colbert were so much better than Liz's.

  5. Thanks for the great post. Those deco inspired headpieces are gorgeous. I still need to see this film!

  6. I saw one of the gowns in person at a movie costume exhibit at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, so then, naturally, I had to go home and watch the movie. I loved it! It's probably my favorite Cleopatra, not only for the costumes but because it's Claudette Colbert and I thought Warren William made a really good Caesar and Henry Wilcoxon is so darn cute.

  7. You're welcome, Craig. Thank you.
    Oh you definitely need to see this film. For sure. It's eye-popping. :)

  8. Lauren: I love this movie. It's my favorite CLEOPATRA as well. Colbert never looked more beautiful and womanly.

    I also adore Warren Williams.

    As for Henry Wilcoxon, I read a piece in which Colbert said he had a rep for roving she had to watch his moves. Ha!

  9. These costumes are fantastic! They're also really provocative. It's easy to forget that the 30s weren't as conservative as later decades.

  10. picky: I agree! Aren't they amazing? Yes. Eye poppingly so. :)

    Nothing conservative about Cleo and her designer, Travis Banton.

  11. Those costumes are stunning and Colbert looks quite seductive in them! What guy wouldn't follow her commands?!

  12. Robby: What guy, indeed? :)

    Caesar and Marc Anthony certainly fell hard.

    Colbert was such an unique screen presence.

  13. A great collection (and seemingly complete one) of Cleopatra photographs. I'm especially taken by the background props - i wonder if any survived?

  14. The props are gorgeous, Mark. I wonder too. Perhaps they were re-used in other films - wouldn't be the first time.

    Once the major studios all broke up, these sorts of props were either destroyed or dispersed to who knows where. What a shame.

    Far as I'm concerned there should be a central motion picture museum where all this stuff could be stored and put on display. Something on the same scale as the Met.

    I'm dreaming, I know. :)

  15. Oh, FABulous! Banton was a genius, and Colbert's gowns are gorgeous (and she looks gorgeous in them)! I've seen this movie many times, but I didn't know about the color photos. And I loved your witty and perceptive commentary (who knew about ancient Egyptian pleats?). Thanks for such a great post.

  16. I don't know if I've seen this movie, certainly not in decades, don't remember if I saw it in my childhood.

    It's worth seeing just for the costumes.

    Costume designing as art, a new revelation.

  17. Grand Old Movies: I agree about Banton. He was one of the very best.

    The color photos are exquisite. I'm thrilled I ran across them for the post.

    Thank you so much for the kind words AND for stopping by.

  18. It's a dazzling movie, Kathy. Definitely worth seeing. I watched it again just a couple of weeks ago. I love Colbert in it AND Warren Williams.

    Costume Design is a definite art form. No question in my mind.

  19. Gorgeous costume design. I've never seen this movie, though I've always wanted to. Thanks for inspiring me to get to it soon.

  20. You're welcome, Ryan. It is a definite must-see. :)

  21. I never knew about Travis Blanton! Thanks for sharing :)

    I know Liz Taylor gets all the glory for her Cleopatra, but I think Claudette has some very sexy, stunning and yet...somehow sort of classy costumes. This one is a better film anyhow.

    I never noticed that Claudette was wearing heels in the rug photo. I just always assumed she was barefoot! haha

  22. Jessica: You're welcome. Thanks for dropping by. This was a great deal of fun to put together. :)

    I much prefer Claudette's Cleo to Liz's.

    Travis Banton was a genius.

  23. Banton's fabulous costumes were 1/2 of the reason this movie was so fantastic. Marvelous looks for Cleopatra, and Colbert was radiant. The other 1/2 is DeMille and the story, better than fiction. I love DeMille, and this movie was one of his best. Beats out the Taylor version completely!

  24. That's the word, Becky: radiant. Colbert looks radiant in all of Banton's fashions. She was absolutely bewitching.

    Some of the credit must also go to DeMille, of course. He was a loony old coot, but he made spectacular movies.

    I never liked the Liz Taylor version although I loved Liz.

  25. One word: FABULOUS!

  26. goldenagedames: Thanks! And thanks for dropping by.

    Glad you enjoyed the post. :)

    It was a lot of fun to put together.

  27. So fun! You did a marvelous job with this. I remember 8th grade me being slack-jawed at the Art Deco-ness of this movie when I first saw it. I think I rewound the barge scene and watched it again immediately, in fact. Never too much gold, indeed.

  28. That barge was like a city on the water. Sort of like a modern ocean liner but with slaves doing the motoring.

    Thanks so much, Alexandra. Glad you enjoyed it.

  29. The "gold, gold, and more gold" dress is actually mint GREEN in person. (Reads like gold on black and white film.)


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