Bette Davis Wasn't Taking Any Chances With Her Costumes For All About Eve

You can probably list the names of a plethora of fashion designers off the top of your head. Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, etc. They not only designed beautiful clothes people crave to wear, but they became figureheads in their industry. You could put them on the cover of a magazine and know exactly who they are. Costume designers, however, don't get the same kind of popularity, even though they are in a similar profession. You may be able to think of a few names — Ann Roth, Sandy Powell, or Ruth E. Carter — but I would suspect it would be difficult for you to pick them out of a crowd.

Then there is Edith Head. With her unmistakable short black hair and Coke bottle glasses, Head was the crème de la crème of Hollywood costume design from the late 1920s through the 1970s. She holds the record for the most wins for the Oscar for best costume design with eight, as well as the most nominations in the category with an astounding 35. The second most nominations? Charles LeMaire with (just) 16.

Edith Head became such a sought-after designer that she often would be enlisted just to design the wardrobe for one particular actor in a film, usually its leading lady. Barbara Stanwyck, Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood, and many more were specifically fashioned by Head in their careers. If you wanted clothes that weren't just glamorous but felt like the second skin of a character, you wanted Head. And that is exactly what Bette Davis required for her role of Margo Channing in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's best picture-winning "All About Eve." There were two issues: Head was under contract with Paramount and the aforementioned LeMaire was already the film's costume designer.

A designer on loan

"All About Eve" wasn't the first time Edith Head boarded a movie for the sole purpose of dressing Bette Davis. They previously collaborated on 1948's "June Bride" as well. Recounted in the book "All About All About Eve" by Sam Staggs, Bette Davis said of the costume designer, "Edith always took time to read the script and understand the character ... She managed to make you look as good (or as bad!) as the script allowed." Naturally, she would want Head to join the production.

In those days, people signed contracts to work exclusively with one studio. Head was under contract at Paramount, but "All About Eve" was a Fox movie. Paramount would need to loan her out in order to do the movie in the first place. Fox would also need to ask for her, and Charles LeMaire had already designed everyone else's costumes in the picture.

Davis' costumes were put off so long that LeMaire had actually already moved on to working on another movie. He completely understood why Davis would want Head to do her wardrobe and recalled in that book, "Sure I would have liked to dress Bette Davis, but I was already on another film. I had confidence that Edith could do it, so I asked for her on loan."

This is a rare opportunity where seemingly every party was satisfied. Davis got her costume designer. Head got to work on one of the greatest films of all time. LeMaire got to have his beautiful work on every other character in the picture. In the end, Head and LeMaire both were given the Academy Award for best costume design that year for a black-and-white film. Davis lost her Oscar, though, so it wasn't exactly a win-win-win.