Rear Window: Fashion & Movie

The fashion stories behind the award-winning wardrobes of the iconic movies, that have made the history of the cinema. Rear Window of Alfred Hitchcock, costume designer Edith Head.

Perfect makeup, a flick of the brush and there you have it – in this way Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly) makes her entry in “Rear window” (1954). For many, this equates to the best female close up in the history of cinema. “The Paris Dress” is the first of five outfits (day and evening wear, plus a night time one – a nightdress and dressing gown in see-through tulle) which the female protagonist wears in the film. All were chosen by Edith Head, the costume designer who won the most awards in the history of Hollywood. In the extra scenes in the DVD, the creative relationship between her and the director of the film is explained in the following way: the work and the choice of outfits (particularly the female ones, seeing as how the male protagonist only wears pyjamas on account of his leg being in a cast) preceded the choice of actors.

In actual fact, Hitchcock already had his two stars under contract: James Stewart was to be Jeffries (the surname suffices, as in Hemingway), a war photographer stuck by the window of his Greenwich Village apartment as a result of an accident; his fiancée Grace Kelly, also a reporter, but focussing on fashion and society. The audience knows that she is a model from the way she moves, and an heiress from the way she speaks and to whom she says she frequents (no. 21 Park Avenue and in Manhattan in general). She is a socialite and pre-feminist for the way in which she uses her work and style to demonstrate her independence.

The film in classic Hollywood style depicts the classic clash between men and women: he doesn’t want to get married, she does. He doesn’t want to change his way of life while she would like to see him more stable and open an office, have a social life and wear a nice dark lounge suit or pinstriped, branded one. But this is also pure Hitchcock (and one of his best films) which hides many ambiguities and fears (sexual, women) while she is the real dominatrix, sensual (always the one to kiss him, deciding to spend the night at his place) and brave. In the midst of all this is a crime (has the neighbour killed his wife?) which he is unable to resolve (due to his physical constraints), but which she will, wearing a flowery day-time dress even if it is in the middle of the night, going up the emergency ladder and furtively entering the potential assassin’s apartment, succeeding in stopping him by calling the police.

The ending? Which of the two will give in? Up to you to find out, together with the fifth of the outfits put together by Head and which is possibly the most surprising, because if making an entry in a Paris Dress was amazingly sophisticated (“It comes straight from Paris and cost 1100 dollars and a dozen are sold a day”), for the finale you get casual turned up jeans, a sporty flannel caban, and most of all male moccasins. Lisa/Grace is lying down on a sofa depicted by Hitchcock as a Maya, casually but sophisticatedly dressed reading a guide book on the Himalayas. The shooting sequence of her pose begins from a close up of her moccasins and ends up on her, who having put down the book, pulls out a Harper’s Bazaar.

Even more impeded is Jeffries, sleeping like a baby. Head did not win an Oscar this time but never was the collaboration between stylist and director more grandiose- For Grace Kelly it was the first time she worked with either of them (the second and last time was in “To catch a thief”). In Rear Window the clothes are the real protagonists: for the whole film Lisa models the outfits as if on a catwalk (Grace Kelly started off her career as a model and the wife of the screen writer had been in the same profession: the character is based on the past of each of these ladies). Obsessed by visuals, Hitchcock wanted that the materials, styles, and colours to introduce the characters and situations.

“The first time that we met, a long time before shooting began, he described accurately all the clothes that Grace Kelly would wear” said Head. If the idea for Lisa’s negligee to look like the garment worn by the murdered wife and the green worn by the girl was the same colour (except for the tone) of her broken hearted neighbour were Hitchcock’s, the rest was thought out by Head: the infinite amount of white tulle of the corolla skirt of the Paris Dress, the New Look and the Balenciaga references, as well as the precursor of the present product placements with the bag that turns into a perfect overnight bag. (“You don’t have one mall enough to travel” and her reply to him “I challenge you to find a raincoat in Brazil”) as well as the mention of the brand, which for the record is the American Mark Cross, a super luxury leather accessory from 1845.

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