Robert Kalloch, or Bobby as his friends called him, is one of those costume designers whose creations everyone has seen but few know their names. He was already 40 when he came to Hollywood in 1933. He had developed his couture talent at Lucille in New York beginning about 1915. And his fashion illustrations were gracing the covers of Vogue by 1916. He created striking and iconic costumes for some of the most memorable films of the 1930s: It Happened One Night, The Awful Truth; Holiday; Mr Smith Goes to Washington; His Girl Friday, among others.
|Katharine Hepburn looked smashing in a Kalloch dress|
Kalloch was one of three designers who had worked for Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon) in New York and then went to Hollywood to design costumes for the movies. The other two had gone early in the 1920s: Howard Greer, who became Paramount's head designer; and Gilbert Clarke who went to MGM. Greer launched his own fashion house in 1927. Clarke didn't last long at MGM, where it was said he was more temperamental than the stars he dressed. Before Kalloch went to Hollywood, however, he met a young art student named Adrian at Parson's school of design, where Kalloch lectured. So Kalloch recommended Adrian to Florence Cunningham at the Gloucester Playhouse for a summer job designing costumes. The rest is history.
Robert Kalloch is shown above painting his costume designs. Kalloch sketches are rare, but when seen they are always beautiful and interesting. Below he is shown with Joan Perry who models Kalloch's house coat design for the film The Devil is Driving from 1937.
When Kalloch went to Hollywood, he was employed as the head designer at Columbia Pictures. It was one of the smaller studios, but about to produce a string of classic films under the direction of Frank Capra. The studio boss Harry Cohn wanted to improve the fashion look of his contemporary movies, and Kalloch was the right person for the job.
One of Kalloch's early movies was a surprise hit, It Happened One Night. It starred Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable under the direction of Frank Capra, with a snappy script by Robert Riskin. The movie went on to be Oscar nominated for all the big categories and won Best Actress for Colbert. But a category for "Best Costume" would not exist until 1948.
Above is a press photo of a costume sketch that Kalloch did for Ida Lupino in the film Let's Get Married. Although Kalloch's handwriting on the image was likely done for publicity purposes, it is interesting to have this detail information about the costume. The actual costume is shown in the photo below, with Ida Lupino modelling.
The sketch photo below is from the same film, and also has the costume details. The Whether or No title at the top was the working title for the film before it was changed
Columbia tended to borrow top stars from the other studios in the 1930s, rather than pay them for long-term contracts. One such star was Carole Lombard, who made Twentieth Century at Columbia along with John Barrymore. This gave Kalloch a chance to work with the leading ladies of the era. Kalloch loved using leopard skin in his costumes, along with other bold patterns such as stripes and chevrons.
One of Kalloch's more famous costumes was worn by Irene Dunne in the wonderful movie, The Awful Truth, shown below. The bold use of the maze-like patterns on the tunic made this fashion creation a knock-out. The long train also made it an obvious "high fashion" outfit perfect for the role and the film's witty humor.
Another important movie star Kalloch dressed was Katharine Hepburn. She is shown below with Cary Grant in Holiday, a wonderful film from 1938. This was a low period for Hepburn, when she was labelled "box-office poison" in a trade magazine article. She was in good company, since Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich got the same designation. Holiday is one of my favorite movies and it featured some simple but elegant and beautiful gowns.
And then there was His Girl Friday, with Rosalind Russell playing reporter Hildy Johnson and Cary Grant playing a newspaper editor. This movie, like Holiday, was directed by Howard Hawks, with costume designs by Kalloch. There weren't many costume changes for Russell, but her assertive, broad-shouldered and striped suit/coat is memorable and fit her role perfectly
After Adrian left MGM to start his own fashion business, Robert Kalloch was hired as his replacement at MGM. It appeared to be a crowning achievement for Kalloch, but it turned out to be a mixed blessing. He had both a new stable of stars and some veteran contract payers. Lana Turner was one of the new stars, and Kalloch designed her costumes as well as Hedy Lamarr's in Honky Tonk in 1942.
But MGM produced all types of movies: musicals, historicals, dramas and comedies. He designed for Greer Garson in the weeper Mrs. Miniver, and then turned around to design for Ann Sothern in Maisie Gets Her Man, shown below.
Greer Garson proved to be just the kind of woman, with class and good looks, that matched his skills. Below she is shown in three beautiful designs from Random Harvest, 1942. The simple black jacket is contrasted marvelously with the white ruffled blouse.
The design below is such a perfect costume for Greer Garson, a picture hat and white lapels to frame her face, and the black suit to add dignity and elegance. The three-tiered lapel design is sublime.
The formal evening gown below shows off Greer's beautiful neck and shoulders, as well as the rich necklace. She is shown with co-star Ronald Colman. Random Harvest is one of the great classics from the 1940s.
Hollywood, like the rest of the country and much of the world, was now deep into World War II. The days of glamorous gowns in the movies was over, at least for a long time to come. Robert Kalloch found himself working on the type of costumes that were not his strength, at a pace and with studio demands that he did not like. He was also becoming increasingly uncomfortable around groups of people - even paranoid about going out of his house at all.
Robert Kalloch worked free-lance for several more years. In 1947 at age 50 he took his own life, as did his partner shortly after.
Kalloch's beautiful creations can still be seen on those glamorous stars and wonderful classics of the silver screen.