Style: The Screen's Most Glamorous

58 STY Lauren Bacall
Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection

“She had an individual style, but her voice was what she was really known for,” says Harris, who worked with Bacall on 1960’s “North West Frontier.” “I still have an image of a truly elegant person in my mind.”

Three acclaimed costume designers remember the stylish stars who continue to inspire them.

Costume designer, Oscar winner

Nothing was more au courant in 1965 than Julie Christie’s swinging London look in Darling, for which Julie Harris took home the golden trophy in costume design (for a black-and-white film). The designer went on to work on such movies as Casino Royale, Live and Let Die and even Rollerball, but the elegance of Hollywood’s Golden Era actresses first inspired her love of film. “Joan Crawford and Carole Lombard were my style icons — I loved their clothes,” says the London native, who got her start as an assistant designer in 1945 after the war and eventually worked with such idols as Crawford and Lauren Bacall. “The designs then were about what would look good onscreen — there was a marked difference between film fashions and street fashions that doesn’t exist today.” But there was one leading man whose screen presence made an indelible impression early on: Clark Gable. “He played a surgeon in the [1934] film Men in White, and he was frightfully romantic. I remember thinking, ‘If one were ill, how nice it would be to have him as a doctor.’ ”

Golden Age:

Lauren Bacall: “She had an individual style, but her voice was what she was really known for,” says Harris, who worked with Bacall on 1960’s North West Frontier. “I still have an image of a truly elegant person in my mind.”

Joan Crawford: “Joan’s image was a bit harder than the other actresses at the time but still glamorous,” says Harris, who created Crawford’s costumes for The Story of Esther Costello (1957). “Even at the age of 14, I remember going to the theater to see Crawford’s films and being aware of her style, which was very classy.”

Carole Lombard: “She was very pretty, very blond and very glamorous,” Harris says of the 5-foot-2 comedic actress. “Her films were made during a time when people wore proper clothes. The characters she played weren’t frightfully rich, but they weren’t poor, and they knew how to dress.”

Costume designer, three-time Oscar nominee

Famed for her Oscar-nominated work with Faye Dunaway on 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde, Theadora Van Runkle has also outfitted some of Hollywood’s most magnetic leading men, including William Holden, Marlon Brando and Warren Beatty. That said, she doesn’t pause before stating that Rudolph Valentino was unquestionably the most glamorous actor ever. “He was so divine and always beautifully turned out. He was married to costume designer Natacha Rambova, and she dressed him perfectly for everything,” says Van Runkle, who also was nominated for 1974’s The Godfather: Part II and 1986’s Peggy Sue Got Married. Some of her most iconic looks were for Steve McQueen, whom she took from a mod San Francisco cop-in-a-turtleneck in 1968’s Bullitt to a dashing millionaire in a three-piece suit in 1968’s The Thomas Crown Affair. “Men still respond to his style in those films,” she says. “I often get asked what my inspiration was for his look, but the truth of the matter is that I just fixed him up like I did my boyfriend at the time.”

Leading Men:

Rudolph Valentino: “Someone once said that he began dancing the tango as an unknown actor in [1921’s] The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and by the time he finished, he sat down a star, which is so true,” Van Runkle says of her most glamorous actor pick. “He was divine in that film and in everything else he did … not to mention divine-looking.”

Steve McQueen: “He looked pretty good when I dolled him up,” she says of the 1960s heartthrob, with whom she collaborated on several films. “He was very conscious of his figure, which was so toned. I was an assistant to the designer on of one his early films, [1966’s] The Sand Pebbles, and I still remember him trying on 30 pairs of Levi’s before we found the pair that he thought made his bottom look good enough to shoot.”

Warren Beatty: “Boy, was he great to dress because he would do absolutely anything! He loved himself and his looks, but he was lots of fun and of course looked fabulous in all the clothes,” she says of ‘Bonnie and Clyde’s’ charismatic lead actor. “Film doesn’t lie, and it picked up on all of his sexual appeal. I thought he was the prettiest thing alive in his day.”

Johnny Depp: “He’s so handsome and would look good in anything, but part of what makes him really glamorous is that element of mystery,” Van Runkle says. “His intelligence, literary knowledge and the fact that he has lived in interesting places like L.A.’s historic apartment complex the Fontenoy also add to his appeal.”

Costume designer, two-time Oscar winner

In Hollywood, blondes run from cool (Kim Novak, Charlize Theron) to scalding (Lana Turner, Sharon Stone). But for seven-time Oscar nominee Albert Wolsky, there is a trio of actresses who are the fairest of them all. “Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Jean Harlow are the most glamorous, but in different ways. Grace was elegant, Marilyn was vulnerable, and Jean was extremely funny,” says the designer, who won Academy Awards for 1979’s All That Jazz and 1991’s Bugsy (for which the costumes included a stunning 9-pound beaded gown for Annette Bening). Wolsky notes things have changed for blondes through the years: “Earlier actresses like Marilyn were very typed and had an image that never changed, but today’s leading ladies can be glamorous one moment and not glamorous the next.

Best Blondes:

Marilyn Monroe: “Men and women loved her because she had an almost little-girl-like quality that made her sex appeal nonthreatening,” Wolsky says of Monroe, whom he adored in 1959’s Some Like It Hot.

Jean Harlow: “Jean was a blonde bombshell, but she was also very funny,” he says of the Platinum Blonde and Dinner at Eight star. “It’s always a great pleasure to watch a beautiful, sexy woman being funny.”

Grace Kelly: “Besides being absolutely beautiful, Grace had an elegance that never went away,” Wolsky says of the famed Alfred Hitchcock blonde, who starred in 1954’s Rear Window and 1955’s To Catch a Thief.

Michelle Pfeiffer: “Not only is she gorgeous but she’s a costume designer’s dream because she has one of those perfect bodies to dress — very few alterations have to be done,” Wolsky says of the star he outfitted in 1996’s Up Close & Personal.

Meryl Streep: “She was beautiful in Sophie’s Choice,” says Wolsky, who worked with Streep on three films. “Today, she has broken the age barrier — she’s still sexy and attractive, and she isn’t a 25-year-old girl.”

Kate Winslet: “She’s a true chameleon onscreen; she has the ability to change right before your eyes,” says Wolsky, who created Winslet’s chic period wardrobe for Revolutionary Road in 2008, the same year she appeared to far dowdier effect in The Reader. “The level of glamour that she displays totally depends on the role that she’s playing.”