Scarlett O’Hara and the post-bellum New Look
VIVIEN LEIGH’s own copy of Gone with the Wind sold at Sotheby’s, for £50,000, this week; ten times its estimate. I spotted the movie’s iconic status when lip-reading technology, in 2008, revealed Hitler charming a loyal follower, saying, “I know you’d rather be watching Gone with the Wind!
Dressed by Christian Dior
When costume curator, Eleri Lynn, told me that Dior had designed a dress for Vivien Leigh, it was the icing on the cake at a V&A ‘Golden Age of Couture’ conference’ in 2007! My ‘New Look’ chapter was all about how millions of GWTW fans were waiting for a designer to turn them into ‘flower women’; Dior’s own description. After the conference Eleri sent me the image below.
Vivien Leigh’s costume … Red wool and silk, made for the 1956 production of Jean Giraudoux’s play Duel of Angels, at the Apollo Theatre, in London, in which Leigh played Paola. The character, as the suit, is more complex than it appears to the eye. The very Dior underskirt made in five layers, used 78 metres of net, to “minimise volume around the waist”
Margaret Mitchell gave Vivien the book when the two women met in Atlanta, Georgia, before the world premiere of the film in the city, 15 December 1939. Vivien wrote to Mitchell on 14 December thanking her for the book and asking her to inscribe it for her. Mitchell replied on 10 January 1940 explaining that she had stopped inscribing copies of Gone With The Wind several years earlier: “there is no one for whom I’d rather do this favour than you who brought Scarlett to life in a way that left me shaken and almost speechless. But I just can’t do it. I hope you’ll understand.” (The Scarlett Letters: The Making of the Film Gone With the Wind (2011).
By way of compromise, however, Mitchell enclosed with her letter a loose leaf with four lines of verse taken from Robert W. Service’s poem ‘The Revelation’.
To Vivien Leigh | ‘Life’s Pattern pricked with a scarlet thread | where once we worked with a gray, | to remind us all how we played our parts | in the shock of an epic day’ | Margaret Mitchell”)
Vivien replied to her on 8 February, informing her that she had placed the verses in the book. She also told Mitchell that her love for Gone With The Wind long pre-dated her involvement in the film (“…Even if I had not played ‘Scarlett’ I should owe you a great debt of gratitude…”).
There’s no computer program to estimate how much Dior was influenced by Walter Plunket’s designs for the movie. I leave you with the look he created for one of the film’s most significant moments and wonder what you think?