Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Elizabeth Taylor's costumes for Cleopatra... designs that weren't to be

A collection of four costume proposals for Cleopatra, by Adele Balkan

Hollywood memorabilia is a frequent find in Los Angeles antiques shops, but there seems to be a lot of material turning up in Pasadena these days. Kathryn Grayson's wing chairs were a fun discovery in February, and I was particularly excited to stumble across this set of drawings by sketch artist and costume designer Adele Balkan at Pasadena Antiques and Design just a few weeks ago.

Balkan, who began her career in 1934 at Paramount sketching the costumes for Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra, enjoyed nearly 40 years in the business and worked for such other legendary studios as RKO and 20th Century Fox. Her credits include The Ten Commandments, The Young Lions, and Flaming Star, but sadly not the more infamous 1963 version of Cleopatra staring Elizabeth Taylor, for which these sketches were made. They do seem a bit "showgirl" compared to the final designs chosen for the film—designs that brought costumer Renie an Oscar.

"I had no style of my own," Balkan told an interviewer for the Academy's oral history program. Instead she learned to sketch to the taste of each director"every detail, every pearl." Tailoring her drawings to fit each studio or each particular film "gave me an education" she explained, and one that allowed her to also sketch for legendary clothing designer Irene Lentz, whose Bullock's Wilshire boutique dressed Hollywood's leading ladies for daily life.

Balkan retired in 1972 and devoted her time to more personal artistic pursuits. She died in Los Angeles at the age of 92.

The drawings are original, signed, and dated 1961. $3,500 each

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A more masculine approach to decoupage

While previewing this weekend's Period Art & Design sale at Bonhams Los Angeles, I was tickled to find this Louis XV-style commode decorated with sports headlines, business news, and stock market reports. I honestly can't ever recall seeing such manly decoupage! What a perfect find for Father's Day weekend. (Especially at just $600-800.)

Monday, June 04, 2012

Queen Elizabeth's pearls, a jubilant tradition

Princess Elizabeth waves to the crowds from Buckingham Palace on her father's coronation day, May 12, 1937. 

It's a bit hard to see in this image, but take a look at those three strands of pearls worn by the future queen.

When her grandfather, King George V, celebrated his Silver Jubilee on May 6, 1935 (just two years before this photograph was taken) he gave each of his granddaughters their first grown-up jewelry: beautiful, ladylike pearl necklaces. Elizabeth was given three strands, and Margaret, the younger by four years, was given two.

Elizabeth's is officially known as the King George V Jubilee necklace, and it's one she's worn quite often over the years. Considering the plethora of options she has at her fingertips, I think it's wildly charming that she reaches for the pearls with such frequency. Despite their simplicity, their workaday quality, if you will, she's chosen them for some extraordinarily high-profile eventsperhaps none so great as the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. 

The Queen, radiant in yellow and the King George V Jubilee necklace, at the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
The pearls also made their appearance on the 20th of March, when the Queen gave her Diamond Jubilee address to both houses of Parliament at Westminster Hall.

The pearl is regarded as a symbol of unblemished perfection, and its meanings include purity, charity, honesty, integrity, and wisdom. If stones do impart their intangible qualities to the wearer, and we add to that the fact that this necklace from her grandfather (whom she affectionately called Grandpa England) marked not only a momentous family occasion but her transition into adulthood—well, it's really quite easy to see why she chooses it above so many others. 

Which, of course, leads us to yesterday's jubilee celebration on the Thames. The Queen's choice for adornment? You guessed it, the George V necklace, paired (as she'll often do) with the late-19th century Ladies of Devonshire earrings that were given to her as a wedding gift by her grandmother, Queen Mary. (A few newspapers have erroneously reported that the necklace is from the Devonshire set.)

The only question that remains: might we see the necklace at tomorrow's festivities? 

The Queen and Prince Philip aboard the royal barge for Sunday's jubilee celebrations.