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Costume designer Orry-Kelly at the academy awards
  • Orry-Kelly on costume, celebrity and stars


    Posted on: 11/01/2016

    "I would rather go to Coney Island and open up a Hot Dog stand than dress that woman again!" - Orry-Kelly on Marilyn Monroe

    During the opening night speeches for Orry-Kelly: Dressing Hollywood, acclaimed director and Orry expert Gillian Armstrong presented a series of quotes she uncovered during research for Women He’s Undressed.

    Harking back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, the comments from Orry (and about him), reveal his genius, playfulness and represent the attitudes of a gilded world of glamour and grandeur, during the heyday of the studio system amidst the Hays Code.

    Orry Kelly Designs BlogOrry-Kelly and Kay Francis working on designs

    Orry-Kelly on costume

    “I’ve got a Hollywood ulcer… Sometimes I think I should have stuck to painting. If it weren’t for actresses with an exaggerated idea of themselves and what suits them, I wouldn’t have had my bad stomach. Designing clothes for screen actresses sounds all very nice but you hear nothing but ‘Take it in here, let it out there’ until you end up jumping in your sleep. A tie’s in one piece and no one wants to alter it.”

    “Orry Kelly makes men’s ties to cure his Hollywood ulcer.” – Australian Women’s Weekly (1948)

    Orry-Kelly on fashion

    “A lot of American women try to wear too much at the one time and they remind me of the amateur chef. The ingredients are good but the result is like a bad stew. My pet hates are fussy shoes with tailored suits and gold sandals in the daytime.” – Australian Women’s Weekly

    The Empire silhouette is just a passing fancy…  For films you have to know what will last, what will come up next. My clothes go around the body like smoke, surrounding but not touching. If you do that you never go out of fashion.” – New York Times

    “In my fitting room the conversation is not always so fitting.  It’s full of naked emotions. I see the pretty, the not so pretty and the ‘ugs’.”

    “I have always felt if you give a star what is most becoming, even if the style may be new to her, with tact you can usually win out. Tact, that nice clean four letter word, what an important part it plays in the life of a dress designer.”

    Orry Kelly with sketches and Kay FrancisOrry-Kelly, costume sketch of Jane Fonda for Sunday in New York(1963). Courtesy of Barbara Warner Howard.

    The press on Orry-Kelly

    “Orry-Kelly, chief studio stylist for Warner Bros., arrived in NY by plane last night. Before leaving Hollywood he designed the seventeen dresses which Marion Davies will wear during the course of Page Miss Glory.” – New York Times (1935)

    “He recently had a fine time designing thirty costumes for Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame and broke an almost sacred Hollywood tradition by putting Marilyn Monroe into loose BIAS Cut clothes for her forth coming movie, Some Like It Hot. He happily reports that Miss Monroe and everybody else concerned thinks she never looked better.” – New York Times (1958)

    “Colourful and bizarre costume effects will be seen on Warner Bros Hollywood Theatre Screen Thursday night when 42nd Street begins with gala festivities. Among the most interesting, it is said, are the Chorines Rehearsal Costumes. Besides these, Mr. Kelly designed many beautiful gowns for the feminine principals of the back stage film.” – LA Times (1933)

    Orry-Kelly on the stars that he dressed

    Orry Marilyn Blog RealMarilyn Monroe wearing an Orry-Kelly design for Some Like It Hot

    Ava Gardener
    “Had the most perfect figure I ever dressed… All I did for her in One Touch of Venus was to drape her form in white jersey. I’d never seen nipples tilted like hers, except on 13 year old Samoan beauties.”

    Bette Davis
    “I think of Bette as a period piece, she belongs in costume clothing. Her feminine figure always looked so well in the Victorian period. Quite often her behaviour was Victorian too. Clothes wise, I think Now Voyager was Bette Davis’ best picture.”

    “Working with her isn’t easy, but she’s worth it. She is one of the few actresses I know who can look in the mirror and tell herself the truth.”

    Marilyn Monroe
    “Long admired Miss Monroe’s lovely face but never her clothes.”

    “Even though playing a tart, I had no intention of dressing her in the usual Hollywood conception of tart.”

    “Then my first mistake… In a scene with Tony [Curtis] and Jack [Lemmon] as women I suggested shiny satin on top and dull crepe on the bottom, not so tactful, I explained that men’s bottoms are smaller than women’s and Tony’s bum would look smaller than hers on the screen in comparison – she let me have it! She turned up HOURS late for all her fittings and dashed back and forth to the mirror to look at her rear.

    “Later, she insisted on wearing nothing under black chiffon on the train. [Director Billy] Wilder said to me, ‘are you kidding, we will never get past the censors.’ So I added more lace where it was needed…  she sent for me and went into a rage, for once I did not open my mouth. I realised I had hit her most vulnerable spot. This 35-year-old woman was a complete exhibitionist. I would rather go to Coney Island and open up a Hot Dog stand than dress that woman again!”

    Ingrid Bergman
    “Miss Bergman was the most un-actressy of all the actresses I have dressed. Off screen she wore simple peasant style skirts and blouses and low heels. No makeup. Her lovely face didn’t need it.”

    Ingrid Bergman in Casablance wearing an orry kelly designIngrid Bergman in Casablanca wearing one of Orry-Kelly's costumes

    Orry on Orry

    “There were long stretches when I wasn’t offered a single picture. Still, I wouldn’t accept anything that wasn’t first class. I never believed in steerage.”

    “Stars are fickle…The designer goes in-and-out of fashion with them, just like off –the-face hats and roller skating.”

    “I tell this solely for the young designers: the reason I am in demand is that I am working harder than ever at my job and loving it.”

    “I was the biggest dunce in my class, there was no one worse in English. Arithmetic I was less worse, but I shone in art.”

    A picture of the Orry kelly exhibition at ACMI, featuring rows of costumes and a screen of Bette DavisSome of the exceptional designs on display in Orry-Kelly: Dressing Hollywood

    Orry-Kelly: Dressing Hollywood closes on Sunday 17 January. Don't miss this free exhibition by one of Australia's unsung Oscar-winning stars!

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