The California Elegance of Irene Lentz

The legendary fashion and Hollywood costume designer, Irene Lentz-Gibbons, began her career as an actress in the early 1920s and soon moved onto designing and opening a small dress store. Her designs were so popular that Bullocks-Wilshire, a luxury department store catering to the  Los Angeles elite, asked her to open up a boutique and design for them, making her the first designer to open their own salon within a department store.

Suits for Irene’s ready to wear line. Left is from her collection in the 1960s. Right from 1955 collection. Very clean lines and some great button detail!

Irene Lentz suits

Suits for Irene’s ready to wear line. Left from her collection in the 1960s. Right from 1955 collection.

Her day-wear consisted of impeccably well-tailored suits that flattered a woman’s figure, nipping in at the waist. Her evening wear upped the ante and was often lavish and dramatic yet always timeless and elegant. All of her designs were of the utmost quality, made of the finest materials and perfected down to the tiniest detail.  British vogue called her designs “California elegance”.

Sapphire and emerald taffeta gown by Irene. (1955) I would love to see a photo of this gown in color- I’m sure it was absolutely stunning!
Image source: IreneLentz.com

Gowns by Irene Lentz

Sapphire and emerald taffeta gown by Irene. 1955

After gaining many A-list clients from her time at Bullocks-Wilshire, Irene’s designs became in demand on-screen, as well as off. Her first on-screen success came when she designed for Dolores Del Rio in Flying Down to Rio in 1933 at the actress’s request. She went on to dress some of the biggest stars of her time and design for over 50 films.

Below are just a few of my favorite on-screen Irene designs.

 Ginger Rogers in a metallic gown by Irene for Shall We Dance. (1937) The gowns Irene designed for Ginger in this film really put her on the map.

Ginger Rogers wearing an Irene gown.

Ginger Rogers in a metallic gown by Irene for Shall We Dance. 1937

 Constance Bennett in a beautiful Irene gown and overcoat for the film Topper Takes a Trip 1938

Constance Bennet wearing an Irene gown.

Constance Bennett in a beautiful Irene gown and overcoat for the film Topper Takes a Trip 1938

Marlene Dietrich wearing a gown by Irene in The Lady is Willing. (1942)

Shortly after designing for this film, Irene took over as Executive Designer at MGM when Gilbert Adrian left.

Marlene Dietrich in an Irene gown.

Marlene Dietrich wearing a gown by Irene in The Lady is Willing. 1942

 Irene designed Lana Turner’s (in)famous white short shorts for The Postman Always Rings Twice. (1946)

It was the first time an actress wore this style on the big screen and is one of Irene’s most well-known designs.

Famous Movie Outfits - Designs by Irene

Irene designed Lana Turner’s (in)famous white hot pants for The Postman Always Rings Twice. 1946

Irene left the MGM in 1949 to work on her own line. She stayed out of Hollywood until Doris Day requested her services for the 1960 film Midnight Lace. Irene earned her second Oscar nomination for the film. Sadly, Irene took her own life only two years later. But her legacy lives on. Just this year, Greg LaVoi,  a brilliant Hollywood designer in his own right and huge Irene fan, relaunched the House of Irene. His debut show featured original Irene designs with some modern details and only the finest of materials. Lavoi is committed to ‘reviving and preserving Irene’s exacting, couture-standard practices’.

Below are some of the designs from the Irene by Greg LaVoi 2013 Fall runway show.

Irene by Greg LaVoi

Irene by Greg LaVoi Fall 2013 Runway show

I love that purple gown! And I think Irene would be happy to know her vision lives on. To see the full collection – click here. What do you think of these designs?

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2 thoughts on “The California Elegance of Irene Lentz

  1. I think it must have been the sparkling, wondrous glitz and glimmer of the holiday season (from tinsel to holiday gowns), but I’m feeling more pulled towards metallic hued and lame dresses than ever before, so I would happily rock some of the glitzier looks here (such as Marlene’s lengthy evening frock) big time (whether now or next Christmas season).

    ♥ Jessica

    ♥ Jessica

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