Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fashion on Film: Elephant Walk

Its been lovely over the Christmas break to catch up on some non work related reading and watch lots of old movies, swim everyday at the beach, and generally do nothing much. One film I just watched was Elephant Walk with Peter Finch and Elizabeth Taylor. The dear hubby bought me a copy of Jay Jorgensen's beautifully illustrated Edith Head biography for Christmas (more on that later) and Head was the costume designer on this 1954 film.
Taylor plays a young English woman who marries a tea plantation owner who whisks her away to his plantation, Elephant Walk, in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). The spectre of her husband's dead father hangs over the plantation, plus there is a creepy housekeeper, disgruntled elephants who are upset that their access to water has been blocked by the plantation's bungalow, and a love triangle with one of the plantation employees. There are echoes of Daphne du Maurier's classic Rebecca in the new bride's isolation and in the dramatic and fiery ending. I found the love triangle not particularly convincing, nor were the tense scenes particularly scary, but the film looks beautiful as it was shot on location in Sri Lanka. For a clothing tragic like me though Taylor looks absolutely breathtaking. Vivien Leigh was originally meant to play the role of newlywed Ruth but had to pull out of shooting because of ill health, and Taylor replaced her at the last minute. Here's a quote about the costuming for Elephant Walk from the Edith Head book:

The incredible wardrobe worn by the character throughout the film is explained in the script by a reference that the newlywed couple stopped off in Paris to buy a trousseau on the way back to Ceylon. The standout design was a gown of draped white chiffon with a gold corselet, which was very similar to a gown Edith had designed for Patricia Morison in The Magnificent Fraud. Edith also incorporated Indian design in a dress of silk linen with a molded later neckline with a full skirt that resembled an Indian sari, that was accessorized with a narrow belt embroidered with gold and pink pearls and a pink East Indian sari stole.

Personally my favourites are the candy striped dress with the asymmetrical neckline and the beautiful white evening gown with the gold belt. Taylor's waistline is very flatteringly highlighted throughout, and its very interesting to note that this film came out the same year that Head won the Oscar for Sabrina, for which the most famous gowns were actually designed by Givenchy, and unduly credited to Head.


Veronica Darling... said...

I was just about to say my fave is that striped one with the neckline, I'm honestly thinking how the HELL can I make one the same. Her waist is so skinny and I love how it makes her shoulders look so commanding.

Thanks for the photos xoxo

Happy New Year too!

Louise said...

Happy New Year to you too!
Apparently Elizabeth had a 21 inch waist in her early years, which is just crazy. She was only 5'2" as well. Va va voom.

katiecrackernuts said...

I think we've all noticed that tiny waist. Maybe the stripes and belt make it look more so but by golly. I think I'll ditch the second piece of leftover pizza I brought for lunch today. Ouch.

what are they wearing now said...

Ah, that waist. I bet Edith Head loved designing and making clothes for her. She had the definitive 50s body.

Leah said...

Ooh lord.. you know I need to watch this film. And the Edith Head book is still on my wishlist! Would love to have more sneak previews...