November 17, 2014

The Art Deco Look of Evelyn Brent

With her curly bobbed hair and perfect profile, petite Evelyn Brent was a stylish actress with serious star power during the 1920s.


When Brent was cast in Josef von Sternberg's 1927 silent classic Underworld costumed by Travis Banton, it was fashion magic. The 'Feathers McCoy' role established her as a tough but chic mobsters moll.

As the girlfriend of gangster "Bull Weed" (George Bancroft) Brent fluttered in an array of feathery hats, dresses and accessories. For Bull's trial, below, she had to tone it down somewhat, but still looked fabulous.

Demure black dress, feathered cloche and pearls

Bull is sentenced to prison, but that doesn't stop our girl.  Together with "Rolls Royce" Wensel (Clive Brook) she plans to bust him out.

"Feathers" waits for Bull's jail break in style

'Feathers' and 'Rolls Royce'

Natalie Dabrova:

In Josef von Sternberg's The Last Command 1928, Evelyn played revolutionary Natalie Dabrova in the scenes which flash back to 1918 Russia.  She was elegant, mysterious and dangerous.  What more could a high-ranking Czarist Officer want?

Emil Jannings' tour de force as the Grand Duke Sergius Alexander won him an Oscar. Evelyn Brent was again gowned by Travis Banton.

Natalie awaits the Grand Duke in gowned splendor

Knowing full well that she and her cohort, (played by William Powell) are revolutionaries, Alexander nevertheless finds himself fascinated by Natalie, even giving her a priceless string of pearls.

Sergius and Natalie, still wearing his gift of pearls

The Duchess or 'Tiger Lady':

In the now 'lost' silent film, His Tiger Lady, Adolphe Menjou plays a stage 'super' whose job it is to sit astride an elephant while wearing a Rajah's costume, in a Follies Revue. He falls in love with a beautiful Duchess, played by Evelyn Brent, whose fascination with the tigers in the Show, make her a regular patron.

Evelyn Brent as the Duchess or 'Tiger Lady'

Always wearing the most dazzling headgear, Evelyn Brent knocked it out of the park in this movie.  The metallic flower- petal skullcap is instantly recognizable.

Costume jewels by Ernest Joseff

Stunning sheer caftan by Travis Banton

Once again, the incredibly beautiful wardrobe was designed by Travis Banton, making Evelyn Brent one of the most elegant women in the movies at the time.

 'The Magpie':
 In Josef von Sternberg's unfortunately 'lost'  1928 silent film, The Drag Net, George Bancroft (Two-Gun Nolan) is once again teamed up with Evelyn Brent (the Magpie).  William Powell is along for the ride as bad guy,  'Dapper Frank Trent'.

Although uncredited, Travis Banton once again designed the costumes, giving Evelyn Brent fabulous furs and feathered skullcaps to go with her avian moniker, 'Magpie'.

Brent wears a two-color feathered cap-with George Bancroft

Feathered skullcap with fur wrap

'The Magpie' Evelyn Brent in fur, before Art Deco backdrop

Another view of knee length fur coat

'The Magpie' by Charles Sheldon-October 1928

William Powell as 'Dapper Frank Trent' with Evelyn Brent

This movie, along with 1927s Underworld not only established Josef von Sternberg as a director of the silent cinema, but made him the master of a whole new genre:  the gangster film.

Deborah Kane:

Evelyn Brent in "Interference"

Interference, 1928 was Paramount's first all talking picture, although it was simultaneously filmed in a silent version.  William Powell, Clive Brook, Doris Kenyon and Evelyn Brent starred.

The ever-stylish Brent, with Travis Banton working overtime in the glittery gown department, played Deborah Kane--an extortionist out to destroy the reputations of Sir John Marley (Brook) and his wife Faith (Kenyon).

Evelyn Brent (with William Powell) as the scheming Deborah  Kane

For (both versions of) Interference, Travis Banton created mostly loungewear for Evelyn Brent, and, it is some of the most luxurious in films to date. Below, several ensembles--the only constant being the metallic turban.

Travis Banton's much-photographed butterfly hostess gown

A rare shot of Brent sitting in the Butterfly hostess gown

Lounging in luxurious hostess pajamas

Deborah hatches her plan--looking way too glam! 

Yet another version of Deborah's lounge look

Brocade fur trimmed jacket; sashed panne velvet pants

In each and every movie outlined above, costume designer Travis Banton demonstrated, as early as the 1920s, that he was one of the most creative forces in the film world.

He turned Evelyn Brent from a pretty young actress into a drop-dead gorgeous, sophisticated fashion plate. Though she went on to make more movies, Brent never again attained the degree of Crème de la Crème glamour created just for her by Travis Banton.

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