Western Costume Company: Hollywood Costume
President Western Costume Company, California
Western Costume has been around for 100 years. Our company began in 1912 with a gentleman named Lou Burns. It went through several different ownerships and in 1989 the current owner, Bill Haber, purchased the company and here we are today.
Our building here is 120,000 square feet; we have eight miles of costumes, so there’s quite a versatility from 1900s, 1920s, even 1800s clothes, for the costume designer to pick from. In the ‘50s they got away with putting zippers in 1800s dresses. They didn’t think the camera saw and it didn’t matter if it helped get the actor or actress in and out of a costume fast. Today, authenticity is everything to a costume designer, they wouldn’t dream of putting a zipper in anything that didn’t have a zipper back then. Everything is as it was in the real period. It’s real important for us, in a lot of the clothes that we have are unwearable, or they’re great for seeing how something was constructed back in the 1800s.
All the artisans that work for Western Costume, meaning our men’s tailor, our milliner, Maurizio who does shoes, our lady seamstress, everyone is such a perfectionist at what they do. In my eyes, they’re the best people that I could possibly have. They’re sticklers to details, they want to make sure that the customers are happy, that we maintain the clothes to make sure that they hold up. After all, we are a rental company, so we want to make sure that they’re done professionally and that these clothes are going to be around for quite a while.
The original Ruby Slippers were actually a shoe that was already constructed from the Inner Shoe Company. The costume designer [Adrian] came to Western Costume to have us cover them with sequins and beads, so that’s how Western got involved. In 1989 Western was contracted with Turner to create 500 pairs of ruby slippers to sell. We only made about 30 pairs, it was a certain type of person that really wanted to get a pair, they were $5000.
A few months ago Deborah Landis (Senior guest curator of Hollywood Costume) came to me and said that they were having a hard time trying to track down one of the original pairs of Ruby Slippers and asked if we could go ahead and create a pair for the V&A show. Well without hesitation I said of course we would.
2012 marked the 100th anniversary of Hollywood’s Western Costume Company, perhaps the most famous of all the costume rental companies. In this film, its president, Eddie Marks, talks to us about the eight miles of costumes housed by Western – and also touches on the history of the company, the importance of authenticity, and the company’s involvement with a pair of rather special ruby slippers…
Eddie Marks talks to us about Western's history, the importance of authenticity, and the company’s involvement with a pair of rather special ruby slippers…