Financial History 139 (Fall 2021) - Page 35

Courtesy of Triffin and Gregory Morris
The main workroom at Western Costume Co ., West Hollywood , California in 2011 . The largest single costume company , Western serves stage and screen ; it made the Ruby Slippers for Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz , and most of the costumes for Gone With the Wind .
Love trained herself and is now doing what she can to train others . “ As long as you can tailor , I can teach you to make a theatrical jacket . We have one woman , she is from China , who was a hand finisher . She asked to learn tailoring , and she has been very good . We make the whole white-out scene for Frozen , all the white coats . She has worked on those .”
It has long been common to have family members in the business , especially on the business side , and Love is doing that as well : her adult son is helping with her invoices . Barbara Matera ’ s husband Arthur was the business manager for her shop .
“ After 22 years , I am still learning the business side of running a costume shop . I know how to make a dress ,” said Love with a laugh , “ but I don ’ t know how to do taxes . My son helps keep the invoices in order . I have an accountant who does all the bookkeeping and taxes . I have a payroll company as well .”
The show that helps keep that payroll rolling is Hamilton . “ We actually had 10 orders for the New York show that were paid for before we went down for four months [ because of the pandemic ],” said
Love . “ We ’ ve been back since about the beginning of August [ 2020 ] and have been working on that . We also just got orders for Frozen Japan , and for Hamilton Australia . So , we ’ re back and we ’ re busy . My landlord was really good about rent while we were down .”
While the commercial costume business in and around New York is the largest such concentration anywhere in the world , the biggest single operation is Western Costume Co . in West Hollywood , California . In many ways it harkens back to the big rental shops of the mid- 20th century .
Western traces its legacy to the Benham Indian Trading Co ., a large vendor of Native American blankets and baskets just after the turn of the century . In 1912 , the outfitters opened a small film studio in a barn that was leased and then acquired by Cecil B . DeMille and became the start of Paramount Pictures . The barn is now the Hollywood Heritage Museum .
The outfitters retained the costume business with an emphasis on historically accurate Native and western wear . In the 1920s , while Aline Bernstein , Kiviette and
Helene Pons were making leading-lady gowns in New York , Western Costume sent buyers to Vienna to acquire clothes and artifacts from the defunct Austro- Hungarian Empire . In 1939 , Western made the legendary ruby slippers for The Wizard of Oz and also many of the costumes for Gone With The Wind .
“ There are no other shops like what we do here ,” said Eddie Marks , president of Western . “ The designer comes here and rents an office , does research , assembles a crew and pulls from our [ vast ] stock . Anything they can ’ t pull we can manufacture . Our research library is the largest in the world . Even New York theater people call us for research . We have a full shop : drapers , tailors , milliners , cobblers . Shoemaking is a specialty . The rule for Broadway is always new shoes .”
This article is excerpted and adapted from the book , A History of the Theatre Costume Business : Creators of Character , by Triffin and Gregory DL Morris , with Rachel E . Pollock , published in October 2021 by Taylor & Francis . Copyright by the authors , all rights reserved .
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