Now, Voyager…ahhhhh…. It’s one of the ultimate melodramas of the 1940s, a source of inspiration to put-upon women everywhere, and smoking was never sexier. It is also, in my opinion, one of the best dressed films of the early 40s. Le sigh.
Fashion-squeeing and many screencaps below the cut…
The costumes were by Hollywood Costume Designer, the ever dependable, Orry-Kelly, designer of 42nd Street, The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Arsenic and Old Lace, Harvey, Oklahoma!, Auntie Mame, Some Like it Hot, to name but a few. He was also incredibly important in the career of Bette Davis. Many stars partly owed their position of style icons to certain costume designers – Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford had Adrian, Hitchcock had Edith Head, Audrey Hepburn had Givenchy, and Bette Davis had Orry Kelly. He was the designer on many of her films, including (prepare yourself for a full list which, yes, I did compile myself so forgive mistakes)
Parachute Jumper (1933), Ex-Lady (1933), Fashions of 1934 (1934), Jimmy the Gent (1934), Fog Over Frisco (1934), Housewife (1934), Bordertown (1935), The Girl from 10th Avenue (1935), Dangerous (1935), The Petrified Forest (1936), The Golden Arrow (1936), Satan Met a Lady (1936), Marked Woman (1937), Kid Galahad (1937), That Certain Woman (1937), It’s Love I’m After (1937), Jezebel (1938), The Sisters (1938), Dark Victory (1939), Juarez (1939), The Old Maid (1939), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), All This, and Heaven Too (1940), The Letter (1940), The Great Lie (1941), The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941), The Little Foxes (1941), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), In This Our Life (1942), Now, Voyager (1942), Watch on the Rhine (1943), Old Acquaintance (1943), Mr. Skeffington (1944), The Corn Is Green (1945), A Stolen Life (1946), then a lengthy gap until their last film together, The Star (1952)
Producer, Damien Parer once said, “Bette Davis, in the end, only wanted her costumes made by (Orry-Kelly) .” Orry-Kelly and Bette Davis’s stars rose and fell at around the same time. Bette Davis started work in films in 1931, Orry-Kelly in 1932. Bette Davis’ career was sadly on the wane from the late 40s, with the exception of the wonderful, All About Eve (1950). Even though Bette, like her rival Joan Crawford, would never stop working, late in her career she was starring in films which were unworthy of her to put it mildly. Orry-Kelly, after working at a pace of at least 15 films per year since the 30s, was, by the 1960s, working on fewer films, but in general they were high quality. Sadly he died of liver cancer in 1964.
Bette is not often remembered as being a “style icon”. It’s a bit unfair really since she definitely had a style, a certain subtle glamour, particularly in her early 40s films.
Oh Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.
Charlotte Vale in “Now Voyager”, 1942
It’s no small wonder why Orry Kelly was Bette Davis’ preferred designer. Orry-Kelly was the one designer who truly flattered Bette Davis’ figure and personality. When dressed by Orry-Kelly, she seemed at ease and at her most elegant. Costume designers had to design, not only appropriate wardrobe for the character in the film, but also something which would suit the personal style of the actor/actress and Orry-Kelly always got Bette spot on.
The transformation of Bette Davis’ character, “Charlotte”, in Now, Voyager goes from frumpy spinster aunt to elegant, strong and confident lady is one of the most dramatic in film history, bar Jekyll and Hyde. Orry-Kelly doesn’t go over the top – the wardrobe of the new Charlotte retains the character’s natural restraint, but uses a simplicity and a select colour palette alongside sharp tailoring softened with feminine details. The new wardrobe is in stark contrast to the frumpy tea dresses of the repressed Charlotte whose spirit had been crushed by a domineering mother.
Frumpy Charlotte – “You think it’s fun making fun of me, don’t you?”
The shoes herald….
The new Charlotte
I LOVE this outfit. The dress is beautiful, sheer, simple and as delicate as butterfly wings, a motif illustrated in the beautiful cape.
She has the foxiest black patent clutch and matching slingbacks in this outfit.
Mother doesn’t approve.
The most gorgeous dress. I made a copy of this gown for my wardrobe a few years ago as I was so in love with it.
A strange one. It’s a nice dress, I just feel that within this film, it is out of place as it is reminiscent of the repressed Charlotte tea dresses.My interpretation of it is that this dress is included to remind the audience of the old, fearful Charlotte. In this scene, she is ends a promising relationship, rejecting a chance of marriage and a different life – choosing to remain a “spinster”. In a voice-over, Charlotte expresses her fear that she’s thrown away her chance of love, life and children, calling herself a fool.
and this scene would make a generation take up smoking.