To dress the biggest and most beautiful people on the silver screen is an honour that most designers would cut their own arms for just a taste. Some become icons such as Edith Head. Some are sadly forgotten. Like Irene Lentz.
Born on 8th December 1900 in Baker, Montana. Once arriving in Los Angeles in 1920. Lentz started off not as a designer but as a minor actress. However her husband of less than a year F. Richard Jones died aged just 37. Clearly in need of a distraction and utilising her childhood sewing skills coupled with her flare of style. Lentz chose to set up a little boutique. Managing a menagerie of the rich and famous, including Marilyn Monroe, Carole Lombard and the daughters of studio mogul Louis B Mayer. To most, that would be enough, a prosperous clientele and more success than most achieve. However Lentz had even more prosperity ahead. After being courted by Bullocks, a high end department shop to create their womenswears. Given that she was already dressing the biggest stars in Hollywood and most of the important women in Los Angeles, it makes sense that Lentz would design for dressing the films themselves. Her debut was in 1933, dressing Lili Damita in ‘Goldie Gets Along’, but her big break came when she designed for Ginger Rogers in 1937’s ‘Shall We Dance’. From then onwards Lentz worked for other studios such as RKO, Paramount and Columbia. Most of the actresses she dressed had been clients of her previously (such as Lombard). She would end up dressing the upper echelons of stardom; Marlene Dietrich, Lana Turner (creating her famous white set from ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’), Ingrid Bergman, Claudette Colbert, Constance Bennett and Loretta Young. When Adrian left MGM for Universal, Lentz became the worthy successor. In 1943, Lentz became leading costume designer. By 1950, Lentz left MGM to set up her own shop. No doubt due to her temperamental relationship with Mayer. Her last ever costume design was for her good friend Doris Day on ‘Gathering of Eagles’ in 1962. Lentz garnered two academy award nomination for her costumes designs; in 1948 for ‘B.F’s Daughter’ and 1960 for ‘Midnight Lace’. Lentz’s understanding of the female form and how to beat frame it was what made her stood out. Using the more modern style of tailored suits and swing trousers, Lentz executed her vision exquisitely. Yet her works do not date or seem ‘old fashioned’. Her fashion would not appear out of place in today’s climate.
One would imagine that with such an amazing career, Lentz would be hugely contented. Sadly this was not the case, while Edith Head was fond of publicity. Lentz was more shy. Her second marriage to screenwriter Eliot Gibbons was far from happy and she was deeply saddened by the death of Gary Cooper. Allegedly the only man she ever loved.
On 15th November 1962. Lentz threw herself off the Knickerbocker hotel. She was 61 years old. While the world was robbed of her creativity. She was inducted into the Costume Design Guild Hall of Fame in 2005. Now, her pieces can expect to be sold for atleast £1000. One day maybe the mainstream will appreciate Lentz’s talent with the same gusto as her fabulous clients did once.