The Extremes of Adrian: The Last of Mrs Cheyney (1929)
By 1929, MGM fashion designer Adrian was already credited with sixteen films to his name. Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, and Joan Crawford were the top stars that he created wonderful costumes for. Unfortunately, at this point he seems to have gone over the edge. As a lifelong fan of Adrian’s work, I find it painful to criticize, but one of the outfits he created at this point in his career is simply astounding. For the film The Last of Mrs Cheyney, starring Norma Shearer, he designed Shearer’s audacious robe de style gown. Fortunately for us all, he makes up for it with an amazing Deco geometrical silk pajama lounging suit towards the end of the picture. In this column, we’ll be taking a look at these two extreme costumes, that I’m convinced mark the start of Adrian’s bow obsession.
In this film, Shearer plays Fay, the head of a jewel theft ring, who works the high society crowd in order to steal a valuable pearl necklace. She finds herself falling for her intended victim’s nephew, played by Basil Rathbone, and must decide which path to take. On the night that the theft is to take place, Shearer wears an outfit which was described by director Sidney Franklin: “We just had to add this stunning and unusual gown, which Norma will wear in her forthcoming picture, The Last of Mrs. Cheyney. Adrian chose it for it a flesh-pink moire. Silver sequins outline the neck and elaborate the petal-like scallops on the bouffant skirt. The huge moire bow is besprinkled with sequins. A smaller bow finishes the neckline in back, the ends forming long streamers which hang to the floor. The fan is shell pink, and the slippers add the final fairy-like touch.”
Recovering from this near fashion faux pas, in the last part of the film, Shearer wears silk lounging pajamas as she is caught in the act of stealing the pivotal necklace by Rathbone, and the two have a rather seductive bedroom tete-a-tete. Unlike the first piece, this outfit hits it out of the park, and stands in stark contrast to the robe de style bow dress that is so shocking in its audaciousness. Without a doubt this outfit is chic with up-to-the-moment fashion sense. So much so that it leaves the audience wondering what happened with the previous gown. Did bows, sequins, and petal scallops seem like a good idea at the time or was Adrian stretched for time and just throwing different styles together in a single gown? What are your thoughts?
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney is available from Warner Archive. Click here to order.