What do you think of when someone mentions ‘Icons of Men’s Style’? Is it the items of clothing like the classic white T-shirt? US fishtail parka? Sailor beanie? Or is it the men wearing the clothes? Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James Dean?
Not to knock the personal style, talent or charisma of the aforementioned actors and others of their ilk but the outfits and characters that they’re best known for owe there style to an often invisible hand. Think Brando’s Buffalo Check Work Jacket or N1 Deck Jacket in On The Waterfront, Michael Corleone’s slick tailoring in The Godfather or Frank Serpico’s…well…everything! The invisible hand (or hands) are those of the, often overlooked, costume designer. One name, Anna Hill Johnstone, is responsible for the costume design on these films as well as East of Eden, Dog Day Afternoon, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Wiz and so many more it’s almost ridiculous.
Born in Greenville, South Carolina in 1913,Anna Hill Johnstone's first credit as Costume Designer was in 1937 for the Broadway hit 'Having Wonderful Time’, making the move to the silver screen in 1948 and working with the director Elia Kazan on ‘On The Waterfront’ in 1954. Johnstone collaborated with Kazan on many more films and was also well known for her work with Sidney Lumet (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon). Her final film was Lumet’s 1988 ‘Running On Empty’ starring River Phoenix.
Johnstone designed costumes for more than sixty films and received two Academy Award nominations for her work on The Godfather and Ragtime. In 2006, she was posthumously awarded the Costume Designers Guild "Hall of Fame" award. It is said that Johnstone would rummage through the lofts of friends in Brooklyn to find items for her characters to wear. Imagine coming across the wardrobe of Serpico whilst digging through some old gear at your mate’s house!
There’s not a huge amount of info (on the internet at least) about Johnstone’s career but here’s a couple of links to keep you going. Enjoy.