Posted in 1970s Fashion, Fashion In Films, Films, Haute Couture, History Of 20th Century Fashion, Oral History, Vintage Fashion Blog, Vintage Fashion History

Donfeld and Costume Design: Diamonds Are Forever, Wonder Woman and China Syndrome.

Jill St John as Tiffany Case, Diamonds Are Forever, 1971.Love them or loathe them, the Bond movie franchise has presented the viewing public with a dazzling array of outfits worn by the ladies in the films. 

This week I found myself thinking about Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery’s last outing as Bond.

Released in 1971, it had a cracking theme tune – sung by Wales’ own Shirley Bassey – but for me it was the most progressive Bond because of the costume designs worn by Jill St John.

Leading lady Tiffany Case ( how could you forget such a name ) was a cobbled together pastiche of the original character in Ian Fleming’s novel.

Ian Fleming's view of women has long been called into question, but Tiffany Case was created as a modern counter to James Bond
Ian Fleming’s view of women has long been called into question, but Tiffany Case was created as a modern counter to James Bond.

Fleming had written Case to be equal to Bond; similarly motivated, similarly competent and similarly free of any morality in how she treated people to get what she wanted.

What Tiffany Case wanted was wealth, those diamonds are forever you know, and in creating her, Fleming was creating a metaphor for the consumerism he saw and disapproved of in the 1950s.

The fashion for slash waisted gowns 

My thoughts had turned to Diamonds Are Forever because of a conversation with someone about The House of Mirelle.

Moments beforehand they’d mentioned that they’d once modelled a dress that was slashed to the waist.

They added that in those days, there was no tit tape to retain your modesty although this style was very much cutting edge fashion.

We stopped for a moment to consider how to deal with such an outfit, before I added: “I imagine you wore it carefully,” to the conversation.

Tiffany Case 

But the other half of my mind had returned to that slashed waisted dress worn by Tiffany Case, the one you see above in the photo.

This is without a doubt my favorite outfit worn by any Bond star ever; it wins hands down.

It is also one I copied and made, oh, about 15 years ago for a 40th birthday party which had a Bond fancy dress theme…

DonFeld costume designer 

The original dress – not my somewhat average copy – was designed for Miss St John by the designer DonFeld.

Don Feld liked the work of couturiers and fashion designers in the mid to late 1960s.  He particularly admired the work of Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Rive Gauche’ label, the ready to wear line launched in 1966.

He adopted Saint Laurent’s contemporary look in his designs for the film and gave the most modern Bond girl a highly memorable look as a result.

If you watch it again you’ll notice that Tiffany Case is played with almost dead pan functionality by St John. She doesn’t simper and she does not play dumb.

In a negligee or a space age style suit, she’s her own woman.

Yves St Laurent 

In 1968, the Yves Saint Laurent collection caused a stir because he said that a modern woman should have a wardrobe that works for her and that it should include a trouser suit and a transparent black evening dress.

That explains the presence of the slashed waisted black dress which is such a visually stunning creation in the film.

It also shows how perfect Don Feld was for designing for this most modern of Bond women.

Don Feld also designed TV's Wonder Woman costume worn by Lynda Carter.
Don Feld also designed TV’s Wonder Woman costume worn by Lynda Carter.

W-W-Wonder Woman! 

Don Feld was the darling of Hollywood. He designed the Wonder Woman costume well known to those of us who were a youngster, or parents of youngsters in the 70s.

Kapow! What an unforgettable creation.

Don Feld worked on many high profile films, winning an Oscar for the 1985 Prizzi’s Honour.

En route he designed the costumes for The China Syndrome (1979), a standout film for many reasons.

That Jack Lemmon won an Oscar for his performance was one, but for me as a 16 year old it was for the costumes worn by Jane Fonda.

I absolutely loved them.

China Syndrome and Inspiration 

A few years after the film was released, I was in the midst of completing my portfolio for O Level Art.

From childhood I knew I wanted to do textiles, fashion and costume. I’d filled sketch pads with drawings of clothes and shoes since I was old enough to hold a pencil.

I couldn’t have predicted that later on I’d end up working in film, but even at that stage my mind was drawn to costume design in pulling together the sketches for my portfolio.

Working hard, I stayed up late one night to see a film screened on BBC2. It was called The China Syndrome.

Some of The China Syndrome cast, including Jane Fonda.
Some of The China Syndrome cast, including Jane Fonda.

As the opening scene played, I didn’t know what a China Syndrome was, nor did I know that the film’s release had coincided with the meltdown at 3 Mile Island. 

I was gripped by the plot – it is a compelling story – but I was also instantly gripped by the costumes worn by Jane Fonda in the film.

I grabbed my sketch pad and while she was doing her thing on screen, tried to sketch and capture the clothes she was wearing.

These were in the days before You Tube and video and so I couldn’t stop and start the action to slow it down and really look at what I was doing.

Kept throughout the years afterwards - sketched in the dark whilst watching The China Syndrome.
Kept throughout the years afterwards – sketched in the dark whilst watching The China Syndrome.

I didn’t have time to switch the light on either so when the film finished and I looked down I could see how much of a rush the result was.

But there it was, a sample sketch of Jane Fonda’s costumes and for me, the start of what was to come.

“I sometimes go quiet while I’m listening to people talking,” I said to the woman on the phone in the earlier conversation.

“It’s because I’ve got a database of information in my mind and I’m flicking through it, matching what you’ve said with something else I know.

“Sometimes people say things that hark back to what people have told me and sometimes it’s because of the research I’ve done.

“You’ve made me think about something else, actually,” I added, before we changed subject and moved on.

She certainly had. Fashion has been returning to this trend since Julianne Moore stepped onto the red carpet in 2015 wearing this tomato red Tom Ford creation.

2015 Oscars, slash waisted dress by Tom Ford.
2015 Oscars, slash waisted dress by Tom Ford.

Good design doesn’t date and style remains constant.

Don Feld’s legacy is in how his costumes inspired and were inspired by some of the most iconic looks of a generation.

© Carrie Henderson 2016

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Author:

Researching and writing a book about a Hull fashion house called The House Of Mirelle. Our Facebook page is called The House Of Mirelle, join us! Lives in London. Is a social and fashion history researcher and writer of creative non fiction. Runs the Surbiton Writers Group. Loves multi-media, fashion history and film. Collects vintage clothing and vintage clothing patterns and is an avid home dressmaker. On a TV game show my specialist subject would be the history of fashion in the UK. Twitter @carriejourno. Facebook Carrie Henderson Journalist. Email carrie@carriehendersonjournalist.com.

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