The cover of Christian Esquevin's recently published book features a sketch by costume designer Helen Rose. Photo courtesy of Christian Esquevin.

A glamorous red dress sparkles on the front cover, sketched in sleek detailing that screams old Hollywood, a remnant of the golden age.

The dress was imagined by costume designer Helen Rose for American film actress Susan Hayward and her lead role in 1955 film “I’ll Cry Tomorrow.”

Hayward’s red hair pops against the white backdrop of the cover of the newly published “Designing Hollywood: Studio Wardrobe in the Golden Age”— a book that takes a deep dive into studio wardrobes in the height of Hollywood.

The book is a product of Coronado resident Christian Esquevin’s decades of research into the topic. 

“If you spend 10 thousand hours on a subject, you become an expert,” he said jokingly.

35 years of expertise

Esquevin has regularly studied and collected information and drawings of Hollywood costume design for 35 years, apart from his professional career that included being director of the Coronado Public Library for three decades.

In retirement, he endeavored to write a book on the subject during the pandemic. 

Christian Esquevin stands at the Coronado Public Library where he leads the Coronado Roundtable civic club.
Christian Esquevin stands at the Coronado Public Library where he was the director for 30 years. Staff Photo by Willem Quigley

He is presenting his book at the John D. Spreckels Hospitality Center to help kick off the 2023 Coronado Island Film Festival at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9, where his research will be highlighted. 

He chose to use the sketch of Susan Hayward on the cover because it is one of his favorites, but he also has a collection of similar rare sketches from the golden age of Hollywood.

His collection of classic film costume design sketches have been featured by the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum in Los Angeles. 

Inspiration from his great aunt

Esquevin said about 20 sketches in his overall collection are from his great aunt, Marie Ree, who worked in the wardrobe departments in Hollywood studios as a cutter from 1925 to 1945.

Esquevin inherited a lot of her photographs and original costume drawings. 

His great aunt started working at MGM, one of the five major studios of the time, before moving onto Fox studios, and then RKO, which at the time featured the acting talent of notable stars like Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and Lucille Ball.  

This was in the Golden Age of Hollywood, an elegant phrase that describes the time period of roughly 1912 to the end of the 1960s, when all aspects – carpentry, hairdressing, makeup artistry, costume design and everything else – of a film production were done in the studio. 

Designers were given contracts to create costumes specifically for each movie star, which defined an actress or actor on-and-off screen. 

“A big part of the image was created by the wardrobe…Their glamor came from the costume.”

-Christian Esquevin, author of “Designing Hollywood: Studio Wardrobe in the Golden Age.”

“A big part of the image was created by the wardrobe,” Esquevin said. “Their glamor came from the costume.”

Bringing recognition to those unnamed

Not only does Esquevin’s 250-page book explore the major names in costume design, but it also highlights those behind the scenes, like the cutters, fabricators, seamstresses and embroiderers.

“I wanted to bring out the names of those that deserve recognition.”

-Christian Esquevin, author of “Designing Hollywood: Studio Wardrobe in the Golden Age.”

“I wanted to bring out the names of those that deserve recognition, and especially I wanted to mention the names of people who worked in the wardrobe department and never got any recognition,” Esquevin said.  

He said giving recognition to those unnamed was not an easy process, as many of the pictures and artifacts of research never named the individuals, just the fact that they were “wardrobe designers.”

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Sofie Fransen is a staff writer for The Coronado News. She graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University, majoring in English-Education and minoring in Journalism. She was the Opinion Editor of The Point student newspaper. In the summers, she has been commercial fishing for the sockeye salmon run in Alaska. She can be reached by email or at 360-527-5848.