“[Ralph Lauren] thought he should’ve won an Oscar for loaning me a dozen shirts!” – Theoni V. Aldredge, costume designer of “The Great Gatsby” (1947).
“Ralph was doing Gatsby way before the movie. It was Ralph who said, ‘I want Redford in double-breasted suits and this is the kind of collar I want on the shirt.’ He defined the characters through the clothes” – A Buffy Birrittella quote from Ralph Lauren’s website.
A designer claiming more credit than is due for a film wardrobe isn’t exactly news, but when the designer keeps up the claims for over 30 years despite two threats of legal action, it’s worth talking about. It’s fashion folklore that Ralph Lauren designed the men’s wardrobe for the 1974 version of “The Great Gatsby.” Ralph Lauren does have credit for the men’s wardrobe in that film, a fact that’s on the company website as well as in various profiles of the man, including a cover feature in “Port” Magazine, which was published in November of 2014. But the truth behind it all is a little more convoluted.
“Genuine Authentic,” the Michael Gross book about Ralph Lauren that was supposed to be an official biography but turned into an unofficial one when Lauren withdrew his approval, tells a different story about Lauren’s involvement in “The Great Gatsby.”
Lauren first met Theoni V. Aldredge when a meeting was engineered between the two to showcase what Lauren had planned for the film. By all accounts, the first meeting was a good one, with Aldredge liking what Lauren presented and Lauren liking Aldredge’s fabric specifications so much he incorporated them into his next seasonal collection. The issues began when Lauren first asked Aldredge if he could win an Oscar for his part in the film, to which she told him that she was the costume designer and he was merely executing her designs, working as a tailor and supplier of shirts. And this, according to “Genuine Authentic,” is something Lauren ignored. During various interviews, Lauren stated that he designed the clothes, which left Aldredge, by her own words, “infuriated.”
To understand Aldredge’s ire, it’d be best to understand her predicament. “The Great Gatsby” was her most rushed job ever, with a late change of producer meaning she was only given a fortnight to find everything she needed before shooting. Aldredge said that she did like Lauren’s choice of fabrics and chose shirts and ties from his collection. She also had him tailor two suits for Robert Redford. But Redford also wore evening clothes, bathrobes and bathing suits with no involvement from Lauren. According to a “New York Times” obituary on Aldredge, who passed away in 2011, “she generated hundreds of costumes in less than two weeks, a Herculean effort that might account for her irritation when the fashion press turned the spotlight on Ralph Lauren, who took credit for designing the clothes worn by Robert Redford and the film’s other male leads.”
In “Genuine Authentic,” Aldredge says, “I was there at 5am, making sure everything was right, outfitting the atmosphere people. I did ballroom scenes with 60 men, cooks, gardeners. Where was Ralph Lauren when Mr. Redford said, ‘I don’t want to wear that shirt?’”
Aldredge didn’t want Lauren to say he had no involvement, but was irritated at just how far Lauren took things. “I wouldn’t have minded if RalphLauren said he manufactured some clothes. I minded that he said he designed the men’s clothing.”
Aldredge called the studio shortly before the film’s opening and demanded Ralph Lauren’s credit be taken off the film if he kept overstating his involvement. When the studio talked her out of that, she said she’d sue, which the studio also talked her out of. As a small act of revenge, when “The Great Gatsby” did win an Oscar for Best Costume, she pointedly left Ralph Lauren out of her acceptance speech.
“The Great Gatsby” wasn’t Lauren’s only film credit issue; the second one happened with “Annie Hall.” Like Aldredge, Morley considered suing over credit claim. Woody Allen stated that if anyone deserved credit it was Keaton, whose personal wardrobe was half of the film’s costumes while the other half were clothes lent to her by Lauren. Allen went on to state that “Ralph Lauren was in no way involved in costuming the film.”
When Theoni V. Aldredge is interviewed about the entire incident in “Genuine Authentic,” she laughed. “I was angry. He has six houses, 22 cars and a partridge in a pear tree. And we are all very happy for him.”