This is Katharine Hepburn (1936) 🇺🇸

Katharine Hepburn |

December 22, 2021

Here is a new and unusual slant on an unusual person — Katharine Hepburn. This is an interview with Muriel King, her latest designer. Exclusive with CLASSIC!

by Carol Craig

Katharine Hepburn is a girl who could not look ordinary. She knows too well what she wants in clothes — and what goes with her personality. She can make a fashion, but she cannot follow one.”

Thus says Muriel King, vivid young American designer, whose own reputation for individuality has made her one of New York’s foremost fashion authorities, a favorite of the smart set, and the creator of the Hepburn costumes for Sylvia Scarlett.

She is not talking as an old friend. She is talking as an impartial observer of the Hepburn personality, which she had to observe closely and know intimately before she could create costumes for her.

The two individualists had never met until three or four months ago — when Katharine, unannounced, walked into the King salon and asked to see some sketches of new creations. Restlessly pacing up and down, she considered two hundred of them, liked one hundred, and sent them to Hollywood to George Cukor, who was to direct Sylvia Scarlett, showing him what this King girl could do. He wired the designer, “Come on out.” The invitation was an innovation in Hollywood, which is crowded with expert fashion creators. This is one of the first times that any young American woman designer has been summoned to the movie capital to design costumes for a special picture. Katharine Hepburn may have started something.

Muriel King accepted because she was interested in Hepburn’s individuality — and because she has a healthy respect for Hollywood as a setter of styles. She allowed herself six weeks away from New York and compressed all of her observing, designing and fitting into those forty-two days.

The first thing, she did was to read the script of Sylvia Scarlett, studying the character that Hepburn was to portray and the various backgrounds in which that character would appear. Then she went into a series of huddles with the star. And out of those close contacts come these interesting, exclusive observations:

“She is tiny, very feminine, with delicate, finely-cut features — and freckles, which contribute to her particular personality. I didn’t see any flaring temperament, such as the gossips talk about. In fact, I’d say she is rather shy. Shy, but definite. The two go together in her case.

“She has far too definite a personality to fit into just any clothes. She has such good bones, such good carriage, so much distinction that her wardrobe cries for distinction, too. She doesn’t try for it with fuss and jewelry. Everything she wears is very glamorous, but, at the same time, very simple.

“Every girl who has any kind of looks wants to set off those looks — make them distinctive — with what she wears. But few girls are sure of how to do that. Very few are Hepburns. They know what they don’t like — but knowing what they do like is another matter.

“Miss Hepburn’s awareness of what is appropriate for her, and her insistence upon getting it, are based partly on instinct, partly on experiment. She is not carried away by new fads, but, being intelligent, she is constantly open to new ideas — ideas that are practical for her, personally.

“She is hypercritical of her own appearance. Looking at herself, she is completely detached and practical — and this is a rare talent. For example, she concentrates on dresses with high necklines as a rule, because she feels that her neck is too long. And she insists on being comfortable.

“She doesn’t want dresses that can’t take wearing. Particularly, daytime dresses. She doesn’t want the kind that need constant pressing. She wants the kind that can be worn in a room or in an automobile. She is a young modern, constantly active. She wants to be exciting-looking, yes — as every other young modern does — but she has no urge to ‘dress up’ unless she is going to a tremendous party.

“She is very conscious of the texture of clothes — and color harmonies,” Miss King pointed out. She isn’t a passive shopper, in other words. She investigates. She knows what designers are talking about when they make suggestions. And whether she accepts them or rejects them, she knows what she is doing. She isn’t just playing hunches.

“And she has good ideas of her own. There may be a limited number of ways of cutting a dress, but she is capable of suggesting new ways of putting on buttons or visualizing unusually-cut necklines, which will add distinction.

“Her own clothes are so terribly simple that any girl could wear them — so simple that you don’t think of them as extraordinary, which they actually are. She has insisted, you see, that those clothes should be very, very simple and very well fitted. And her ability to wear simple things is extraordinary, too. Most girls don’t have enough confidence to wear them. They should cultivate that confidence more. Particularly, if they are the active, clean-cut type.

“Let me tell you the stories behind some of the new costumes in ‘Sylvia Scarlett’” Miss King continued. “For one sequence of the picture, I had to create a Pierrot costume for Miss Hepburn — who plays a boy through a large portion of the picture. Now, that may not look like a real assignment. After all, Pierrot costumes have been the same for centuries. But Miss Hepburn is so distinctive that I felt that her Pierrot costume could afford to have distinction, too. So I suggested bells, instead of pompoms, for the front of the costume. And little gold bells the costume has. “Then I had to design a dress that Sylvia Scarlett would, presumably, be able to obtain in the little town of Cornwall, England. I finally decided that I would get an amusing material, make a very simple dress that would fit nicely, with shorts of the same material. This is the dress she wears when she rescues Natalie Paley from the sea.

“Another sequence called for Sylvia to wear a raincoat. I remembered the short oilskin jackets with square necks worn by the fishermen off the Newfoundland Banks — and adapted the square neckline and shoulder tie to a full-length oilskin. It is an innovation.”

But we want to know more about the private-life Katharine Hepburn. What is she like?

“She lives at the end of a road on top of a mountain,” Miss King said. “She has a wonderful view — a large house — a swimming pool — a tennis court. Nearly every time I saw her there, she was wearing trim shorts.

“It’s true that she doesn’t go to parties. She says that, in Hollywood, if you begin by going to one party, you have to go to them all. So she dodged the first one. It is also true that she does not like to be interviewed. This is no pose. Before she ever made a picture, she asked RKO to make no publicity ballyhoo about her. She wanted to stand or fall on her work alone. She still feels that way. It is not an affectation. She doesn’t ‘act’ off-screen. She is less interested in what she has done than in what she may be able to do with hard work.

“She has an impish sense of humor, and a sense of mischief that hasn’t an iota of malice in it. And you can scratch out conceit as a Hepburn characteristic. Her mind — like her ambition — is never still. And it is an honest, direct mind. I have an immense respect for her. She knows not only what she wants in clothes, but in life.”

And what about Muriel King, who makes these observations about Katharine Hepburn? She is young, unusually tall and unusually graceful, with large dark eyes, a deliberate speaking voice and a boyish haircut. She was born in Seattle, Washington, attended the University of Washington until she decided to major in art, then studied in New York, eventually going to Paris, where she concentrated on costume design.

On her return from abroad, she joined the small and exclusive group of young American designers. Now she has a shop of her own, where expensively dressed women of all ages come for gowns that will , be especially — and exclusively — designed for them. The shop is not elegant in the movie manner. It is a reconverted private mansion — and still is more “homey” than “shoppy.”

In “Sylvia Scarlett,” her new picture, you will see Katharine Hepburn in a boyish haircut (Through half of the picture, she masquerades as a boy.) And as Sylvia, she has a variety of moods:

  1. Sylvia lonely  in a simple, yet distinctive mourning dress.
  2. Sylvia happy  wearing something new in raincoats.
  3. Sylvia weeps.
  4. Sylvia sleeps.
  5. Sylvia plays Pierrot.
  6. Sylvia plays male flirt.
  7. Hepburn studies her script between scenes.
  8. Sylvia in a Champagne mood. 

Katharine Hepburn is a girl who could not look ordinary

Portrait by George Platt Lynes

This is Muriel King, young designer whom Katharine Hepburn brought to films to costume “Sylvia Scarlett”.

P. S. As I was leaving, I bumped into Hope Williams — of Park Avenue and the stage.

Source: Movie Classic, February 1936