Costume designerYvonne Blake

Born in England, Blake was mesmerized by Audrey Hepburn in the 1957 film Funny Face. Well, not so much Hepburn herself, but her fabulous fashions, which were designed by Givenchy. Blake, as a teen, decided to become a costume designer. She clearly had an aptitude for it: she attended Manchester’s Regional College of Art & Design, and then went on to work on more than 60 films, designing costumes for My Fair Lady (1964), Fahrenheit 451 (1966; director François Truffaut particularly liked her design for the book-burning fireman costume, because they were reminiscent of Nazi uniforms), Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), The Three Musketeers (1973), What Dreams May Come (1998), and won an Oscar for Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), accepting it with the quip, “If it wasn’t for the Russian Revolution, I wouldn’t be here.” She was only 31 years old. A resident of Spain (her husband was Spanish screenwriter and director Gil Carretero), Blake also won several Goya Awards, the highest honor from Spain’s Academy of Cinematic Art and Science.

Blake’s original sketch for the Superman costume. The scribbles in the lower left are transcribed in the body of the write-up. (Click to see larger.)

Blake even got to design costumes for Hepburn herself, for Robin and Marian (1976), but you probably know her work better from the film that launched the Superman franchise into the stratosphere. She was brought in for 1978’s Superman, and sketched the man of steel’s costume even before Christopher Reeve was cast in the title role. Knowing it not only had to live up to its iconic status, but had to work with the requirements of filming, her notes jotted on the sketch (pictured) described her design as a “Leotard in shimmering blue two way stretch fabric worn over fake muscles and harness for flying. Capes to be made in various flowing fashion for resting. Boots in glove leather or elastic with small heel. ‘S’ motif in red and gold on breast and again in all gold on back of cape. Gold metal belt with ‘S’ buckle.” When Reeve was chosen to star, the design was perfect for him — except he refused to don the fake muscles (it was “them or me,” he declared). She also designed the rest of the film’s costumes, and was brought back to work on the 1980 sequel. She continued to work on films until 2016 — when she was elected president of Spain’s film academy. Blake, who lived in Spain, suffered a stroke in January while working in her Academy office. She died on July 17, at 78.

From This is True for 22 July 2018