I was trawling through some vintage copies of the Theatre Magazine from the Twenties the other day, when I came across a couple of very nice illustrations. I wondered who they were by as many of these old mags are illustrated by people who, while not famous at the time subsequently achieve fame in later years. The signature was not easy to read but after Googling several variations on what I thought it might be, together with the words 1920’s and artist or illustrator I eventually came up with the possible name of Travis Banton.
On checking the previous months edition of the same magazine I discovered another two, in a slightly different style, but this time unmistakebly signed T. Banton. On confirmation of my discovery I got very excited as I realized just who Travis Banton was, and that these illustrations of 1921 had obviously been done at a very early stage of his career. Travis Banton was to become the chief designer at Paramount Pictures, as well as designing for Twentieth Century Fox and Universal He is considered one of the most important Hollywood costume designers of the 1930s & 40s, and consequently clothed many of the most famous film stars of all time.
He was born in Waco, Texas. And moved to New York City at the age of two. Later on he was educated at Columbia University and at the Art Students League where he studied art and fashion design.
An early apprenticeship with high-society couturier Madame Francis in New York allowed him to make a name for himself when in 1919 Mary Pickford selected one of his designer gowns for her secret marriage to Douglas Fairbanks, after which his reputation was established.
He opened his own dressmaking salon in New York City, and soon was asked to create costumes for the Ziegfeld Follies. In 1924, he moved to Hollywood when Paramount contracted with him to create costumes for his first film, 'The Dressmaker From Paris'.
Beginning with Norma Talmadge in "Poppy," Banton designed clothing for Pola Negri and Clara Bow (It) in the 1920s. Florence Vidor, who had seen herself as a plain Jane type, was enchanted with the lavish gowns Banton gave her for 'The Grand Duchess and the Waiter. (1926). In the '30s and '40s he designed for such stars as Kay Francis, Lilyan Tashman, Sylvia Sidney, Gail Patrick, Helen Vinson, and Claudette Colbert. Ultimately, Travis Banton may be best remembered for forging the style of such Hollywood icons as Carole Lombard, Marlene Dietrich, and the inimitable Mae West.
Glamour, understated elegance, and exquisite fabrics endeared Travis Banton to the most celebrated of Hollywood's beauties and made him one of the most sought-after costume designers of his era. As a viewing of such films as The Gilded Lily (1935) and Desire (1936)reveals, his clothes were marked by simple but stylish cuts (often on the bias), rich fabrics (such as satin and lame), and extravagant decoration (beads, fur, and feathers).
When Designer Howard Greer left Paramount, Banton was promoted to Head Designer and was responsible for dressing the studio's most illustrious stars. Because of his alcoholism and reputedly also at the instigation of his subordinate Edith Head, Banton was forced to leave Paramount. He started his own business and also designed for Twentieth Century-Fox from 1939-1941 and Universal from 1945-1948.