Irene Lentz

Oscar Style Watch: Vintage Vogue Designer “Irene” Lentz

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Pictured: Parker Posey in vintage “Irene” at the Costume Designers Guild Awards in Beverly Hills(Photo: Albert L. Ortega)

One of the most beautiful dresses I have seen on an award carpet this season is the vintage Irene gown (above) that Parker Posey wore last week to the Costume Designers Guild Awards. This dress, with its elegant bodice and one shoulder draping, looks amazingly contemporary. I was delighted to see Parker honoring designer and former MGM costume designer Irene with this homage at the Costumer Designers Guild. Her work and design excellence should not be forgotten.  “Irene” Lentz was the  head designer at MGM from 1942 to 1947. In her career, she did costumes for over 50 films, dressing Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, Lana Turner and Claudette Colbert. She was also renowned for her custom designs sold at Bullocks Wilshire in the special “Irene salon.”  Chanel was the only other designer with such an exclusive salon at the art deco, exclusive Bullocks Wilshire.  Irene was an amazing designer who never won an Oscar for costume design (I think she was robbed. )  It was only in 2005 that Irene was honored with admittance to the Costume Designers Guild .  In her time, British Vogue called Irene’s style “California Elegance.” Look at the beautiful costumes she did for Doris Day in Midnight Lace.  They are so fresh looking, they could be worn today.  The long white gown is certainly Oscar worthy.

Pictured: Doris Day models four different “Irenes” that she wore in the film “Midnight Lace” 1960.

Pictured: A vintage Irene gown sketch drawn by Virginia Fischer for MGM from website

Irene has dazzled Oscar viewers before. In 1940, she dressed Oscar winner Vivien Leigh for her Best Actress win for “Gone with the Wind.”  Vivien looked gorgeous in a bright red, spaghetti-strapped, silk gown with flowers.  Irene was clever enough to keep Vivien in scarlett, but with a little twist of flowers.
 Pictured: Vivien Leigh took Irene to the Oscars as her dress designer.

In 1941, she dressed Best Actress Winner Ginger Rogers for the awards for her “Kitty Foyle” win. The story goes that during the war years the Academy asked designers to scale back on extravagant dresses and imported materials. Many actresses were worried about what that edict would mean for their Oscar wear. Ginger Rogers never had to worry.  Irene designed the below dress of gray “peau de soie” with black American-made lace.  This was a bit of a wonder at the time, as lace was traditionally the province of the French.  The dress was a model of wartime restraint, but was still elegant enough to be striking, befitting the special occasion.

Pictured: Ginger Rogers wore Irene to the Oscars in 1940. She is shown here with her co-winner Jimmy Stewart.
I hope we see an exquisite Irene at the Oscars on Sunday.  DecadesTwo, the wonderful consignment store on Melrose, sells some of her gowns from time to time. Check out the DecadesTwo blog to see a stunning oyster satin gown with  floral motif  Irene gown.
Pictured: A Vintage Treasure, an “Irene” gown from DecadesTwo circa late 1940s.  Click here for more info. (Photo: DecadesTwo, Melrose Ave, Hollywood, CA)
Rachel Zoe, you should snap up this Irene gown for one of your clients.  Irene shuts it down on the red carpet! Parker Posey showed us that.  Readers, have any of you sighted Irene suits at vintage stores in Los Angeles? If so, do tell!

Since 2008, Mary Hall has been the author of The Recessionista Blog, which is read by thousands of regular readers in over 160 countries. An internationally recognized expert on the art of the living the good life for less, she has been a commentator on local, national, and international radio and TV shows. Her advice has been featured in over 2,000 media outlets, including The New York Times, Reuters, Life & Style magazine, ABC News, NBC News and now The Huffington Post, among many others.


  1. Sandra at DebutanteClothing

    March 5, 2010 at 6:56 am

    thanks for sharing this. I love Parker Posey and know she is a big fan of vintage. This Irene is so gorgeous. I own an Irene blazer from the 1940s. It's the only Irene Ive ever found. One thing that Irene did extremely well was add very constructed and sculptural details. It's nice to see this in the dress Parker wore. Amazing!

  2. dining table

    August 14, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Irene's outfits are so gorgeous. My mom has a collection of Irene. I think she also has that kind of dress. Thank you for sharing this and I will be visiting this blog more often.

  3. Wall Mirrors Gal

    October 15, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Oh, the Irene dress is lovely. What a treasure. I love the vintage look, especially the floral and creme dress. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Guru

    December 1, 2010 at 8:45 am

    The biggest treasury of Irene suits can be found on “The Closer.” Its genius costume designer, Greg LaVoi combs the vintage shops and snaps up Irene fashions for Kyra Sedgwick's Brenda Leigh Johnson. The styles fit both the actress and the character to perfection, and are a delight to see each week!

  5. MH

    December 4, 2010 at 3:52 am

    Guru, I agree, Sir Greg is GENIUS. He uses Irene to such great effect on The Closer. How pleased, I think,the sensitive designer would be!

  6. Juan

    February 16, 2011 at 6:14 am

    For some reason I had always thought that Vivien Leigh's Oscar dress was green. Guess I must have seen it colorized somewhere in that particular hue. Very surprising to find out it was in red.

  7. Bathroom Mirrors

    February 27, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    I'm overwhelmed of what I've read and see. They are great. Love it!

  8. Anonymous

    February 23, 2012 at 1:02 am

    I too wanted to know what color was Vivien Leigh's Academy Awards dress color. I too pictured it green because Scarlett loved green. It must have been gorgeous in the color red. Miss Leigh is my number one.