Screening Style: Luva from Blacula (1972)

 

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Screenshot from Blacula (1972)

 

When thinking about fashionable costumes in 1970s films, there are always a few that come to mind. Jane Fonda as Bree Daniels, Faye Dunaway as Laura Mars, and Diane Keaton as Annie Hall all been mainstays for Halloween costumes, fashion lines, and even streetwear. However, someone is missing. There is little to no mention of people of color. Despite this, there are a plethora of films that have non-White characters that are incredibly fashionable. An American favorite is “Blacula” (1972), an early 1970s Blaxploitation film. One particularly stylish character in this iconic movie is Luva.

“Blacula” revamps the classic tale of Dracula with an African prince named Prince Mamuwalde, who in 1789 is turned into a vampire and is awaken in 1970s Los Angeles. Princess Luva (played by Vonetta McGee) is Prince Mamuwalde’s wife. She ends up dying early in the film, but not before she debuts a fabulous royal costume.

The Look of Luva

 

There isn’t much information on the thought or make on the costumes for this film, but the outfit’s creators are Ermon Sessions and Sandra Stewart. Sessions has worked as a costume designer for films like “Scream Blacula Scream” (1973) and “The Learning Tree” (1969), while Stewart has worked on “Paper Moon” (1973) and “Coffy” (1973).

In the film, Luva is adorned in a visual melody of African-inspired clothing and jewelry. Her neck is covered in red and white necklaces, earrings, and bracelets that mimic the cultural costume of the Maasai. She is clothed in a long black dress that is lined in a combination of gold trim and strips of kente cloth and a thick braided belt that cinches the waist. Luva’s look is topped off with a septum nose ring, Cleopatra-esque eyeliner, and an Afro, which was the hairstyle of the 1960s and 1970s Black Power Movement.

More Is Better Looking

As the fashion industry embraces diversity and different trains of thought, the concept of who and what is stylish via pop culture may expand. Although Diane Keaton as Annie Hall will always be iconic, there are other characters like Luva who can set some fabulous trends too.

 

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Joan Rivers, A Modern-Day Mr. Blackwell

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A prominent aspect of Rivers’ career was fashion criticism. An often-overlooked medium by the public, Rivers became a fixture for her fiery commentary. Many remember Rivers on the red carpet, interviewing celebrities about their clothing in a snarking manner for E! Television. After years at E!, Rivers became a part of “Fashion Police,” a television show that commented on celebrity style. This show reached to the public in ways that commentating from The New York Times and Women’s Wear Daily couldn’t. People who watched wasn’t always fashion conscious and was more likely interested in its flippant commentary than style advice. However, Rivers created content that appealed to everyone, even the style-minded. She was a host who did not agree with everyone but always provided an honest opinion with a couple of jokes, which in the world of fashion, was quite rare.

Rivers’ fashion commentary is reminiscent of Richard Blackwell of “Mr. Blackwell’s Worst-Dressed List” fame. She was similar to Mr. Blackwell’ but “with a bite” according to James Wolcott in his piece, “Wearing Out The Carpet” for Vanity Fair. Although Rivers was far more daring, they both commented on celebrity fashion in a witty manner that appealed to the public.

Rivers had an eye-catching sense of style. Her clothing was sometimes trendy and like her personality,  non-apologetic. She favored lush fabrics, which included furs and silks, and was always in glamorous silhouettes. Rivers often wore black eyeliner with a glossy lip that was never too overbearing. In her later life, she kept her hair chin-length, only flipping the ends out from time to time. Although Rivers became known for her changing face due to her love for plastic surgery, she never strayed from her beauty routine. As Rivers once mused, “The ideal beauty is a fugitive which is never found.”

Joan Rivers had the style and taste level to back up her commentating. She knew what she liked and what she didn’t both on and off the red carpet. Although her icon status is from her long comedy career, Rivers’ fashion history is something of comment too.

 

Funny Gals, Serious Fashions

Lucille Ball and Carol Channing are comedic legends who used their unique senses of humor and leadership skills to create a path for women in comedy. Although many know Ball and Channing for their humor, they are also fashion icons.

Lucille Ball

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What people remember of Lucille Ball is her immense talent on her television show, “I Love Lucy.” She stunned viewers with her jokes and physical comedy, while dressed to the nines as a classic 1950’s housewife. Ball’s costumes, created by costume designer Eloise Jensen, represented an American suburban housewife in an apron, fitted collared dress, high heels, and a curly red updo.

Ball’s off-screen wardrobe was a more upscale take of her on-screen costume. She favored fitted couture gowns and wore famous designers like Balenciaga and Norman Norell. Ball wasn’t afraid of making a statement and embraced Hollywood glamour to the fullest with sequins, gold lamé, and bold coloring.

Carol Channing

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The comedian Carol Channing was as fabulous as she was animated. Nothing Channing has worn is intimidating; it is bright and friendly with a sense of glamour. Channing mixes classic shapes with revealing necklines in glittering fabrics. As she has gotten older, she has covered her neck and chest, but only with more sparkles. Throughout her career, Channing has consistently worn her hair in a short, thick blonde cut. She once added some variety to her signature hairstyle by having famous hair stylist Vidal Sassoon transform it into an asymmetrical bowl cut.

For more on Lucille Ball and her wardrobe, check out the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum in Jamestown, NY. More information about some of Carol Channing’s greatest fashion moments can be read here at the National Museum of American History.