Funny Lady: Costumes

Aghayan & Mackie

Designer Ray Aghayan spoke with writer Ellie Schultz in March 1974 about beginning his work on Funny Lady costumes. “Funny Lady for Barbra Streisand is set in the late 30s and early 40s. We had to capture that look, but also had to show Fanny Brice's personality. Since Streisand is the actress portraying Brice, the final look has to be a meld of the two. I have to bring the two together,” he explained.

As for working with Streisand, Aghayan said “We're working well together. She's like most women. She knows what is best for her.”

Below is a reprint of an original story by Diane Sustendal that was syndicated in newspapers late-March 1975.

Ray Aghayan and Bob Mackie

Ray Aghayan (left) and Bob Mackie (right) described the task of creating 40 complete outfits for Barbra Streisand's portrayal of Fanny Brice in Funny Lady as “herculean.” The job included the creation of not only 1930s-style dresses and suits, but also the hats, gloves, scarves and shoes.

Mackie sketch

“We had the shoes specially made,” Aghayan observed, “and the styles of that period are highly flattering, with their high heels and graceful, natural toes. We concentrated on hats, too. They can be so glamourous and smart, it's a shame they passed out of favor for so long.”

In addition to researching the 30s to design the costumes for the movie, which is being released this week in New Orleans, the two designers had to become experts on the central character of the picture. “Fanny Brice was a most interesting woman,” Mackie related in an interview. “Onstage, she was a garishly dressed comedienne; offstage, she was a cultured lady with elegant taste. So, in effect, we had to design two separate wardrobes for Barbra. Her stage clothes are done in bright hues, and her personal clothes in the film are in subdued colors. We used only natural fabrics because that was the kind of material available in those days, and the costumes received the finest workmanship.”

Mackie's costume for SO LONG HONEY LAMB

(Above: Mackie's costume for Streisand to wear in the musical number SO LONG HONEY LAMB, with Ben Vereen.)

Both designer's laud Ms. Streisand's fashion cooperation.

“She's fantastic,” Aghayan remarked. “She pre-planned for days ahead and came in with just the right shade of nail polish or eye shadow or lipstick. Sometimes the color difference is very subtle, but the little change can actually mean a lot.”

Mackie costume

Barbra's outfits required approximately 150 man-hours of execution, much of this time spent in the almost-extinct art of hand-beading. Perhaps the single most remarkable costume, according to the two designers, is the one she wears in the “Great Day” musical number. The beading took one and a half weeks, and the bodice was cut so ingeniously that only one seam was needed.

What can the distaffers of this world do to improve their fashion picture?

“A woman must find within the styles of the moment what's right for her,” Mackie answered. “In skirt lengths, for instance, anything goes, but a woman should wear what looks best on her legs and doesn't look strange to anyone else. She should collect a wardrobe of good basics, well-made in good fabrics.... a couple of dresses, a suit and a coat. Things that go well together as well as clothes that are somewhat interchangeable. Separates are wonderful .... shirts, sweaters, shirts. And she should buy with an eye to her own personal assets. For example, if I were shopping for Barbra Streisand, I'd look for necklines that would show off her attractive bust. She has the most beautiful chest in Hollywood.”

Another Mackie costume

“Gloves, belts, scarves and shoes notwithstanding, Mother Nature's 'accessories' are always the best.”

Bob Mackie dress from FUNNY LADY

(Above: This gorgeous Bob Mackie-designed costume from FUNNY LADY —Streisand wore it in the scene with Omar Shariff at the Beverly Hills Hotel—went on auction in 2010. Described as “a dress with black crepe bodice and white ruffled chiffon neck and cuffs, together with a long white chiffon scarf...”)

Mackie costume


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