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Furs in Film – Roberta (1935)

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This series of posts will focus on a single film, one in which fur fashion is notably well represented. This set is based on a recent update of one of the first galleries, and I'm leaving both galleries up just to see how much better I am at this than I used to be. First in the series is the 1935 film, Roberta.

Roberta is based on a 1933 Broadway musical of the same name, which, in turn, was based on a novel by Alice Duer Miller named Gowns by Roberta. Unlike today, when books go straight to film, there was a more common interlude on Broadway.

Roberta – The Film

Roberta, the film is basically the story of a football player John Kent inheriting a noted Paris fashion house after his aunt Roberta passes away. This kind of thing happens all the time, of course. The football player falls in love with the chief designer, played by Irene Dunne. The plot takes the usual boy-meet-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-and-girl-reunited twists. The important part is this particular Paris fashion house of 1935 shows some fabulous furs.

Roberta – The Furs

Ginger Rogers, playing Lizzie Gatz playing Countess Scharwenka, opens the show with a lovely -trimmed outfit.

Countess Scharwenka is soon the victim of the kind of statistical improbability that can occur only on film, in that old beau Huck Haines from Indiana is tagging behind his football-playing pal with his band. She ups the glamor quotient with a lovely when confronted by Huck about her “exotic origins.”

The first fashion interlude features some decent stuff. This long, multi-tailed silver fox stole is one.

This beauty boasts huge collars and cuffs. It might be coyote or fox, but it's difficult to tell.

The Countess and Huck watch sidelines, with the Countess still draped in some fur of her own.

Later, in the “boy-experiences-conflicting-emotions-about-the-arrival-of-an-old-girlfriend” phase of the love story, Sophie, John Kent's old girlfriend, shows up. Fortunately for us, she's a rich snob, which means a very full collar on her coat, and it receives all the attention it deserves as she plays the entire scene in it.

This romance phase doesn't last long, but long enough for John to dump Sophie in her “bad outfit.” Personally, I find quite a bit to like in the extensive trim on this gown.

The “big show” in the film's final act starts with quite a few beauties. This is a youthful Lucile Ball, yes the I Love Lucy one, in an oversized feathery coat whose origins I can't even guess on. Before she got a bit older and a lot more annoying, Miss Ball was a fantastic beauty during her film run in the '30s.

A few more, including this long sliver fox cape that is, unfortunately, wholly removed to show off the far less exciting gown underneath.

Finally, the “climax” of the film and the film's furs, this custom gown with one of the most enormous wrap/collars in recorded history. My jaw dropped on seeing this for the first time, and I'd argue this is one of the top 10 film furs of all time.

If it had been shown only briefly, perhaps the legend wouldn't be quite so sweet, but this is a musical, and this is a musical number. This mammoth white fox gets the screen time it deserves, from close-ups to this perfect framing shot that provides the best vantage to drool over this beauty.

Gratuitous bonus shot because if any fur deserves it, this one does.

Ending here would have been fine for all concerned, but what makes Roberta the film worthy of this recognition is that it's not quite over yet. Ginger arrives stage left in another sliver fox cape, this one with a wonderfully high collar and heavy, thick cuffs. Though it's removed with a sad amount of haste, it's still a lovely addition.

Finally, Irene Dunne appears in this relatively modest outfit at the very end, as our two lovers work out their misunderstandings and proceed to live happily ever after. Perhaps an example of “one fur too many,” as it's not exactly the one I'd have chosen to close the film on.

This long list isn't exhaustive of all the big furs seen in this film. There are a few extra gems in the full Roberta Gallery.

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