For her comeback concert at Carnegie Hall in March 1948, after 10 months in jail, Billie Holiday wore a long gown, gloves and that trademark gardenia. She was, as always, every inch the star. From those gowns on stage, to fur coats, ponytails and diamanté sunglasses offstage, Holiday oozed mid-century glamour.
Lee Daniels’ The United States Vs Billie Holiday is released this month. The film, starring Andra Day, focuses on Holiday at the height of her fame in the late 40s and early 50s when she was targeted by the FBI, after she started singing Strange Fruit, a protest song about lynching in the south. Seen by the agency as a troublemaker when she refused to stop singing what was seen as a controversial song, the FBI recruited Jimmy Fletcher, a rare Black agent, to bust Holiday – a known heroin user – for drug offences. Daniels’ film, using Johann Hari’s 2015 book Chasing the Scream as its basis, tells the story of that time. And style is part of that story.
Paolo Nieddu, the costume designer on the film, said he began researching the wardrobe by putting together a scrapbook of images. “I focused on finding as much as I could on her during that time, but I went back further just to help me get a sense of all of her style elements,” he says. “What did she wear in the 30s? What did she wear in the early 40s? You’d find pictures of her out at dinners, smoking at a table, sitting with Hazel Scott and other jazz musicians.”
Nieddu was stuck by how experimental Holiday was with her clothes. “I would look at her and be like, ‘What year is this?’” he says, “[or] she’s not wearing a bra at a time when undergarments were so regimented”. He points to her penchant for diamanté sunglasses: “You’re like, ‘These glasses are wild.’” Read from source….