Little information is available on Clare West although she trail-blazed the status of costume designer, costumed classic films, and in 2003 was entered in the Costume Designer Guild’s Hall of Fame. Allie Acker alone gives us pre-1915 details, and she finds that, after college, West studied in Paris, becoming an accomplished fashion artist. Edward Maeder (220) starts her career with D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), but all sources agree that she worked for two years on his ancient-to-modern epic Intolerance (1916), the first motion picture to period-dress leads and extras. West’s exact role is unclear, but it is possible that she supervised all costuming. Clearly her work raised the level of exoticism of screen fashion and separated it from haute couture by making stunning clothing that were wearable only on film, commencing the important demarcation between the two costume modes. In the teens, actors often wore their own clothes and “wardrobe” was a division of the drapery department, which only purchased, rented, or tacked ready-made items. The costume department as such was not de rigueur until the late twenties, but West inaugurated its initial office when, with Intolerance, she attained the unprecedented credential of “studio designer,” a feat still notable almost ten years later when Motion Picture cited it (Calhoun 116-117).
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