I cleaned out the sewing shelf at King’s Books in Tacoma on my recent trip there. Among the many treasures I found of used and rare books was “Divinely Elegant – The World of Ernst Dryden” by Anthony Lipmann.
Lipmann rescued a trove of Dryden’s design archives in 2 trunks that were being thrown out in 1976 after the death of his great-aunt Helene Wolff Budischowsky. Years later he was able to piece together the story of Dryden’s journey from famous German poster artist to Hollywood costume designer and publish this exquisite book. His incisive analysis of European art and modes of the early part of the 20th century is far beyond the usual scope of a fashion book.
Here is a window on the lost world of the Austrian graphic artist and designer Ernst Deutch (1887- 1938). Originally a student of Gustav Klimt, Dryden (pronounced ‘Dreeden’) came to prominence in pre-World War 1 Berlin. He was one of the first commercial artists to become involved in advertising and poster art. A scandal forced him back to Vienna and to change his name after the war. He opened his own studio in Vienna, and kept a staff of young students busy there, including the young Fritz Lang. (Lang later became a legendary film director, but at this time he was more interested in fashion)
Dryden worked as a designer for the Viennese menswear company Knize, and was reponsible for the total redesign and branding of the label. He created the logo, designed the shop front and displays, a line of toiletries, as well as the ineffably elegant clothing for the venerable house. He was one of the originators of the concept of ‘branding’. Ralph Lauren acknowledges his debt to Dryden openly, as well he might – Dryden used the image of a polo player as a symbol of the company long before Lauren even created his company.
Eventually Dryden left Europe for the USA, fleeing impending doom before the Nazi takeover, along with many others who ended up as Hollywood exiles. He was part of a German – Austrian expatriate community that included Billy Wilder and Marlena Dietrich. Already succesful as a designer, he made the leap to costume design. The most famous of the films he worked on are The Garden of Allah (a largely forgettable movie that remains famous for being one of the very first Technicolor films and its luminous costumes for Dietrich) and Lost Horizon.