Barbra Streisand wore this lavender-blue gown, designed by Irene Sharaff in Funny Girl (1968). This stunning costume is one of my favorites in the film. You’ll see this look introduced just after Nick asks Fanny on an 8PM dinner date in a private dining room at The Majestic where she is staying. It appears at one hour and ten minutes into the movie and through the subsequent musical number You Are Woman, I Am Man.
The first glimpse we see of Barbra in the gown is in a shot from behind which accentuates the deep-V open back against the triangular shape of the shawl.
Nick notes that the color of Fanny’s gown looks wonderful with her eyes and he is right. The color of the gown gave Barbra’s blue eyes a gorgeous periwinkle hue on screen.
This gown is another Irene Sharaff masterpiece. Sharaff (1910-1993) was famous for the manipulation of color and historic detail in her designs. Fanny Brice (originally Fania Borach) first began her career in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1910, and this gown has features consistent with styles during the Edwardian period. The 1910’s were a decade when women were leaving behind bustles and corsets for more relaxed waistlines as well as empire waistlines which were being revived at the time. More lavish looks and accessories fell to the wayside once WWI began in 1914 and a plainer lifestyle was adopted.
Throughout her career, Sharaff costumed over fifty Broadway plays and musicals and received eight Tony Award nominations, winning for The King and I. Additionally, she earned fifteen Oscar nominations and won five.
The bodice of this gown is breathtaking. It is completely covered in hand-sewn glass beads, paste beads, sequins and round flat palliates. A fringe trim composed of thousands of blue glass and bicone beads hangs over the split-flutter sleeves, and circles the empire waistline.
The beading on the bodice forms a floral motif in several places throughout, surrounding the deep scoop neckline. Blue silk-chiffon over purple satin is gathered around the empire waistline and flows dramatically into a voluminous two-tiered skirt.
The first tier is edged in oversized deep-purple and blue synthetic flowers and forms a fun bubble shape. This was used to enhance the humor in the scene when Fanny playfully drops the layer up and down, trying to find the perfect sitting position as Nick orders dinner.
The bottom silk-chiffon tier is accordion pleated, hangs straight and is reminiscent of a hobble skirt. The gown has a back zipper closure.
The matching shawl is equally stunning in detail. This triangular piece is covered in large grey and blue synthetic flowers that look watercolored. These feature glass beads at their center as well as blue embroidery.
Surrounding each flower are green leaves as well as blue bugle beads in leaf motifs. There is beaded piping in a V-shape which leads to a gathered ruffle that trims the entire piece.
Matching beaded flowers attached via bobby pins accented the dramatic curled hairpiece which was placed over Barbra’s natural hair.
Another striking detail about this look was the bold choice of a contrasting ruby and diamond earrings. These looked amazing against the primarily red set and wallpaper. The look was completed with matching satin heels by Beth Levine and an oriental folding fan with cutouts and purple blocking.
Fun fact: this fan switches halfway through the scene. When Fanny enters the room and through the first portion of dialogue we see her with a fan with a primarily purple bottom half.
Immediately after Nick gives Fanny his blue marbled egg from Rome she turns to sit in the red chaise lounger. The original fan is still in her hand as she sits down. There is a nearly unnoticeable cut right around 1:12:52 where the new fan reappears. It is identical in color but the top portion is purple and the formerly purple portion is now tan. The purple tassels hanging remain the same. The second fan remains through there duration of the scene. See the second folding fan below.
A very similar version of the gown was worn in the stage productions of Funny Girl.
A photo of Barbra in the gown was featured on one of the Playbill covers in which she posed with Johnny Desmond.
The biggest difference in the stage and film gown is the bodice. The stage version had a more defined floral motif with far less beading and sequins. It had a deep V-neck vs a deep scoop neckline. It also featured a ruched cap sleeve vs the fringed split-flutter sleeves in the movie. In contrast, the shawl used onstage was much more dense in its floral appliqués and beading, but much less voluminous than the film version. There was a single layer pleated ruffle vs double sided in the film. The cheery blossom folding fan was replaced with a color blocked fan in the movie. You can see the differences that a budget increase had here.
This gown has seen an amazing afterlife since 1968. After being auctioned in 2004 for $8,000.00 it was loaned out to be a part of the exhibition “Hollywood Costumes” which was created and curated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis who noted that the project took a crew of over 100 people, five years and five million dollars to create. First opening at the V&A in London, the exhibition ran from October 2012-January 2013 where it drew a record 251,000 people. It went on to tour various cities in the USA before landing at the future home of The Academy Museum in 2015, where it sold over 78,000 tickets.
This unparalleled presentation included many of Hollywood’s most famous gowns including Dorothy’s pinafore dress, Marilyn’s white halter dress, the Darth Vader costume and far more.
This famous Funny Girl gown was featured in the exhibit in a room titled Scene IV: The Finale. Regarding the creation of this room Landis recalled “When I was designing this room in particular, I wanted it to feel like you were coming into the greatest cocktail party that you could ever imagine-right? Dead or alive… and this section was all called vamps and vixens. We rotoscoped the face of the actor from the time-the moment they were wearing this exact costume in the movie, so it was thoughtfully done.”
In this room Barbra’s Funny Girl gown was displayed alongside her iconic gold Hello, Dolly! gown (read about it here.)
Hopefully we will see this beautiful gown displayed for the public again very soon.