This dramatic purple costume was one of several designed by Cecil Beaton for Barbra Streisand in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever that ended up on the cutting room floor. Along with being a costume designer, Beaton was an acclaimed photographer and made sure to take exquisite portraits of Streisand on set wearing his creations. Today, these photos remain the best documentations of his works of art.
In the book “The Unexpurgated Beaton: The Cecil Beaton Diaries as He Wrote Them, 1970-1980” Beaton recalled that he thought many of Barbra’s best gowns had been cut from the final edit of the film, noting “Now I see the film and see the appalling waste due to the fact that no one had prepared a proper script. One whole ballroom sequence with B.S. in dark red satin, and all the others in the specious stoned velvets, has been cut. B.S.’s best dress cut, many scenes cut, and the laying down of cobbles in Lansdowne Crescent (Brighton) and the hedges specially built, all unnecessary, all cut. If Alan Lerner had delivered a carefully considered script, many hundreds of thousands of dollars would have been saved.” Beaton added, “It may be said that I was paid well for the job and that is all I should worry about. But that isn’t the whole story. I really sweated to see that things were perfect, and that is the only way I can work.”
Beaton brought his idea for this costume to life on paper using pencil and watercolor. Alongside his sketch there is an annotation in pencil reading “for Barbra Streisand, sc 73-Ext. Pelham.”
This simple and regal gown reflects the empire silhouette that was so popular during the Regency period, which lasted from 1811-1820. This cut is one of Barbra’s favorites. She has worn it so many times throughout her career that it is synonymous with her image. The empire look was adopted from Greco-Roman style tunics. During the Regency period following classical ideas by copying Greek and Roman styles was extremely in vogue. This new and more natural style accentuated the bodies’ natural lines, hid any stomach flaws and elongated the legs making it flattering on many body types.
Melinda’s purple confection would have been worn as daywear, and was perfect for her to show off her social status and dramatic personality. In this look as well as the rest of the costumes Beaton designed for Clear Day he put his own spin on Regency style. Though some of the elements in this costume would not have been seen during the Regency period, they work incredibly well in the lush fantastical palette of the film. One highlight of this costume is its delectable and very uniquely shaped hat. This features a woven straw base covered in purple organdy. The top portion of the hat is covered in silk crêpe. Extending from this is a single layer of loosely gathered silk organza which encircles the headpiece and elongates into a train at the back.
The empire waist gown features a deep-V bust-line with a closure at the décolletage that is decorated with a small brooch. The gown has fitted long sleeves and the left sleeve only is draped with a dramatic floor length panel. I really love how this costume managed to be over the top yet elegant and somewhat understated all at the same time. The whereabouts of this gown are unknown, but the hat was sold at auction in 2004 to benefit The Streisand Foundation and brought in $1,800.00.
Cecil and Barbra had first met years before On a Clear Day You Can See Forever was in production. A 2018 article by Sotheby’s celebrating famous images from the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive stated that “Beaton first saw Barbra Streisand singing in a nightclub in New York in the summer of 1963. It was early in her career but he was captivated by her talent and unique look – “this strange Cleopatra-like profile with bold flow from forehead to nose”. That October he photographed her for the first time (these photos appeared in March, 1964 Vogue) and in 1969 he would go on to design her costumes for the film On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Although he was initially skeptical of working with her, he was pleasantly surprised: “Her publicity is so bad that I feared she might be the tyrant, the virago, the bitch that she is said to be. Instead she was particularly ingratiating and amenable. From the moment she appeared, late, at the rehearsal, it was evident she has star quality, is a natural. She is above all else intelligent. Her brain works so clearly, so healthily. She could be a lawyer”. Although Beaton was known for his sometimes damning assessments of some of the world’s most famous people, Streisand escaped his cutting remarks as he genuinely liked her: “I admire her. She cannot be made to say she likes something unless she is one hundred per cent sold. Here’s hoping that we continue to get along together as well so far, for we have argued, we have disagreed, we have said our pieces, but we give and take as professionals with a job on hand. I treat her as an equal, and only now and again do I realize that I am sparring on equal terms with someone who is fifty years younger than I am!”
Another documentation of Beaton and Streisand’s time together comes from a 2011 V Magazine piece written by Elliott David, which featured photos by Lawrence Schiller. David states “In 1969, Streisand and her entourage of hairstylists, makeup artists, and wigs traveled to London to film Vincente Minnelli’s adaptation of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, a story about a chain-smoking clairvoyant New Yorker who, while undergoing hypnosis to kick the habit, discovers she’s the reincarnation of a coquettish 19th-century British lady. And to help Streisand make the shift was famed photographer and designer Sir Cecil Beaton, who designed the costumes for the film. Beaton had already won two Academy Awards for his masterful designs and art direction in My Fair Lady, and was a world-renowned photographer of celebrities, intellectuals, and royalty. In tow during that trip to London was photographer Lawrence Schiller who documented it all and who shares with us here these previously unpublished photos. “This was a man of elegance and taste,” says Schiller of Beaton. “And his reputation preceded him. So Barbra and [Beaton] got along fabulously. She was like a little puppy dog in Beaton’s presence. You know, she would bark every once in a while, and voice her opinion, but she was delighted with what he created. He understood her face, he understood the shape of her body. And Barbra knew what her assets were. Of course the greatest asset was her voice, but now she was moving on in life and she was making the transition to becoming a great actress. Eventually she’d become a great director. So what do you do, you surround yourself with the most talented people in the world. And she surrounded herself with Cecil Beaton.” Clear Day would be Beaton’s final project, and this was not merely a transformation of Streisand’s character, but for Streisand personally, as he would forever have an impact on her style and grace.”
Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) got his first camera at age 11 and by the 1920’s was working as a fashion photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair. Beaton published his first collection of works (The Book Of Beauty) in 1933. His popularity quickly grew to the point where he was asked to photograph the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in 1937. He would go on to photograph Queen Elizabeth II many times, including on her Coronation day. During World War II, Beaton served in the British Ministry of Information, covering the fighting in Africa and East Asia. Afterward, his fashion photography became less flamboyant and he took up other visually creative activities like designing costumes and sets for theatre and film. His work in these areas was as lauded as his photographs. Beaton won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in 1958 for Gigi, and two more times in 1964 for both Costume Design and Art Direction of My Fair Lady. He also won four Tony Awards between 1955 and 1970. Sadly, Beaton was overlooked for an Academy Award nomination for his exquisite designs for On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, which become the last film he ever worked on. Beaton suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1974 which left him frail until his death in 1980. His final interview from 1980 can be heard here.