The Owl and the Pussycat hand print lingerie costume by Ann Roth
Barbra Streisand wore this quirky and unforgettable lingerie set, designed by Ann Roth in The Owl and the Pussycat (1970.) We first get a glimpse of this costume at fifteen minutes into the film when Doris exits Felix’s bathroom wearing it under her fur coat. The full reveal of the look happens two minutes later, through a dramatic, upward tilt camera shot after Doris drops her fur coat. Felix is shocked and generally turned off by her outfit, causing Doris to exclaim “This happens to be a very expensive creation, I had to send away for it.” She also tells him that it is one of her “modeling outfits.” This costume was worn over the course of several scenes during the majority of the first half of the film. Images of Barbra in the look were featured heavily in the film’s posters, cover art and promotional materials. It remains one of the most famous and recognizable costumes that she has worn on screen.
The Owl and the Pussycat was an adaptation of the 1964 play by Bill Manhoff. The film was a massive success upon release, grossing $23,681,338 domestically, making it the 10th highest grossing film of 1970. The role of Doris Wilgus earned Barbra her third Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. This is one of my personal favorite comedic performances by Barbra. James Spada wrote in Streisand, Her Life that Barbra “had told a reporter that her non-singing, contemporary role as Doris, a “hopeless, hapless hustler” who fancies herself a “model and an actress”, would allow her to shed the elaborate trappings of her first three films and appear on screen for the first time as “the me that’s natural and very today.” The performance was indeed one of her most natural yet. She was so relaxed in this role and explored her range in a new way. Barbra had so much fun playing Doris that it is contagious. You can’t help but have fun watching her light up the screen as this rambunctious and endearing character.
Legendary costume designer Ann Roth designed all of the costumes in The Owl and the Pussycat. When researching for this look, Roth looked for inspiration for “erotic & scuzzy” underwear by browsing through copies of Screw Magazine. She doesn’t take credit for the iconic pink hand motif featured on the bra of this costume, but stated that the idea look was inspired by her research on similar Burlesque styles from 1938.
Roth began her career as an apprentice to Irene Sharaff at Bucks County Playhouse in PA. She went on to design costumes for more than 100 films and is still active today, currently working on pre-production for the Wicked film. Her hand print design from 1970 is still inspiring designers today. It became the subject of attention in 2013 when Yoko Ono debuted several handprint looks in collaboration with Opening Ceremony. Brooklyn based designer Haleh Nematzadeh quickly came forward with a lawsuit, claiming that the design was stolen from her collection. She had previously shown photos of her designs the Opening Ceremony team in hopes to have her pieces included in their new catalog. Ono later agreed to settle, paying Nematzadeh an undisclosed amount so that the case did not to continue in Brooklyn federal court. Ann Roth had some thoughts on whether or not Nematzadeh’s copyright infringement claim was actually enforceable, stating “This girl is going to have to start suing everyone. It might be from some burlesque queen from the 1920s. Who knows?” Roth recycled the her handprint motif in the Broadway production of the Nance which she designed costumes for in 2013.
Barbra’s Owl and the Pussycat costume consisted of five pieces. The top is a very classic style of lingerie built on a size 36A black satin, padded bra that was purchased from Saks Fifth Avenue. A label inside is branded “Hollywood Lassarette, Underneath It All, Temptress. Style 1245.”
Black dotted swiss chiffon loosely encircles the torso and snaps in place to attach to the bra. This is trimmed in vibrant fuchsia marabou which has two matching, inset, satin bows at the front. There is an open back which closes using long satin ties which also act to conceal the bra hook closures. Two oversized, pink marabou pom-poms trimmed in tiny satin bows hang from the end of these ties. The bra straps are embellished in crystals which are set in a motif also seen in the matching choker. A single crystal strand with this same motif hangs front center. The focal point of this top is, of course, the light-pink hand print motifs which hug the bust and create the illusion of a pair of hands reaching around from behind.
The matching bell-bottom pants are also made from black dotted swiss chiffon. These very much remind me of Barbra’s sheer 1969 Oscars pants by Scaasi, except this pair is not lined in nude fabric. The waistline features a thick satin band, of which the top portion is embellished in crystals. A pink appliqué on the back reads “Doris” and there is a concealed zipper closure.
Crystals form a heart shape at the crotch, and crystal trim extends down each leg side seam. The bell-bottoms are trimmed in fuchsia marabou and pink satin bows decorate the pants at the side-knee. More bows are sewn throughout the marabou trim at the hem of the pants. A pair of black-satin panties with scalloped edges were worn beneath these sheer pants. This costume was sold at Julien’s 2004 Her Name is Barbra charity auction for $13,250.00.