Costume Designer Theadora Van Runkle Dies Aged 83 | Clothes on Film

Well known and respected Hollywood costume designer, Theadora Van Runkle, passed away from lung cancer in West Hollywood on 4th November. She was 83.

Van Runkle essentially fell into costume design. While working as a fashion illustrator she happened to meet costume designer Dorothy Jeakins at a function who required a sketch artist for her upcoming project, Hawaii (1966). Van Runkle then took the job that Jeakins turned down as costume designer for Bonnie and Clyde (1967). This was her first experience in the industry. She may not yet have understood the finer realities of costume design (“I just stumbled through” Van Runkle later admitted) but she knew trends inside and out, instigating a timeless look for the film that stands up as a fashion classic today.

Theadora Van Runkle photographed during filming of Bonnie and Clyde.

Garnering an Oscar nomination for Bonnie and Clyde, plus two more for The Godfather: Part II (1974) and Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), and a career defining name for herself with Faye Dunaway’s achingly chic ensembles in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968); Van Runkle also dressed Dunaway off-screen at the time. What is interesting is just how closely she resembles Dunaway while filming Bonnie and Clyde. There is clear influence of Van Runkle’s personal style on the character, not least those long skirts and berets.

With a CV that became incredibly diverse by the mid-nineties, from the sixties cool of Steve McQueen in Bullitt (1968) to Nicolas Cage’s hideous shellsuit in Kiss of Death (1995), plus Emmy nominated work for television, Theadora Van Runkle remains a distinctively fashion orientated costume designer. Her films, whether contemporary or period, were eye catching, eclectic and never less than memorable.

© 2011 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.