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  • Olivia Gardner

The Iconic Styling of Van Smith


If you’re a fan of John Waters films, you’re probably familiar with the works of Van Smith. He designed costumes and makeup for almost every Waters movie. Everything he created was made to look overtly tacky and extremely cheap. He created the iconic makeup of actor Divine, modeling it after Jayne Mansfeild and Clarabell the Clown. While looking through some of Smith’s costumes for Divine, I noticed this blue leopard dress which was extremely similar to a recent Moschino design-seen here being worn by pop star Kim Petras.

I’ve also been seeing that glove sleeve popping up everywhere on runways and instagram. This also reminded me of another dress he designed, Tracy Turnblads cockroach dress from Hairspray- it was recreated by Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars season 2 winner Alaska for the reunion.


Van Smith always did an incredible job at creating confident female characters through costumes. I’ve always adored the cry-baby girls and they way they exude confidence, even if they are “hatchet-faced”, pregnant, or trashy.

Smith was able to create extreme camp looks with intentionally bad taste, which is why calling his work ugly would be a compliment. But it's also why he was unable to get much work outside of a Waters flick. He essentially created the trailer-trash chic style that has recently become an editorial trend, yet is rarely credited. I think Van Smith's work on John Waters movies shaped modern kitsch and camp styles. 











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