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It was recently Doris Day’s birthday and I was searching for a lovely picture of her to post on Faceoook, when I remembered that fabulous blue number she wore in Love Me or Leave Me (1955). I was curious to find out who designed the costumes for that film, and discovered it was Helen Rose. Now the name Helen Rose may not be as familiar to many as Edith Head, but take my word for it, she was definitely an amazingly talented Hollywood wardrobe designer in her own right, becoming chief costume designer of MGM Studios from the 1940s until the 1960s! And as you can imagine it was pretty unusual for a woman to hold such an important position back in the day!
Not only did she design some of the most iconic dresses to grace the silver screen, but she also designed some of the most famous wedding dresses in history, two of the most notable being Grace Kelly’s worn for her marriage to Prince Ranier and Elizabeth Taylor’s gown worn for her marriage to Nicky Hilton.
She actually started out designing costumes for vaudeville acts, then in 1929 headed to LA where she ended up designing outfits for the Ice Follies. She was also hired by 20th Century Fox to design costumes for musicals, before MGM hired her when their designer Gilbert Adrian left. At MGM she worked for head costumer Irene Lentz until the late 1940s when Irene left to start her own ready to wear line. Helen became chief costume designer at that time.
Chiffon dresses were her specialty. Though the fabric is difficult to work with , according to an article in the Times, Helen said she loved the way it moved and picked up the light.
One of the most famous wedding dresses of all time, Grace Kelly’s beaded lace and silk taffeta gown took six weeks to make and the work of 35 craftspeople from MGM’s wardrobe department. At that same time Helen Rose was also designing the costumes for High Society, a movie Grace was starring in at the time.
This is the wedding dress Elizabeth Taylor wore when she married Nicky Hilton. The Helen Rose design sold at Christie’s last year for $187,000!
You know that fabulous sexy white chiffon number Liz Taylor wore in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? Yep, that was a Helen Rose design that started a major fashion trend, with women all over the country snapping up knockoffs! A timeless style that would look just as fabulous if worn today.
And here’s Doris Day in the stunning blue chiffon costume she wore in Love Me or Leave Me (1955).
Another of my all time favorite films, Helen Rose designed all the gorgeous gowns for the movie Designing Women(1957)
Starring Lauren Bacall who plays a clothing designer, Ms. Rose must have really enjoyed coming up with the costumes for this fashion extravaganza!
There are so many more movies that Helen Rose designed costumes for, I could go on and on. But here’s a short list ~ Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Butterfield 8, The Last Time I Saw Paris, Million Dollar Mermaid, Father of the Bride and Mogambo . She won Best Costume Design Oscars for I’ll Cry Tomorrow and the Bad and the Beautiful and was nominated for eight other films as well.
When she left the movie business in the 60s, Helen continued to design clothing for the rich and famous and also wrote two books, Just Make Them Beautiful and The Glamorous World of Helen Rose, both of which I need to buy immediately! Then in the 1970s Helen took her clothes on the road. Called the “Helen Rose Show”, it was a travelling fashion show featuring many of her MGM costumes.
When she passed away her collection went to her close friend Marilyn Visel. After Marilyn passed, Barbara Marx inherited the collection. In 2013 the collection resurfaced when Barbara donated it to the Palm Beach Historical Society for a Film Costumes of the Silver Screen Fashion Show. It would be so great if the Helen Rose Show was revived. I’d love to see all those beautiful costumes come to a city near me!
Do you have a favorite film that Helen Rose designed the costumes for?