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Helen Rose- Costumer and Wedding Dress Designer to the Stars

Helen Rose

Helen Rose

img source A Certain Cinema

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.

Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier

Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier

Grace Kelly in Helen Rose designed chiffon dress-High Society

Grace Kelly in Helen Rose designed chiffon dress-High Society



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!

Elizabeth Taylor Helen Rose wedding dress

Elizabeth Taylor and Nicky Hilton

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.

Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

And here’s Doris Day in the stunning blue chiffon costume she wore in Love Me or Leave Me (1955).

Doris Day in Helen Rose design costume for Love Me or Leave Me

Doris Day in Helen Rose design costume for 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!

Helen Rose Gown-Designing Women (1957)

Helen Rose Gown-Designing Women (1957)

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 MermaidFather 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?




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Edith Head-The Dress Doctor

“You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it” was one of Edith Head’s famous quotes. And she certainly lived up to it. She started her career as a language teacher and ended up as the  most famous Hollywood costume designer of all time.

Edith Claire Posener was born October 28, 1897 and received her Master’s degree in Romance Languages from Stanford.  After teaching  French at the Hollywood School for girls, she was offered a position to teach art as well.  So she began taking night classes in drawing.  Because she had no income in the summer months, she decided to anwer an ad for costume sketch artist at a movie studio that was later to become Paramount.  Unfortunately she couldn’t draw human figures, so she used some classmates’ sketches, with their approval,  to bluff her way into the job.  Even though she misrepresented herself, she was still able to break into the film industry, working first with costume designer Howard Greer and eventually with designer Travis Banton. And when Banton left the studio in 1938, she became the first female head designer of a film studio.

She is responsible for the iconic looks of  many of Hollywood’s most famous actresses, including Clara Bow, Mae West, Jean Harlow,  Dorothy Lamour, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Ginger Rodgers.   She won eight Academy Awards for costume design and  still holds the title for the most Oscars won by any woman.

Edith, herself,  had her own signature style. Her blunt bangs, dark glasses and neutral tailored suits created a distinctive understated image. Her trademark round framed “sunglasses” began as blue-lensed glasses that she used to see how colors would show up on the black and white screen.

edith head academy awards oscars

Costume Designer Edith Head with her many Oscars.

Below is a photo of Dorothy Lamour in The Jungle Princess 1936.  Edith Head designed the figure hugging sarong that started a tropical fashion trend for women.

Dorothy Lamour-Edith Head-Sarong Dress

Dorothy Lamour in an Edith Head sarong dress for The Jungle Princess 1936

She won two Oscars in 1951 for “Sampson and Delilah” and “All About Eve”

hedy lamarr-samson and delilah-edith head costume

Hedy Lamarr wearing Edith Head costume in Samson and Delilah

All About Eve-Edith Head costume designs

All About Eve, Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Marilyn Monroe-Edith Head costume designs


 Edith Head also worked on many films for Alfred Hitchcock, dressing his “Hitchcock Blondes.”

Below is a photo of Grace Kelly wearing a blue chiffon Edith Head gown in a promo shot for To Catch a Thief in 1955. About the beautiful actress, she said,  “I’ve dressed thousands of actors, actresses and animals, but whenever I am asked which star is my personal favorite, I answer, “Grace Kelly.” She is a charming lady, a most gifted actress and, to me, a valued friend.”

Grace Kelly-Edith Head Gown-To Catch a Thief 1955

Grace Kelly in an Edith Head design for Alfred Hitchock’s 1955 To Catch a Thief.

Edith Head is the one responsible for the fashion trend started by Audrey Hepburn’s cropped black pants in Sabrina (1954).

Audrey Hepburn-Black capris

Audrey’s black capris in Sabrina (1954) designed by Edith Head

And thousands of teenage girls bought prom dresses inspired by Edith Head’s dress designed for  Elizabeth Taylor  in A Place in the Sun(1951) .

Elizabeth taylor-Edith Head gown

Elizabeth Taylor’s gown designed by Edith Head. A Place in the Sun (1951)

 Edith Head’s creations graced the screen in over 400 films and many of her designs sparked major fashion trends.  She was a master at capturing the essence of the character and placating even the most difficult actresses.   In 1959 she published a book called “The Dress Doctor”, an autobiography and style guide.  One of her most famous bits of advice, “Your dresses should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show you’re a lady.”  Couldn’t agree more!

What are your favorite iconic looks designed by Edith Head?





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Orry Kelly- Hollywood’s Bad Boy of Costume Design

There were some extremely talented costume designers back in the Golden Era of Hollywood, and Orry Kelly was one of the best. Right up there with Gilbert Adrian and Travis Banton.  He actually was the only person Bette Davis trusted to make costumes to flatter her figure and complement her personality.   And she was one extremely particular diva!  Some of the films he dressed her for  included  The Rich are Always With Us, Fashions of 1934, Now Voyager,  The Little Foxes and Jezebel.

But Orry Kelly designed for many other major stars as well and his costumes appeared in hundreds of films from the early 1930′s into the 1960′s.  He won  academy awards for his costume designs in American in Paris ( 1951), Les Girls (1957) and Some Like it Hot (1959).

Born  in Australia,  Kelly was creative and artistic from a young age .  In the early 1920s he  moved to New York City  to try his hand at acting.  Once there he worked painting murals and illustrating titles for silent movies. He also ended up designing costumes and scenery for several  stage productions, including Katherine Hepburn’s costumes for Death Takes a Holiday, before he got his big break with Warner Studios in Hollywood.

Orry Kelly was known for using the finest fabrics,  utilizing hand painting, tiny pleating, and crocheted lace to make his glamorous fashions pop on the black and white screen. His period costumes were noted for their authenticity and attention to detail.

But this brilliant, perfectionist  had a dark side.  Though considered witty and charming when sober, Orry Kelly was often difficult to work with, argumentative, tempermental and hot tempered because of his  major drinking problem.  He was notorious for fighting with and walking out on his boss, Jack Warner, then coming back days later.  This naturally led to  him being fired.  But that certainly didn’t put an end to his career, as  he was eventually  hired by  20th Century Fox and also freelanced for MGM, Universal and RKO.

Ginger Rogers publicity shot wearing her famous Orry Kelly “Coin” dress for Gold Diggers of 1933

Ginger Rogers in Orry Kelly Coin dress for Gold Diggers of 1933

Ginger Rogers in Orry Kelly Coin dress for Gold Diggers of 1933

 30s matinee idol Kay Francis in the ultimate Hollywood glamour  gown designed by Orry Kelly.

Worn for her role in Mandalay (1934)

Kay Francis in Mandalay 1934- Orry Kelly Gown

Kay Francis in Mandalay 1934- Orry Kelly Gown

Dolores Del Rio looks hot, hot, hot in fringed Orry Kelly gown for her role in Caliente (1935)

Dolores Del Rio in Fringed Orry Kelly Gown-Caliente 1935

Dolores Del Rio in Fringed Orry Kelly Gown-Caliente 1935

Marion Davis wearing an Orry Kelly white  eyelet embroidered organdy evening gown with fabulous peplum top and lace up belt.

Worn for her role in Cain and Mabel (1936)

Marion Davis in white organdy Orry Kelly gown-Cain and Mabel 1936

Marion Davis in white organdy Orry Kelly gown-Cain and Mabel 1936

The famous ball gowns Orry Kelly designed for Bette Davis in Jezebel (1938)

Orry Kelly gowns-Bette Davis-Jezebel 1938

Orry Kelly gowns-Bette Davis-Jezebel 1938

The costumes Orry Kelly designed for Some Like it Hot in 1959 were considered seriously scandalous at the time.  Some of the dresses created for Marilyn Monroe were basically just sheer, clinging mesh with strategically placed decorations. But he ended up with an Oscar for the designs! And Tony Curtis was originally offended that the studio wanted to pull old outfits out of wardrobe storage for him and Jack Lemmon to wear as the cross dressing males leads.  So he insisted Orry Kelly design their costumes as well.

Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot 1959-Orry Kelly dress

Marilyn Monroe in provocative Orry Kelly dress for Some Like it Hot 1959

Some Orry Kelly Trivia

  • He was a roommate and eventual romantic partner of Cary Grant in the early days of his career.
  • He titled his unpublished memoirs “Women I’ve Undressed.”
  • Famous quote “Hell must be filled with beautiful women with no mirrors.”
  • The red ball gown Bette Davis was supposed to wear in  Jezebel actually was made in brown because black and white film made a true red dress look black!
  • When measuring Marilyn Monroe for a fitting it is rumored he said “Tony (Curtis) has a better looking ass than you do!”

Do you have any favorite classic movies that Orry Kelly designed costumes for?

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The Adrian Look-Vogue 1947

Gilbert Adrian  was an American designer whose fashions epitomized Hollywood glamour.  A famous costumer for Broadway and films,  he dressed many movie actresses in the 30s and 40s.  Some of his most memorable looks included the  sensuous curve hugging bias cut gowns worn by Jean Harlow and the fitted, broad shouldered, tailored suits worn by Joan Crawford.

Vogue Magazine did a feature on Adrian’s designs for the year 1947. Because of the booming post WWII economy, consumers were ready to spend after many years of rationing. Women in particular looked forward to fashions utilizing luxurious fabrics and lots more of it!

He states in the article “I feel very much the need of doing clothes that will fit into the wonderful new architecture and new rooms that we hope will be created this year. Contemporary clothes for a  fast moving century, clothes that are part of the life that women lead today.”

In the article he explains that  the two gowns below were influenced by ancient Greece,  saying “they were designed for prettiness, for the big romantic moments.”

Adrian black crepe dinner dresses-1947

Adrian black crepe dinner dresses-1947

A silk gown in an original Adrian print, called “The Egg and I”. He did very small collections of “animal” and “Americana” theme prints, of which only 10 dresses were made in this henhouse theme.

adrian egg and i print gown

Adrian "Egg and I" print gown-1947

Two Adrian gowns in Wesley Simpson prints, designed by Salvadore Dali.

Salvadore Dali print Adrian gown-1947

Salvadore Dali print Adrian gown-1947

salvadore dali print adrian gown 1947

Salvadore Dali print Adrian gown -1947

Can’t forget about his beautiful suits!

Adrian suit 1947

Fitted suit by Gilbert Adrian-1947

From the article “And if a woman, in wearing Adrian’s clothes, came to have a feeling of being streamlined, it would be exactly how the designer intended.”

Streamlined, I like that! Describes his clothes perfectly.

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