When she was hired by MGM studios almost sight unseen, Louis B. Mayer greeted her and said, "I expected you to be older and taller." To which she replied, "Well, I'll get older, but I'll never get any taller."She stood only 5 feet 2 inches tall, but the creativity that sprang from this woman of such small stature made a giant impression on the fashion world and the film industry.
Born Helen Bromberg in Chicago in 1902, she studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Her early design jobs were for the Ice Follies, night clubs, and the theatre. After a few years with 20th Century Fox, she entered into what would be a 25 year long relationship with MGM studios.
Sketches from Made in Paris
In 1943, designed the costumes for her first 3 films: Hello Frisco, Hello, Stormy Weather, and Coney Island. Those who knew her said she was just as excited when talking about her first film, "Stormy Weather", as when talking about her current project.
Lena Horne Stormy Weather
Helen Rose had diverse talents that covered the full spectrum of costume design. From Westerns like Annie Get Your Gun, to couture fashions in High Society, she had no trouble creating just the right look for the film. Though she preferred designing current fashoins of the day, the period piece she most enjoyed working on was The Swan with Grace Kelly. She loved designing the romantic elements of the Edwardian era for the film. She was criticized for not being historically accurate at times, and it was obvious that she was more passionate about designing modern clothing without historical restraints.
Betty Grable Coney Island 1943
I couldn't find many good photos of "The Last Time I Saw Paris" but if you haven't seen it, you should! Rose's designs, worn by Elizabeth Taylor with her wasp waist, are breathtaking on the screen! Among my favorites are a two piece purple coat/dress ensemble, a black one shoulder evening gown, and a sensational red dress in one of the last of Elizabeth's scenes in the film. The censor of the film rejected the dress because of it's dramatic cleavage, but it was so stunningly beautiful that he was convinced to allow it in the film. Helen Rose was interviewed in the 1970s and mentioned that she had recently seen Elizabeth Taylor's mother and she told her that she still had that red dress. I would have held on to it too! Ms. Rose worked with Elizabeth Taylor on several films and created Liz's now iconic look from Butterfield 8 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Elizabeth Taylor in The Last Time I Saw Paris 1954 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1958
In addition to Elizabeth Taylor, Helen Rose worked with some of Hollywood's most famous leading ladies including Joan Crawford, Lena Horne, Debbie Reynolds, Lana Turner, Doris Day, Lucille Ball, Ann Margaret, Natalie Wood, Dina Merrill, Vera Ellen, Ava Gardner, Susan Hayword, Deborah Kerr, Betty Grable, Cyd Charisse, Judy Garland, and Grace Kelly. Those she considered easiest to work with were Dina Merrill and Grace Kelly because they had "such innate good taste."
Liz Taylor in A Date with Judy 1948 Natalie Wood in All Fine Young Cannibals 1960
With Lana Turner and Vincent Minelli and Lana Turner
Joan Crawford Torch Song 1953 and Ava Gardner
You can see Rose's experience with the theatrical and nightclub performers come through in many of the musicals and films she worked on including, Party Girl, Interrupted Melody, The Belle of New York, The Merry Widow, The Ziegfeld Follies, Meet me in Las Vegas and Coney Island.
Cyd Charisse Party Girl 1958 and Lana Turner The Merry Widow 1952
Doris Day in Love Me or Leave Me 1955 Vera Ellen in The Belle of New York 1952
Cyd Charisse in Meet Me In Las Vegas 1956 and Scene from Interrupted Melody1955
But my favorites are those with the exquisite mid century designs that are now a signature style of the era. Made in Paris, Designing Woman, High Society,The Dream Wife and The Last Time I Saw Paris are my personal favorite onscreen examples of Helen Rose's designs.
Ann Margaret and other Actresses in Made in Paris 1966
Lana Turner in Designing Woman 1957 and Deborah Kerr in The Dream Wife 1953
Grace Kelly in High Society 1956
The wedding gown in Father of the Bride, is one of the pieces for which Helen Rose is most famous. But the most famous of her designs isn't that wedding dress but the one she designed for Grace Kelly for her marriage to Prince Ranier of Monaco in 1956.
Elizabeth Taylor Father of the Bride 1950 Grace Kelly with her wedding party 1956
The description below is taken from the exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I would have trouble describing it as beautifully so here it is..
"From the crownlike wreath topping the headpiece to the bows down the back of the graceful train, Grace Kelly's wedding ensemble is simple but exquisitely detailed. Delicate rose point lace, a type of nineteenth-century Brussels needle lace that features elaborate floral motifs, forms the bodice, which appears seamless because the lace motifs were detached from their original ground and pieced together to follow the shaping of the dress. Touches of the lace, accented with lustrous seed pearls, unify the gown and accessories. The dress itself is constructed in four complex parts: the lace bodice with an attached underbodice, skirt support, and slip; a heavily pleated silk faille skirt that incorporates a smoothing petticoat, ruffled petticoat, and foundation petticoat; a triangular tulle and lace train insert; and a pleated silk faille cummerbund."
The gown arrived in Monaco with assembly instructions! It is to this day, one of the most beautiful wedding gowns ever created!
In the last few decades of her life, she no longer created costumes for film. "I won't do a dirty picture." But instead of retirement, Helen Rose embarked a new venture and created her own line of clothing for select clientelle and small boutiques.
Though she embraced the relaxed rules of fashion that came with the 1960s and 70s from a design perspective, she was often frustrated by the styles of the day. Referring to the sheer, revealing clothing of the 1970s, she said,"How many women can wear this attractively? After all, we must maintain some sense of illustion." I completely agree. She was masterful at crafting garments that were sexy, revealing just enough and in impeccable good taste. The irony is that, even though she received screen credit, a dress she created for Anne Baxter in Bedevilled was rejected for showing too much cleavage and had to be replaced with one by Jean Desses at the last minute.
This prolific designer worked on over 130 films in her lifetime. The Academy of Motion Pictures recognized Rose's talents with 10 nominations for best costume design. She won Oscars for two of them; The Bad and The Beautiful in 1952 and for I'll Cry Tomorrow in 1955.
Susan Hayward I'll Cry Tomorrow Lana Turner The Bad & The Beautiful
I own a copy of her autobiography, Just Make Them Beautiful (1976) and hope you will find a copy if you are interested in learning more about this talented, designer. Helen was married to Harry Rose and died in Palm Springs, California in 1985.
You can see the complete list of Helen Rose costume films here.
Costume Design In The Movies by Elizabeth Leese
Palm Beach Daily News / Philadelphia Museum of Art
IMBD /Just Make Them Beautiful, Helen Rose 1976
Get special discounts on Clothing if you follow me on Twitter!