Helen Rose: MGM’s Wedding and Chiffon Queen
Whether it was Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly or Jane Powell, MGM head designer Helen Rose loved dressing her leading ladies in chiffon. Who could blame her really? Even though it’s a difficult material to work with, Rose mastered it because she loved how it moved and picked up the light. She has become known for her chiffon gowns with beaded bodices, which she used while designing the personal wedding gowns for some of MGM’s most popular stars.
Helen Rose came to MGM as a contract designer in 1943, a year after the famed Adrian left. Rose worked under head designer Irene until 1949, then took over job when Irene left to open her own fashion house. Rose stayed at MGM until her retirement in 1966. She was nominated for ten Academy Awards from 1952 – 1967, winning twice for The Bad and The Beautiful (1952) and I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955). During the last throws of the once great Hollywood studios and through the dismantling of the star system, Rose was a constant at MGM, creating innovative and glamorous designs for the female stars on and off the screen.
In a decisive move on MGM’s part, they kept their younger stars of the 1950s, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Jane Powell, personally clothed in modern designs by Rose which were tied to the studio for marketing purposes. And what could be more marketable than a movie star wedding? A young MGM movie star who’s wedding can be tied to a film denoting their upcoming nuptials! Life imitating art or a clever ploy by the studio to cash in on the fanfare? Either way Elizabeth Taylor was the first to get the big wedding treatment by MGM with her 1950 film Father of the Bride. Rose designed Taylor’s on-screen gown and her $1500.00 cream coloured, seed pearl encrusted satin off-screen wedding gown for her marriage to Nicky Hilton.
But the media publicity for that was nothing compared to the frenzy of Grace Kelly’s royal wedding in 1956. MGM released The Swan in which Kelly played a princess about to be married just eight days after she became a real-life princess upon her marriage to Monaco’s Prince Rainier. Rose again designed both the on and off screen wedding ensembles for the studio star. Rose designed both civil and religious wedding gowns worn by Kelly, with the religious gown considered to be, “the most elegant and best remembered wedding gown of all-time”. It is quite an honor to Helen Rose that women today still strive for this elegance and perfection in their wedding gowns.