Helen Rose: MGM’s Wedding and Chiffon Queen

Posted by Christina Stewart September 11, 2013 0 Comment 14807 views

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.

Still image from "Helen Rose"

Helen Rose

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.

Still image from "The Bad and the Beautiful"

Lana Turner looking regal in “The Bad and the Beautiful” 1952

Still image from "I'll Cry Tomorrow"

Susan Hayward’s fur cuff coat from “I’ll Cry Tomorrow” 1955

Still image from "I'll Cry Tomorrow"

A still image from “I’ll Cry Tomorrow” showing Susan Hayward wearing the fur cuffed coat

Still image from "The Last Time I Saw Paris"

Helen Rose’s sketch for Elizabeth Taylor in “The Last Time I Saw Paris” 1954

Still image from "Love Me or Leave Me"

Doris Day in a Helen Rose creation for “Love Me or Leave Me” 1955

Still image from "Designing Women"

Lauren Bacall in a fabulous outfit with Gregory Peck in “Designing Women” 1957

Still image from "Designing Women"

An array of evening gowns from “Designing Women” 1957

Still image from "The Opposite Sex"

Dolores Gray, June Allyson and Joan Collins in “The Opposite Sex” 1956

Still image from "High Society"

Grace Kelly wearing a long layered chiffon gown along side Frank Sinatra in “High Society” 1956

Still image from "High Society"

A close-up showing the beautiful detail on the gown

Still image from "High Society"

Grace Kelly wearing a pretty blue day chiffon dress, “High Society” 1956

Still image from "I Love Melvin"

Helen Rose designed this pretty cream and yellow chiffon dress for Debbie Reynolds for “I Love Melvin” 1953

Still image from "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof"

Helen Rose’s most famous chiffon dress was created for Elizabeth Taylor in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” 1958

Still image from "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof"

Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Carson and Madeleine Sherwood in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” 1958

Still image from "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof"

Helen Rose even designed Elizabeth Taylor’s slip for “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” 1958

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.

Still image from "Father of the Bride"

Elizabeth Taylor in “Father of the Bride” 1950

Still image from "Elizabeth Taylor"

Elizabeth Taylor wearing her Helen Rose designed gown on her wedding day, with Nicky Hilton 1950

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.

Still image from "Grace Kelly"

Grace Kelly’s civil ceremony wedding outfit designed by Helen Rose consisted of pale pink taffeta covered by cream-colored Alençon lace, designed as a fitted bodice with high rounded collar and a flared skirt

Still image from "Grace Kelly"

Grace Kelly on her wedding day, wearing twenty-five yards of silk taffeta, one hundred yards of silk net, peau de soie, tulle and 125-year-old Brussels rose point lace. Her Juliet cap was bejewelled with seed pearls and orange blossoms

About Christina Stewart

A film archivist by day and a film buff by night. What more needs to be said?

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