Helen Rose was MGM’s chief designer from the late forties to the late sixties and designed many of MGM’s major films throughout the fifties. She worked with Minnelli on Father of the Bride, won an Oscar for his The Bad and the Beautiful and also did The Long Long Trailer. The Cobweb (uncredited) and other of his films. In her day she was perhaps most famous for designing the wedding dresses for Elizabeth Taylor’s marriage to Nicky Hilton and for Grace Kelly’s marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco.
The story of Designing Woman was suggested by her and in a short film that accompanies the Warner Home Archive version of the blu-ray, she speaks of trying to make chic, flattering but basically simple clothes, the outfit basically a setting for the woman, like the setting for a jewel. I find her clothes do the opposite of this,.They’re fussy, often bordered by useless frills or statement enhancements like mink. The clothes move well but are not properly fitted and sometimes bunch up in the most inappropriate ways and in the most inappropriate places. The backs tend to be bunched up hideousness. I like her sense of colour, but they’re designs that are best seen at a distance. She’s not generally ranked among the major designers of the classic era (Adrian, Orry Kelly, Travis Banton, Irene, Edith Head, etc.) She’s also not represented in Deborah Nadoolman Landis’ Hollywood Sketchbook: A Century of Costume Illustration. That said, there are images below where you’ll see how glorious Lauren Bacall looks in them.
I offer the images below not as an analysis but mainly as a teaching tool. This is a film about a designer where the designer of the film is based on not only gets to design clothes for its two leading ladies (over thirty changes for Bacall alone) but also gets to create a fashion show in the middle of the film. I’ve provided images for all the outfits, from various angles, and in chronological order, partly because they are a pleasure to see, and partly because it might be a useful teaching tool to some of you.
Helen Rose and her Designs:
Lauren Bacall’s Changes of Outfits in Chronological Order and viewed from different angles:
Dolores Gray’s Outfits, also in chronological order and viewed from different angles.
The Fashion Show, also in chronological order and viewed from different angles.