Tag Archives: Helen Rose

Helen Rose’s dresses and designs for Designing Woman (Vincente Minnelli, 1957)

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.

José Arroyo

Balmain in Minnelli’s The Reluctant Debutante (1958)

A record of the wardrobe for Kay Kendall, Angela Lansbury and Diane Clare by Balmain for Minnelli’s The Reluctant Debutante. Sandra Dee is also very prettily dressed by Helen Rose but her outfits lack the excitement provided by Balmain. Each outfit is sometimes represented by several screen grabs so that the ensemble may be seen to better advantage. In chronological order . Balmain, with his philosophy of clothes as ‘architecture of movement,’ was ideally suited for cinema and  Minnelli would once again use him to dress Cyd Charisse in Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Milo Anderson, Doris Day, Romance in the High Seas (Michael Curtiz, 1948)

We’ve heard of Edith Head, Travis Banton, Orry-Kelly, Irene, even the dreaded Helen Rose. But who is Milo Anderson? I had to look him up. He doesn’t even get a wiki entry in English. Luckily the French and Germans are more thorough. It turns out he worked at Warners from the early 30s to the late 50s and designed the clothes for many films you’ve probably seen (To Have and Have Not, Mildred Pierce). The reason you’ve probably never heard of him is that he designed clothes like these for Doris Day’s first film, Romance on the High Seas. Her charm and the positivity she exudes — plus that great voice on hit songs like  ‘It’s Magic’ and ‘Im in Love’ -meant she survived the clothes and became a film star anyway. But she really did have to survive them. Janis Paige wasn’t so lucky.

As you can see below, sometimes, when he doesn’t allow himself to get too matchy-matchy,  a feel for colour can be detected: but the design, cut and fit are atrocious. Though they do make a ‘statement’:

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Janis Paige didn’t escape either:

Particularly when she wears what looks like a small ottoman on her head

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