During the golden age of cinema, Hollywood truly was glamour. The stars and starlets were always dressed to the nines, especially in their movies. Along with some contemporaries of her day, Helen Rose is one of the figures that deserve more credit for her contributions to fashion design in the movie business than she gets.
As a costume designer, Helen Rose was charged with creating the elegant dresses that the lovely ladies of the silver screen donned during that age. Her talents proved to be more than enough to get the job done, and her success designing clothing for beautiful ladies in the public eye translated into more than just screen time for her designs.
Born in 1904, she honed her craft while she attending the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.
Upon graduation, she designed nightclub and stage costumes for a time before deciding that her true calling would be in Hollywood. Rose packed up and moved to Los Angeles in 1929.
After a brief stint working for 20th Century Fox, she went to work for MGM Studios and by the late 1940s she was promoted to chief designer at the studio. This would prove to be a boon for Rose, whose talents would soon be on display for all the world to see. Her career would span from the early 1940s all the way through the late 1960s.
During this period Rose worked with such Hollywood icons as Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, Judy Garland, Carmen Miranda, Grace Kelly, and Elizabeth Taylor. The list of great leading ladies she has designed for is too numerous to mention. Even a casual movie viewer equates the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe with elegance and sexuality. We can thank Helen Rose for these images. Her designs were, in her own words, intended to be “simple and dramatic”, with an emphasis on the silhouette and a showcasing of the gorgeous women who wore them.
Rose is credited with designing the wedding dress for the real life fairy tale wedding between Grace Kelly and the Prince of Monaco.
Rose may be best known for the many stunning gowns she created for Elizabeth Taylor, which followed her general philosophy of “If you have a magnificent jewel, you put it in a simple setting – you don’t distract with a lot of detail”. Taylor is reported to have asked Rose to make copies of many of the gowns she designed for films to add to her personal collection. Rose won two Academy Awards during her lengthy career, for The Bad and the Beautiful in 1952 and also for I’ll Cry Tomorrow in 1955. During this period she was nominated eight other times.
After leaving the movie business she went on to design for the most wealthy and famous of ladies off screen, opening her own design business. She also delved into the world of writing, penning a fashion column and authoring two books.
Unfortunately for the starlets of today, who could so use the grace and elegance found in the designs she created, Helen Rose died in Palm Springs in 1985, at the age of 81. Her legacy lives on however, in the movies we all cherish from her time.