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Helen Rose (1904-1985) studied in Chicago before journeying to Los Angeles in 1929. She started with Ice Follies costumes and designed musical sequences for Fox under the direction of Fanchon and Marco. She went to Twentieth Century Fox in 1943 and signed with MGM in 1944.

Annabella Levy (hairdresser), Elizabeth Taylor, and Helen Rose on the set of Rhapsody (1954)—publicity still


Rose stayed with MGM until the 1960s. She was much admired by the stars of the 1950s, especially the younger women she dressed while Irene attended to the more established players. She was considered a strong designer for musicals which had become MGM’s focus. Rose’s best film work was fashion-oriented rather than historically accurate. As a film designer and a fashion designer, she often used the same fabrics for both, despite the fabric being incorrect for period films. Rose’s wedding dresses became a must for the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Ann Blyth, Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds, and Pier Angeli among others.

Like Adrian and Irene before her at MGM, Rose often adapted her film designs for ready-to-wear, even as unlikely a candidate as a Roman Cape from Quo Vadis in 1951. This hooded coat sold for $40 in a fabric of acetate, rayon and Orlon. She also adapted her sketches from The Merry Widow and Escape from Fort Bravo, but they were apparently never produced. One of her most influential film designs was the chiffon cocktail dress worn by Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This dress only had 50 orders at her first showing.

1955 beaded evening dress, courtesy of Augusta Auctions

Then the film was released, and the dress was a hit. Rose sold the dress for three seasons. Thousands were made and it was copied extensively. With the help of Kathryn MacMillan, formerly the head seamstress at MGM, Rose produced expensive gowns that were often adaptations of her film designs. Rose also gave the world Princess Grace’s highly copied wedding gown in 1956.

Princess Grace’s wedding gown, 1956, designed by Helen Rose and made by the wardrobe department of MGM. Philadelphia Museum of Art

Rose sold both custom and ready-to-wear designs at her House of Helen Rose, and her lines were sold across the country into the 1970s. By then her designs appealed to the more mature woman, with beaded bodices, chiffon skirts, and sophisticated luncheon suits as her specialties. She was especially partial to chiffon, using it effectively for years. Rose’s label dates from 1958/9 to 1976, when she retired. Her 1976 autobiography is Just Make Them Beautiful.