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Jean Louis-Incredible designers

December 13, 2014

Jean Louis was born in Paris in 1907 – but he would move to the United States and become one of the most successful costume designers of his generation. He designed the almost nude dress worn by Marilyn Monroe when she sung Happy Birthday to the President, and then went on to dress Rita Hayworth in 10 films, including the stunning strapless gown for Gilda.

Jean Louis-Incredible designers

Passing references will have been made to Jean Louis during past blogs about Monroe and Hayworth, and now we’re going to dedicate a little time to Jean Louis and his beautiful creations.

Awards and accolades

During his time as a costume designer he was nominated for 13 academy awards and won 1 for A Solid Gold Cadillac in 1956. He would design the personal wardrobes of the famous as well as their on screen costumes and struck up friendships with all those he worked with.


On arrival in New York he went to work for Hattie Carnegie who had taken the man’s famous surname in the hope it would its work magic for her. She was a fashion entrepreneur and her clientele boasted many well connected clients, including the Columbia Pictures studio chief Harry Cohn’s wife Joan.

Hattie Carnegie

Carnegie herself was a fan of the simpler designs in an effort to focus on the shape of the dress, rather than let superfluous patterns and embellishments act as a distraction. She would even go on to design the uniform for the US Women’s Army Corps – with a simple suit design.


The Carnegie suit was based on a simple pattern and was extremely popular. It consisted of a fitted blazer and a long pencil skirt. It was worn by both the Duchess of Windsor and Nancy Reagan in the 80s. However, the design of the suit has been put down to both Louis Jean and Carnegie herself online. It’s hard to decide which of the two were responsible, but the suit was a great success in the US.

Cheaper versions, same shape and fit

Carnegie would often buy designs from well-known designers such as Lanvin and Chanel and then copy the designs, offering both to the buying public. They could either buy the real thing, or buy Carnegie’s clever cheaper copies.


During the recession Carnegie understood there was no money and that people wanted cheap alternatives to the more expensive designer garments and Carnegie gave the public what they wanted with a ready-to-wear collection consisting of moderately priced garments.

Louis combined the stars personalities with the character of the part they were playing

For Jean Louis, he would go on to become head designer for Columbia from between 1944 and 1960. He designed for a long and impressive lists of stars from Hollywood’s golden era – Lana Turner, Julie Andrews, Joan Crawford, Vivien Leigh and Judy Garland.

joan crawford

joan crawford


He would go on to design the strapless gown for Rita Hayworth staring in Gilda, and he designed gowns for other films including From Here to Eternity, A Star is Born and The Misfits.

 Jean Louis-gilda dress RH

gilda dress RH

Monroe and the dressmaker

On meeting Monroe for her costume fittings, legend has it she glided down the stairs in her dressing gown and said to Jean Louis that if he was going to dress her, then he should see what she looked like. She promptly took off her dressing gown and stood naked in front of him.

Naked but for some crystals

The silk beaded gown he made for her to wear for the President’s birthday celebrations was stitched on while she was wearing it and consisted of beaded crystals on a nude coloured gown. It gave the illusion that Monroe was naked but for rhinestones covering her body. This was an idea that would be used time and again, and the initial design for the dress was eventually passed on to Gianni Versace.

Jean Louis – Clever designing

Jean Louis would cleverly combine the designs he created for his stars with their personalities and the characters they were playing, to create something unstoppably beautiful and glamorous, something that reflected the nuances of the actresses’ characteristics and bringing the characters they were playing to life.


For over 40 years Jean Louis created the wardrobes for a host of glamorous actresses, often dressing them off screen as well as on. He had good relationships with all his actresses especially Rita Hayworth, who he worked with on 10 of her films.

Want to emulate Jean Louis’ glamour?

If you’re looking for some Jean Louis glamour, then think strong lines and simple designs. There’s no need for embellishments, embossing or loud patterns, keep it simple. Let the focus be on the cut of the dress. If you go vintage then you’ll find that most dresses from the 60s and before will be beautifully cut. Add accessories but don’t overdo it. Hair and make-up should be well groomed and beautifully done.


Knee length skirts are in right now, so match them with a well-fitting blazer, and match with a pair of pumps for a sophisticated look that can be dressed up or down. Again, vintage is even better, but be aware of the sizes, a size 10 1955 is very different to a size 10 today. Best of all match with a hat if you dare, for a hat always sets off a suit well. Take a look at Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, Grace Kelly and Vivien Leigh for some inspiration on how to look really glamorous and try to give whatever you’re wearing a modern twist to make it fresh.




Jean Louis

The Solid Gold Cadillac 1956

hattie carnegie

carnegie suit

Lana Turner

Marilyn in ”The Misfits”

Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” dress

Rita Hayworth in “Gilda”