The French fashion and costume designer Jean Louis (pronounced Louee) is not as well known as many of his contemporaries from Golden Age Hollywood - but a scroll through his film credits will amaze you. You could start with Rita Hayworth and many of her best known films and fashions, like Gilda, The Lady from Shanghai, Pal Joey, Salome, Tonight and Every Night and Down to Earth, among others. His gown design for Rita Hayworth in the Put the Blame on Mame number is immortal.
The role of Gilda was meant to be that of an unforgettable and bewitching woman. For the part, Jean Louis' gown creations were perfectly matched to the role as well as to Rita's screen persona. The famous black gown is shown above. The strapless evening gown was perfectly made for Rita's song and dance number. The tied bow at the waist was designed not only as an effective adornment, but served to cinch Rita's waist soon after she had given birth, while allowing her freedom of vigorous movement for the stage number. The bodice was also designed and structured to hold up while still being flexible for Rita's movements. To accomplish that Jean Louis devised a plastic boning foundation. Another of Jean Louis' costumes for Gilda is shown below.
Jean Louis became the Head Costume Designer at Columbia Studios in 1944. After leaving France he worked as a designer for Hattie Carnegie in New York before moving to California. Columbia was one of the poorer studios, without the stable of big female stars that the other majors had. They were fortunate to have his services until 1961 when he started his own line while free-lancing film work. He never had the costume budgets that designers like Adrian, Travis Banton, Orry-Kelly, and Irene enjoyed in earlier years. But Columbia was nonetheless prolific in its output, and Jean Louis designed for over 100 films for Columbia. During his career he designed costumes for Kim Novak, Judy Garland, Judy Holliday, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Doris Day, Marilyn Monroe, Loretta Young, and Marlene Dietrich among many other stars.
Jean Louis' style was always feminine. For period films like Salome, the translucent gowns worn by Rita Hayworth, especially in her Dance of the Seven Veils number needed to be designed without bras or foundation undergarments. So he designed a body stocking for Rita to wear while giving the allusion of bare flesh beneath the gown. Jean Louis had previously designed classical Greek goddess gowns for Rita in Down to Earth, as shown above.
Kim Novak was groomed as Rita's replacement at Columbia. In the photo above Jean Louis designed bewitching gowns for her, totally appropriate for her role as a charming witch.
Lana Turner was another of the big stars that Jean Louis dressed and who loved his style. In his costume sketches for Lana in Madame X, shown above and below, he used feminine touches like fur trim and accessories to soften the look of the costumes.
Judy Garland requested that Jean Louis design her costumes for A Star is Born in 1954, after being unsatisfied with the first designer she was given. He designed several notable outfits for her. One of the outfits is shown below. Jean Louis was nominated for Best Costume for a Color Film, along with two other designers that were involved in the movie, but he did not win.
He did win a Best Costume Oscar for a black and white film for the 1957 film, Solid Gold Cadillac, starring Judy Holliday.
Jean Louis later designed the wardrobe for Shirley Jones in Bedtime Story in 1964, co-starring Marlon Brando and David Niven. The movie was later remade as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. One of Shirley's outfits is shown below in the original costume sketch.
Jean Louis also designed costumes for Marilyn Monroe. His designs for her in The Misfits, her final film, were simple, befitting the role and the scenes. He also designed a decidely more glamorous gown for her, the one she wore while singing Happy Birthday Mr. President to John F. Kennedy at his 45th birthday bash in 1962. The gown was made of some 2500 rhinestones sewn onto flesh-colored marquisette.
Jean Louis must have had fun designing the flapper outfits for Julie Andrews in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Though he hadn't been designing this style during the 1920s the way that Walter Plunkett had done and recreated the look for Singing in the Rain, Jean Louis was nonetheless born in 1907 and personally recalled the style from his youth. The costume sketch above was one of his designs for Julie Andrews.
After costume and fashion designer Irene died, Marlene Dietrich turned to Jean Louis to design her gowns for her live shows. He had the same flair for designing show gowns that combined good taste but with tremendous flair. This was especially the case for his sequined and nude souffle (pronounced like soufel and not like the baked desert) gowns for her live performances in Las Vegas. And when Loretta Young became the first major film star to have her own TV program, she also turned to Jean Louis to design her elegant wardrobe. Years later they married and retired to Palm Springs for the final years of his life.