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Starting with Adrian in 1942, Hollywood designers have been able to make their on-screen popularity translate into private design enterprises.  Original Hollywood costumes are getting harder to find, and they can be quite expensive, but collectors who love the work of the Hollywood greats can often locate the commercially made designs.  Here are profiles of four designers who made the leap from studio to department store.


Gilbert Adrian had been the head designer at MGM since 1929, but in 1941 he abruptly resigned following an argument with Louis B. Mayer.  A year later he opened a custom salon on Wilshire Boulevard and had begun manufacturing high-end ready-to-wear.  Adrian had taken a huge risk, opening with WWII going on.  From the beginning he faced fabric and labor shortages, and was restricted by what he could produce according to Government Order L-85.  But despite the problems, the venture was a success, and department stores across the country vied with one another for the honor of selling his best designs.

More than any other garment, Adrian was known for his suits.  Using the broad-shouldered, narrow skirt silhouette he had created for Joan Crawford, Adrian's suits were masterfully designed and constructed.  Pockets became a point of focus when given the Adrian treatment, with curved seaming and self-appliques that created patterns.  He also loved experimenting with fabrics, and often worked with fabric designers to achieve the effect he desired.

Adrian also produced glamorous evening gowns and beautifully cut little black cocktail dresses.  Due to illness, Adrian closed his salon in 1952 after only ten years of production.


Adrian Suit with typical detailing.



Irene also produced lovely afternoon and cocktail dresses, and evening dresses that were much in the glamorous Hollywood mode.

Irene died in 1962, but the collection continued under the direction of Hubert Latimer, who designed the line until its close in 1970.

Irene Lentz Gibbons produced commercially-made dresses and suits for her own shop in the early 1930s, and for Bullocks-Wilshire department store starting in 1933.  She gave that up in 1942 to become the head of costume design at MGM. 

Near the end of her seven year contract, Irene was allowed by Louis B. Mayer to form a commercial business, probably because her contract was not going to be renewed.  This business was financed by twenty-five stores across the country.  Each store got the regular Irene collection, plus more designs that were exclusive to each store.  These designs have the name of the store on Irene's signature label.

Irene was probably best known for her suits.  An Irene suit was designed for a precise fit, with the design elements often being the cut of the pocket or the placement of a placket.  The only other decoration would be the buttons, which were carefully chosen, and were often made specifically for the suit.



Helen Rose became the head designer at MGM upon Irene's departure in 1949. In her time at MGM she formed many friendships with the actors she dressed, and when she opened her own business in 1958, it was with a star clientele in mind.  She was already doing private custom work, such as Grace Kelly's wedding dress, and she continued with a custom salon, but she also produced ready-to-wear.

The clothes she produced under her "Helen Rose" label were understandably quite glamorous. In her early creations she often incorporated elements from dresses she designed for movies. Many of these used pleated and draped chiffon.  In the mid 1960s Rose began making evening dresses with silk chiffon skirts and elaborately beaded bodices. This style was not exactly in keeping with the trendy 'youthquake" movement, but was perfectly in step with the needs of the actresses she had been dressing for years.



Helen Rose

Helen Rose retired in 1976, the same year she wrote her memoir, Just Make Them Beautiful, a fun read full of name-dropping and star testimonials.



In 1970, he closed shop and moved to Spain, he but resumed his label in 1977. He continued to design until his death in 1990, including designs for the Dallas TV program starting in 1985.  After his death, the line continued under the direction of long-time business associate Bill Sarris.

William Travilla began his career as a designer working in the movies during the 1940s. As a costume designer, he is probably remembered most for the designs he did for Marilyn Monroe, including the "subway grate" dress from The Seven Year Itch.  This dress was widely copied, and Travilla himself continued to reference it in his work.

In 1952 Travilla began his own label, designing for the public as well as for the stars. He worked through the 1950s and 1960s, making elegant, but comfortable clothing.  He also made dresses in the mode of the famous Seven Year Itch dress, with crystal pleating, cut on the bias in order to follow the curve of the body.

Back to Fashion's Finest

Chambers, Bernice G., Fashion Fundamentals. New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1947.
Chierichetti, David, Hollywood Costume Design. Littlehampton Books, 1976.
Lavine, W. Robert,  In a Glamorous Fashion. Charles Scribner's Sons: New York, 1979.
Leese, Elizabeth, Costume Design in the Movies, New York: Dover Books, 1991.
McDowell, Colin, McDowell's Directory of Twentieth Century Fashion. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1985.
Maeder, Edward, Hollywood and History: Costume Design in Film.  Los Angeles: LCMA, 1987.

Reilly, Maureen, California Couture.  Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2000

Rose,Helen,  Just Make Them Beautiful. Santa Monica, CA: Dennis-Landman Publishers, 1976.
Copyright 2007 Lizzie Adams Bramlett. All Rights Reserved.
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