Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Jean Louis - Nude Illusionist

Originally published on the Coletterie blog.

Jean Louis (1907- 1997) French

Marlene Dietrich.

Jean Louis Berthault attended the design school, Ecole Decoratifs, in France and worked for the fashion house of Agnes-Drecoll. While visiting New York, a friend suggested that he present his sketches to New York City designers. He was eventually hired by Hattie Carnegie and worked with her until the early 1940s when he was hired away by Columbia Pictures in 1944 as assistant to chief designer Travis Banton. After Banton left Columbia for rival studio Universal Studios, Jean Louis became chief designer in his place. Interestingly, his assistant was James Galanos, who in the future would be known as the favored designer for First Lady Nancy Reagan in the 1980s.

Metallic dress, 1960.

Jean Louis (he eventually shortened his name) was known for his sleek, simple, and elegant designs that were free of extraneous details. His clothes had a modern uncluttered silhouette that achieved an undated look and many of these gowns could be easily worn today.

Rita Hayworth.

In 1958, like Travis Banton before him, Jean Louis left Colombia Pictures and defected to Universal Studios for a few years and then worked freelance. During his time at Universal he worked with Rita Hayworth on ten films, among them Gilda (1946), The Lady From Shanghai (1948), and Pal Joey (1957).

Marlene Dietrich in stage costume.

He went into ready-to-wear with his company, Jean-Louis, Inc. around the time that he started to design and construct stage wear for Marlene Dietrich and her nightclub act. These dresses were feats of engineering, as he, like Christian Dior before him, would create a foundation within the dress so fitted that Ms. Dietrich seemingly defied gravity for many years. He also designed her dresses so that they appeared as if she were only wearing sequins and beads on her bare skin. He achieved this by dying the fabrics to match her skin tone. This was also how he created the famous dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to seductively serenade President Kennedy with “Happy Birthday” in 1962.

Monroe's "Happy Birthday Mr. President" dress.

He eventually designed for television most notably for The Loretta Young Show which was famous for showcasing Ms. Young in one fabulous gown after another every week for a total of 52 gowns a year. After the death of his first wife, Maggy Fisher, Jean Louis eventually married his long-time friend Loretta Young in 1993, with whom he lived until his death in 1997.

The Loretta Young Show.

His Films: Pillow Talk (1959) and Midnight Lace (1960) with Doris Day; Gilda (1946) with Rita Hayworth; Bell, Book and Candle (1959) with Kim Novak; Gambit (1966) with Shirley MacLaine; Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) with Mary Tyler Moore, Julie Andrews, and Carol Channing; and The Monte Carlo Story (1957) with Marlene Dietrich.

Doris Day, Midnight Lace, 1960.

Julie Andrews, Thoroughly Modern Millie, 1967.

His style, innovations, and influence on fashion:

Thoroughly Modern Millie sketch.

  • Though he was nominated for an Academy Award fifteen times, he only won once for 1956’s The Solid Gold Cadillac.
United Airlines air hostess.
  • In 1968, he would design the “skimmer” uniform wardrobe for the female flight attendants of United Airlines
Sources: Contemporary Fashion (1995) Therese Duzinkiewicz Baker; In a Glamorous Fashion: The Fabulous Years of Hollywood Costume Design (1980) W. Robert La Vine.

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