STYLE ICON: Jean Louis

Jean Louis was an Academy Award-winning designer who created some of the most memorable costumes and fashions worn by Hollywood stars of the 1940's, 50's and 60's.


Mr. Louis designed the strapless black satin gown in which Rita Hayworth sang ''Put the Blame on Mame'' and shimmied her way to fame in Gilda.

Over four decades he created designs either for the films or the personal closets of almost every star in Hollywood, some 200 of them, including Lana Turner, Vivien Leigh, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Betty Grable, Judy Garland, Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn.

His 60 film credits included A Star is Born, Judgment at Nuremberg, Pal Joey, Ship of Fools, and 'From Here to Eternity.' He won an Academy Award in 1956 for his designs for The Solid Gold Cadillac,' starring Judy Holliday.

Born Jean Louis Berthault in Paris in 1907, he came to the United States in 1936 and was hired as one of the lead designers at Hattie Carnegie.


The following year he designed the trim little suit that became a classic, the Carnegie suit, one of the first fashions to become popular as an American name design. The suit, which had a fitted, buttoned top, nipped waist and narrow skirt, was worn by everybody who was anybody in society and fashion at the time. The Duchess of Windsor was one of his private clients, along with Nancy Reagan, Irene Dunne, Jane Wyman, and Gertrude Lawrence.

Mr. Louis switched from designing for private customers in New York to Hollywood in 1943 when he became head designer at Columbia Pictures. He made the move at the suggestion of a customer, Joan Cohn, the wife of Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia. He later went on to Universal studios.

At Columbia, he was the only costume designer at the time to be given full film credit. The films on which he worked carried the credit ''Gowns by Jean Louis.''

He also designed the gowns for Loretta Young's legendary entrances in 52 episodes of her ''Loretta Young Show,'' which ran on NBC from 1953 to 1961. Many women were so intrigued with the clothes he designed for Miss Young, whom he later married, that they tuned in to the show mainly to see what she was wearing.


Jean was not only known for his glamorous costumes onscreen, but offscreen as well. His most famous moment on stage came in 1962 when he literally sewed Marilyn Monroe into a flesh-colored marquisette gown covered in 2,500 graduated rhinestones. In it she sang "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden in front of 15,000 people. It is an iconic gown that everyone knows today.


Marilyn's dress was inspired by stage costumes Jean created for Marlene Dietrich and her Las Vegas cabaret act during the 1950s and 1960s. Much like he did for Rita in the 1940s, Jean first created a body stocking for Marlene that perfected her figure underneath; it is one of the reasons she seemed so age-defying over the years.  He then slipped a gown of nude silk chiffon with strategically placed sequins over the foundation garment. Because he matched the fabric so closely to the color of her skin, it gave the illusion of her wearing nothing at all.  Eventually, Jean designed an entire wardrobe of these 'illusion gowns' for her act in various colors with sequins or beading.  Her show became so popular that she would tour the world performing in Jean's custom-made costumes. His gowns for both Marilyn and Marlene have had such a lasting impact that they continue to influence many designers today.

In 1993, Jean Louis married Loretta Young, a friend of more than a half-century. Mr. Louis's first wife, Maggy, who died in 1987, had been Miss Young's best friend.