Louis, Jean

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Costume Designer. Nationality: French. Born: Jean Louis Berthault in Paris, France, 5 October 1907. Family: Married 1) Loretta Young, 1993. Career: Studied Decorative Arts, Paris; moved to New York in early 1930s; worked for Hattie Carnegie's fashion for seven years; named head designer of Columbia Pictures in Hollywood in 1943; moved to Universal in 1958; in 1961, became free-lance designer for films and began ready-to-wear fashion business. Award: Academy Award for The Solid Gold Cadillac.Died: In Palm Springs, California, 20 April 1997.

Films as Costume Designer


Together Again (Vidor)


Kiss and Tell (Wallace); Over 21 (Hall); Tonight and Every Night (Saville); Thousand and One Nights (Green)


Gilda (Vidor); Mr. District Attorney (Morgan); One Way to Love (Enright); The Thrill of Brazil (Sylvan Simon); Tomorrow is Forever (Pichel); The Jolson Story (Green)


Down to Earth (Hall); Dead Reckoning (Cromwell); Johnny O'Clock (Rosen)


The Lady from Shanghai (Welles); The Loves of Carmen (Vidor); Ladies of the Chorus (Karlson)


Johnny Allegro (Tetzlaff); Jolson Sings Again (Levin); Knock on Any Door (Ray); Shockproof (Sirk); Miss Grant Takes Richmond (Bacon); Tokyo Joe (Heisler)


In a Lonely Place (Ray); The Walking Hills (Sturges); We Were Strangers (Huston); A Woman of Distinction (Buzzell)


Born Yesterday (Cukor)


The Marrying Kind (Cukor); Affair in Trinidad (Sherman); Scandal Sheet (Karlson)


The Big Heat (Lang); Miss Sadie Thompson (Bernhardt); From Here to Eternity (Zinneman); Salome (Dieterle)


Phfft! (Robson); It Should Happen to You (Cukor); A Star is Born (Cukor)


Picnic (Logan); Queen Bee (MacDougall); Three for the Show (Potter)


The Eddy Duchin Story (Sidney); You Can't Run Away From It (Powell); The Solid Gold Cadillac (Quine); Autumn Leaves (Aldrich) The Revolt of Mamie Stover (Walsh)


Jeanne Eagels (Sidney); The Garment Jungle (Aldrich/Sherman); The Brothers Rico (Karlson); The Story of Esther Costello (Miller); Pal Joey (Sidney); 3:10 to Yuma (Daves)


Bell, Book and Candle (Quine)


Pillow Talk (Gordon); The Last Angry Man (Mann); Imitation of Life (Sirk); They Came to Cordura (Rossen); Suddenly Last Summer (Mankiewicz)


Strangers When We Meet (Quine); Who Was That Lady (Sidney)


Back Street (Stevenson); Judgment at Nuremberg (Kramer)


If a Man Answers (Levin)


For Love of Money (Gordon); The Thrill of It All (Jewison)


Send Me No Flowers (Jewison)


Mirage; Ship of Fools (Dmytryk); Bus Riley's Back in Town (Kramer)


Madame X (Rich); Gambit (Neame)


Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (Kramer); Thoroughly Modern Millie (Hill)


P.J. (Guillermin); To Hell with Heroes (Sargent)


House of Cards (Guillermin)


Waterloo (Bondarchuk)


Lost Horizon (Jarrott); Forty Carats (Katselas)


By LOUIS: articles—

Screenland (Hollywood), December 1949.

On LOUIS: articles—

Movieland (Hollywood), February 1945.

Life (Chicago), 4 February 1946.

Motion Picture (New York), November 1947.

Movieland (Hollywoood), December 1947.

Photoplay (London), September 1950.

Photoplay (London), January 1952.

Photoplay, May 1952.

Motion Picture Costumes, 1960.

New York Times, 17 October 1967.

Los Angeles Times West Magazine, 7 November 1971.

New York Times, 15 March 1973.

Los Angeles Times, section 4, 29 August 1973.

Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, section F, 17 February 1974.

Los Angeles Times, section 4, 21 February 1974.

Films in Review (New York), June-July 1975.

World of Fashion, 1976.

Los Angeles Times, fashion 78, 27 October 1978.

People Weekly (Chicago), vol. 27, 9 February 1987.

Obituary, in EPD Film (Frankfurt/Main), June 1997.

Obituary, in Variety (New York), April 28, 1997.

* * *

Jean Louis is most often associated with the famous black satin gown he designed for Rita Hayworth in Gilda. Indeed, Louis will be forever linked with the glamour of Hayworth, as he designed most of her gowns and costumes when she was at the peak of her career. While it is Hayworth who is most associated with Louis, his career break came from Irene Dunne, who was responsible for his contract at Columbia Pictures. Dunne first noticed Louis at Hattie Carnegie's fashion house in New York. She was so impressed with his work that she asked Columbia Studio head Harry Cohn to recruit Louis for her next movie, Together Again, thus beginning Louis' 13-year association with Columbia Pictures.

He moved to Universal Studios in 1958 and worked with Ross Hunter on a number of films. He later free-lanced while building a ready-to-wear fashion business. He was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning one for The Solid Gold Cadillac. Although later in his career Louis would lament that Columbia had no big stars except Hayworth, he could count Doris Day, Joan Crawford, Kim Novak, Claudette Colbert, Lana Turner, Deborah Kerr, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe among the stars for whom he designed. Louis was also able to design costumes for a wide range of stories. There were westerns like Walking Hills and period pieces like Salome and Thoroughly Modern Millie, but the majority of the films were modern.

Contemporary films were a special challenge, since movie costumes influenced fashion trends. Consequently, the designs had to be in the front line of fashion and the strapless gown is a good example of this. While the strapless gown was used by designer Travis Banton two years before, it did not catch the imagination of the public until Louis designed it. Using the portrait of Mrs. X by John Singer Sargent as inspiration, Louis sheathed Hayworth in black satin. He not only created the look that would make Rita Hayworth a star and the dream girl of men all over the world, but also launched the strapless gown as a fashion statement that would last for decades. The strapless gown became the trademark of the Louis-Hayworth association, and Louis would use the same design idea in later films.

The Gilda gown was not only a design marvel, but something of a technical feat as well. It had to be built to stay put while Hayworth sang and danced and its construction demonstrates Louis' ability to engineer costumes as well as design them. He would later engineer the costume for Hayworth's Salome dance as well as the famous "see thru" gown that Marlene Dietrich used for her Las Vegas show. Louis constructed the Gilda gown by creating a harness. Plastic was molded around the top of the dress and three stays were used under the bust, one in the center and one on each side. For Salome's strip tease, Louis designed an innovative plastic body stocking, so that Hayworth could appear to be nude under the multicolored semitransparent veils. The body suit would also be used under the Dietrich gown. Dietrich wanted a gown that appeared to be transparent with strategically placed beads. Jean Louis made the dress in thin chiffon; the skin-tight body suit was the secret to the "see through" look.

In contrast to these engineered costumes, Louis also designed clothes that would move with the body. While his designs would begin with the role, he would also incorporate his impressions of the body and the personality of the star he was designing for as well. For example, he felt that suits would not go well on Hayworth. For Rosalind Russell, suits were an ideal choice. For Doris Day in Pillow Talk, he successfully gauged her character, her figure and her personality to create costumes that would change her image of virginal heroine by revealing her sexuality.

While Louis endeavored to incorporate his design philosophy into all of his work, the studio would sometimes demand certain trends and looks. When the busty look was popular during the forties, Louis was obliged to use corsets and pads for his less-endowed actresses although he felt that designs of this sort were very constricting for the actresses. Following trends could also cause problems when the fashion scene influenced movie costumes, because films were often released a year or more after filming. Louis cites a bad experience when Joan Fontaine wanted to use a Christian Dior look for her costumes. When the movie was released a year later, the look was no longer in fashion and Louis felt the costumes were a catastrophe. But trends when used well could enhance the development of character. In Thoroughly Modern Millie, Louis used the fashions of the 1920s flapper girl to show an evolution in Julie Andrews' character. She begins by arriving in New York dressed as a provincial country girl. As she walks by the city's fashionable shops, she notices the straight flapper dresses and the long beads that the mannequins are wearing. Comparing the clothes she is wearing to these, Andrews enters a store and comes out wearing a new dress and beads, modernized and thus transformed.

Louis made a career of keeping a step ahead of fashion, working with actresses as well as characters and using the latest technology to meet design challenges to produce sumptuous gowns, gorgeous costumes and trend-setting fashions. He was able to turn his experience into a ready-to-wear line which was well received in New York and Los Angeles. The styles of his last film, The Lost Horizon, started a trend that influenced jewelry and clothes. Ironically, the caftan, a loose, figure-hiding gown, was particularly popular. This from the designer who launched the famous form-fitting strapless evening dress!

—Renee Ward