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Jean Louis – Nude Illusionist

Jean Louis (1907- 1997) French

Marlene Dietrich in Jean Louis.

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 Gilda, 1946.

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 on stage.

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.

"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 opening.

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

Julie Andrews in Thoroughly Modern Millie, 1967.

His style, innovations, and influence on fashion:

  • 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.

Lisa Williams


Heather Louise

May 4, 2011 #

Thank you so much for all of your designer posts. I am learning so much in such an interesting way.


May 4, 2011 #

I really enjoyed the history you told and pictures you showed. It is interesting to see the history of the culture of America and how clothing changed along with the generations. I have heard of Jean Louis but did not realize who he was. Appreciate it.


May 5, 2011 #

Loved his gowns in Pillow Talk. Prior to this movie, Doris Day had always been cast as the girl-next-door type. She was worried about portraying a city sophisticate but she did a great job in the movie & certainly her wardrobe in the film contributed to her very convincing portrayal of Jan.


May 6, 2011 #

All of these designer featurettes are so interesting!! I grew up watching musicals and black & white movies and all the dresses featured bring back so many memories! Which my friends think is odd because they’ve never seen/heard of most of these classics – I’m only 28, and grew up in the time of Disney Princesses.
Thoroughly Modern Millie is my favorite movie of all time – the costumes are amazing, thanks for letting me know who the designer was!!


August 30, 2012 #

I love love love this article!!!!!!! However… I dont want to offend you but I must correct you on something here. The dress you say is the Mr President dress is not. It is quite similar but this is not it.
The Mr President dress did not have any decorative pattern to the rhinestones. the 2500 brilliant cut rhinestones on the MM dress were applied so there were more of them closer together at the bottom getting fewer in numbers toward the top and as a result they were spaced father apart in a fade out effect. the dress was stiffer then the one you have pictured because it was made of marquisette which was nude in color and transparent. The MM dress did not pool on the floor but came to a neat tapered hem.
When you study the vintage photos of MM wearing it and the more recent images of it on display you can see how incredibly clean the lines of the dress are and what a masterpiece it is. Look closely and your will see almost invisible seaming around the breasts on MM and what looks like a seam down the very center of the front. also you can get a hint seams around the pelvis or it is doubled up fabric or a light nude lining. Then just below the pelvis you can make out her entire leg through the fabric. In my opinion he wanted to make Marilyn look like she was bathed in the stars. A sparkling goddess wearing starlight as her gown. He knew when the stage lights came on the fabric would vanish in the light and the brilliant cut stones would bathe her in diamond light. This guy was a genius!

go to the link below and scroll to a candid image of MM in the that dress in what looks like it might be the green room at the Presidents B day party.

thanks hope you dont mind the diatribe