Book Review: Just Make Them Beautiful

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Apparently, this last week was the anniversary of Grace Kelley’s 1965 wedding to Prince Ranier of Monaco. I thought it was high time I let you know that I *finally* read her wedding dress designer’s book, ‘Just Make Them Beautiful’. The book was published in 1976 and was limited edition at that time. There are few copies floating around and those for sale are in the $100s of dollar range. My wonderful, Japanese reading and writing Cornell University-attending intern not only orders Japanese sewing supplies for me. She also borrowed the book through Cornell’s library over winter break.

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Helen Rose’s book is a true delight. I’ve wanted to read it for at least a decade.  Through her own words you get a glimpse into life as a costume designer. She started off as an art student in Chicago in the late 20s and stumbled into costume design. She began sewing for stage productions and eventually came to California and went to MGM. She herself didn’t sew. She would draw wonderful pictures and a team of seamstresses would bring it to life.

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Her book is filled with such luscious descriptions of designs and fabric that you are transported back to the heydey of Hollywood and the studio machine. She has personal annectodtes of stories of the stars she worked with including 19 year old Grace Kelly, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Elizabeth Taylor, Esther Williams, Joan Crawford and more.

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The book includes photos of the designer working and water colors of her design ideas. My photos are blurry as the binding was too fragile to scan and the flash bounced off the pages. Plus, when I got the book it was December, so too cold for outside. But, at the bottoms is a youtube video with clear pictures.

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Even better, you can see some of the watercolors and how they came to life with fabric and needle. I also recognized some of the costumes from movies I’ve adored over the years including High Society and A Designing Woman. There are a few dresses from a Designing Woman that I’ve obsessed over. Especially, this red one.

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Some of the dresses are very familiar including costumes from High Society, Butterfield 8 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Immediately after reading the book, I started trying to figure out how to make the Maggie the Cat dress for myself!

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Roses’ designs were so well loved and oft-imitated, that she started her own retail line where she sold the Maggie the Cat dress (in a far simplified version) among other lines. I’ve never seen any of her designs in vintage stores, but would snatch one up in a heartbeat if I did.

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If you can find a copy of this book and are into old Hollywood glamour, I recommend you check this one out. It’s a visual eyecandy.

Here’s a wonderful slide show on YouTube of the photos from the book.



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