Remembering Legendary Costume Designer Helen Rose

Costume designer Helen Rose.

Costume designer Helen Rose.

Helen Rose was one of Hollywood’s most important costume designers.

Seraphic Secret has authored several posts about Rose.  In June 2010, we wrote about Rose’s not-so-nice Jewish boyfriend. If you have not read this post, you should. The identity reveal at the end will take your breath away.

In another post, with the help of genealogist Kathy Soto, we unravel Rose’s Jewish roots. We also chronicle an episode of costume craziness between Rose and Jane Fonda.

In April 2011, we wrote about the stunning wedding gown Helen Rose designed for Grace Kelly.

Princess Grace Kelly in the wedding gown designed for her by Helen Rose.

Princess Grace Kelly in the wedding gown designed by Helen Rose.

Recently, Helen Rose’s niece, Jenny Orosel, read Seraphic Secret’s posts about her great-aunt, and left this comment:

A little late coming on here to comment, but Helen Rose is my great-aunt.  Yes, she is Jewish (or, at least, started out life that way but eventually converted to Christian Science with my grandmother).  Bromberg was her maiden name, and the name “Rose” was a shortened version of her married name after she married Harry Rosen.  Just wanted to throw a little additional information in here.

We wrote back to Jenny, and asked if she had any memories of her Aunt Helen she could share with us.

Oh, where to start!  I was twelve when she passed, so I never realized just how big she was until later.  When we would come over to visit, she would let me dress up her heavy gold statues in Barbie clothes.  But the memories I have are of a wonderful, fun and funny woman.  She was always impeccably dressed — thinking back, I cannot recall a single time she wasn’t wearing either a beaded or sequined top.

However, she was also a very messy eater.  She would take me to the movies and order ice cream bonbons, and sure enough, she would be wearing a good portion of them by the time the movie was over.  It never bothered her, and she would just laugh it off.

When Jim Henson was making The Great Muppet Caper (1981), she was one of the costume designers he contacted about designing an outfit for one of the fantasy scenes.  She agreed to do it free of charge — somewhat.  She would come out of retirement and do one design if she could have Miss Piggy send a letter to her niece (me).  My mom still has that letter.

I wondered if Jenny was aware of her Aunt’s work, of her legendary status as a Hollywood costume designer.

I knew about her work, and I didn’t.  I knew she had a job making dresses for movies, and she won awards.  She made a dress for her friend when she [Grace Kelly] met a prince [Rainier of Monaco] and got married.

Aunt Helen absolutely loved what she did, but she never acted like her job was any different than anyone else, whether a doctor or a Denny’s busboy.  So while I was aware of her going to lunch with her friend Liz [Taylor], or that she knew Ronnie Reagan before he even thought about politics, I had no idea this was unusual.  And, I have to say, looking back, it was a magical way to grow up, where your neighbor could be a movie star, and sometimes women married princes.

Another story to illustrate her humility (although, as family legends go, I have no idea where the truth ends and legend begins) but she was eternally grateful to Lena Horne because she believed that she wouldn’t have had the career she did if it hadn’t been for her.  It was Lena who convinced the studio to hire Helen for Stormy Weather (1943), and Helen thought of that as one of the films that got her career the boost it needed to get to the next level.

Jenny has been kind enough to share two family photos that include Helen Rose.

This was at my mother's wedding in 1964.

“Aunt Helen at my mother’s wedding in 1964.”


Say Jenny: “This is either 1979 or 1980, judging by my haircut. I'm the short one.

“This is either 1979 or 1980, judging by my haircut. I’m the short one.

Thank you again for the chance to stroll memory lane.  Aunt Helen was such a fun person, and it’s wonderful to know she hasn’t been forgotten by people outside the family.

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  1. JoannaStark
    Posted February 1, 2015 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    I modeled for Helen Rose briefly when I was just 18. I was a bit nervous so she gave me a big hug and a huge smile which was a tremendous help. Afterwards she gave me a signed design that I treasure to this day. She was an elegant, lovely lady.

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  2. sennacherib
    Posted April 4, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Good post. The “Babe” back story reminded me of how times I’ve had people tell me they’ve never seen a rattlesnake even though they’ve lived in Texas for many years. They are always shocked when I tell them they’ve probably walked right by many of them without knowing it. Same with so many bad people, we’ve all been close and never knew it. Say it just occurred to me, what is it about bad guys and birds?

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  3. Bill Brandt
    Posted April 4, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    My mother worked at Bollucks Dept store in the late 40s and if I am not mistaken Helen had a line of clothes?
    She sounds like a neat person – one who had it together in an industry where it is all to easy to lose your bearings

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