No one can forget the vision that was Rita Hayworth in Gilda. Aside from actress’s alluring beauty and sass, much of the character’s iconic image can be attributed to designer Jean Louis’s brilliant costumes. During Hollywood’s golden era, Louis designed hundreds of famous costumes for A-listers, including the scandalous slinky gown worn by Marilyn Monroe on JFK’s birthday.
Born in Paris, Louis attended the Arts Decoratifs and worked as a fashion illustrator. He moved to New York and gained employment with Hattie Carnegie’s fashion house. His designs soon caught the eye of Joan Cohn, the wife of the Columbia chief Harry Cohn, and she raved about Louis to her husband, who signed him to a contract in 1944. Two years later, he designed the infamous dress for Gilda, along with all of Hayworth’s wardrobe.
The sexy black sheath number was inspired by the Portrait of Madame X, a painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau. The sleeveless shape was chosen to emphasize Hayworth’s broad shoulders and long arms, and the ruched half bow was meant to hide her post-pregnancy belly. To be able to sing and dance in the famous “Put the Blame on Mame” scene without the dress falling down or losing its shape, Louis made a harness, to be worn under the dress. “We put grosgrain under the bust with darts and three stays, one in the centre, two on the sides. Then we moulded plastic softened over a gas flame and shaped around the top of the dress. No matter how she moved, the dress did not fall down,” explained Louis. He has previously worked with the iconic redhead on Tonight and Every Night and the two collaborated on seven more films after Gilda. The designer is contributed to have created the Hollywood diva’s “Love Goddess” image that we know today.
In April 2009, the dress was posted on eBay with a starting price of $30,000. I tried to found out more about who bought it and for how much, but no luck!