Jean Dessés, The King of Chiffon

If Madame Grés is the undisputed master of draped silk, jersey, and chiffon, we will name Jean Dessés the 'King of Chiffon'.

Born August 6, 1904 in Egypt to Greek parents, Jean Dessés left his law studies in 1925 to work with a couture house in Paris. He opened his own fashion salon in 1937. Despite having to compete with the better known designers Chanel and Balenciaga, his first collection was a success.

Ice Blue evening gown with intricate draping and pleating on fashion illustration by Jean Dessés
Jean Dessés Fashion Illustration 1950
Drawing from his extensive travels after World War II and bowing to his Grecian heritage, Dessés built a reputation on his twisted sash and bodice marvels made of draped and pleated chiffon and mousseline.

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Yves Saint Laurent, a Fashion Giant at 17

Yves Saint Laurent's was only 21 when he succeeded Paris' haute couture master Christian Dior. Saint Laurent was born to a relatively wealthy family in Oran, Algeria on August 1, 1936. A nervous teenager, he spent most of his free time designing dresses for his mother and two sisters.

The teenager attended fashion school for only a short time when his mother introduced him to the editor for French Vogue, Michael de Brunhoff. De Brunhoff was impressed with Saint Laurent's sketches and arranged a meeting with Christian Dior. Dior hired him immediately. He was only 17.

Light rose short evening dress with bows at hemline by Yves Saint Laurent for House of Dior Spring/Summer 1958 displayed on dress form
Yves Saint Laurent Spring/Summer 1958
For House of Dior
©Metropolitan Museum
Gift of Mrs. Hugh J Chisholm, Jr.
Under Dior's tutelage, Saint Laurent quickly gained acclaim for his designs. Recognizing his influence on those early designs, Saint Laurent would later recall his time with Dior, "He taught me the basis of my art."

The Crown Jewel of Costumes

One of the most prolific costumers in film history, William Travilla is best known for designing Marilyn Monroe's "subway dress" in The Seven Year Itch.

Called the "flying skirt" scene, Miss Monroe is standing atop a subway grate with the upward breeze sending the skirt of her now iconic dress billowing about her legs.

Marilyn Monroe in scene from Seven Year Itch where white dress billows around her showing her legs
Marilyn Monroe in William Travilla Costume
Seven Year Itch 1955

While considered quite provocative in 1955, what I see in the pose that is said to have prompted the Monroe and DiMaggio divorce, is a beautiful young woman trying to keep her perfectly pleated dress from flying above her head. I see a glimpse of modest panties (she wore two pairs of panties) fitted snugly to well-toned thighs. I see her wearing stylish slingback heels and wonder how often those pretty heels got caught in the subway grate.

Front view of ivory colored dress with pleated skirt and halter neck designed by William Travilla for Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch
William Travilla "Subway Dress" Costume from Seven Year Itch
Worn by Marilyn Monroe

A seasoned costume designer credited in over thirty films, William Travilla had no reason to expect his designs from The Seven Year Itch would bring him special notoriety. Yet this dress would propel him, as well as Marilyn Monroe, into movie image history.