Cat On A Hot Tin Roof: Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie

This cat’s got the cream.

It seems only fitting to inaugurate ‘girls on film’ with a celebration of the life of one of the ultimate girls, Elizabeth Taylor, who passed away yesterday. Whilst obituaries will pay homage to her incredible marital track record, and style features will reference her love of sparkle, she proved that substance can hold it’s own against style. As Maggie in Richard Brooks’ adaptation of Tennessee William’s ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ Taylor was passionate and sensual.

Sprawled seductively across the bed, or demure in a white chiffon cocktail dress, Taylor encapsulated a repressed sexuality, the result of a disinterested an alcoholic husband (played by Paul Newman). Her iconic costumes were designed by MGM wardrobe designer Helen Rose who also designed (one of) Taylor’s wedding dresses. Practical, elegant and understated, the design played on the glamorous allure for which Taylor was famed; it was the perfect cocktail dress.

The dress was a central component to the film, as prior to this Maggie had only been seen in day clothes or a full-length slip. Celebrating Taylor’s womanly figure, simplicity spoke volumes as jewellery was not allowed to detract from simplicity. Taylor’s revealing décolletage caused a media sensation, and the actress requested a copy for her personal wardrobe. Rose obliged, yet was inundated with so many requests she was forced to set up her own label, which was sold under franchise to department stores and boutiques across America.

A two-time Academy Award winner (for The Bad and the Beautiful and I’ll Cry Tomorrow), Rose is an oft-forgotten legend of the MGM stable, her star eclipsed by Edith Head and Irene Lentz. Born in Chicago (the exact date unknown) Rose studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Her first theatre job was at the Lester Costume Company, creating extravagant outfits for chorus girls. Her transition to film was assured with a move to LA in 1929, where she initially designed for 20th Century Fox. Rose also designed Grace Kelly’s wedding dress for her marriage to the Prince of Monaco.

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