Jean-Louis

updated 02/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

A sex goddess is like a salad: So much depends on the dressing. From 1935 to 1978 Jean-Louis, a gifted French fashion designer, slaved over celebrated beauties in various stages of undress. He was lavishly paid and won an Oscar for The Solid Gold Cadillac, but the job kept him on pins and needles. Now 79, he lives with his wife, Maggy, in Montecito, Calif., where he recalled some pointed encounters.

The most famous dress I ever make was the little black satin one I design for Rita Hayworth in Gilda. Everybody wonder how that dress can stay on her while she sing and dance Put the Blame on Mame. Well, inside was a harness like you put on a horse. We put grosgrain under the bust with darts and three stays, one in the center, two on the sides. Then we mold plastic around the top of the dress. Poor Rita. She was rehearsing so hard, her feet were bloody, but the dress not fall down.

More difficult and almost as famous was dress with special undergarment I design for Marlene Dietrich to wear in her 1953 Las Vegas act. Now Marlene was in her late 40s, but when she walk on the stage there is a riot. Marlene was living in New York, and she fly to Hollywood every weekend to fit. "Put this bead lower," she say. "Put this bead higher." So we mark it with a tiny pin. Next week she say, "Oh, it's too high, drop it a bit." And so on, for six months. I say, "We're not going to have any dress, we're going to have a hole." It was her first appearance in Vegas and she wanted it to be perfect. But when we are finished, ah! Her body look like she is 16 years old. Dress was made of soufflé, a thin chiffon you can see through. The undergarment—the secret to the dress—was of the same material, and it was designed to reveal the bust and with darts, to push the bust up. There was a zip down her back and a band between her legs. Skintight. The neck band was so snug that her skin folded over, so she covered the fold with a diamond necklace.

After she open in Las Vegas the press say in big headlines: MARLENE DIETRICH IN A SEE-THROUGH DRESS. They did not know there was anything underneath because you can see her breasts and her legs. Oh, she knew what she was doing!

I made two pictures with Marilyn Monroe: The Misfits and the one she not finish, Something's Got To Give. I had a meeting for the first fitting at her little Spanish house in Brentwood. She was always late. My fitter and I wait an hour when suddenly Marilyn comes down the stairs in a terry cloth robe. "Jean-Louis," she say, "before you take the measurements I want you to see what I look like." So she open her robe, and she is in the nude, not a stitch on! And I was suddenly very warm. I didn't know where to put my eyes. Well, then we begin the measurements. I give that to my fitter. I was too red. "And please," she say, "no underwear. I don't wear any underwear."

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