By Alexandra Lippin – February 1, 2013
When Mary Rose tells you that she is “technically retired” it is hard not to chuckle. Mary Rose may think of herself as “retired” but she is far from slowing down. Her career as a costume designer has spanned over 35 years. She has worked on numerous feature films, long-form and series television. She also co-produced several educational programs, including a special on the history of Hollywood Costume Designers for NHK, Japan; is the author of a book on Costume Design and has organized costume exhibits throughout the world, including the U.S., Canada, England and Japan.
Currently serving her second term as President of the Costume Designers Guild, she is also Governor of the Television Academy’s Costume Design & Supervision Peer Group and serves as curator for the Television Costume Design exhibition as well as the Film Costume Design exhibition at the FIDM Museum & Galleries in downtown Los Angeles.
An only child raised in post-WWII Japan, Rose attended Kyoritu-Gakuen, a private girls’ school in Tokyo. She applied to the International Arts School in Japan which had a very stringent enrollment process and after being denied admission, Rose decided to follow a different path.
Her father attended the University of California at Berkeley in the late 1920s and early 1930s and Rose found the prospect of moving to the States for school to be an appealing one. She ended up at San Francisco State University where she majored in Fine Arts. Right after graduation, her father passed away and Rose decided to stay in the United States. She found a home in Northern California and began working for a well-known oil-painter who specialized in Japanese brush painting. KQED bought the educational program and Rose was paid $50 per week for her work.
In 1959, she married an engineer and soon after had two children, a son named Casey and one year later, a daughter who she named Joan. While her husband worked long hours on the Oroville Dam project, Rose became increasingly concerned about the War and the possibility that he would be drafted. She knew that if he left she would need to be able to provide for her children. Although she had only taken one semester of Home Economics in school, for which she received a D on her first assignment (creating a bra), she decided that she would start saving money by making her children’s clothes. She began by studying the seams of the clothes that were in the closet, turning each garment inside out to see how the pieces were made and constructed. Through trial and error, she was able to teach herself how to design, cut and sew.
After seeing her daughter at school, dressed in one of Rose’s custom dresses, some of the other mothers began to comment and request the clothing for their own children. She chose the fabric, hired a few people to help her and soon went from producing children’s clothes to making custom pieces for women.
When her children were seven and eight years old, Mary Rose divorced her husband and moved to Southern California. She began working at a language school in downtown Los Angeles teaching Japanese children who were born in the United States, how to speak fluent Japanese. The school system was not what she had expected and one day while in Century City, Rose wandered into a store and asked the shop owner if she might be able to sell her dresses there. Due to the stores’ close proximity to 20th Century Fox, many costume designers, wardrobe stylists and actresses would often shop there. Her dresses began to sell and soon after, Rose decided to open up her own store.
She found a good school for her kids in the Valley and in 1968, opened up a couture shop on Ventura Boulevard near Coldwater. She dressed a mannequin with one of her designs, a v-neck jersey dress with a sash around the waist and placed it in the window. People driving by would spot her dresses in the window and come in to inquire about them. Business began to pick up and one day, Ann-Margret’s agent, Allan Carr came in to speak with her about designing pieces for Ann-Margaret’s Las Vegas shows. Ann-Margaret invited Rose to a rehearsal so she could see the movements and choreography and create costumes that would work for her performances.
Word about her custom work began to spread and soon the single mother of two was sketching, sourcing materials and producing costumes and couture pieces not only for the everyday woman, but the stars on stage and screen.
In the late 1970s, Barbara Hershey asked Rose to work with her on a film that she was starring in called “The Stunt Man,” for which Hershey appeared alongside Peter O’Toole and Steve Railsback. Rose also created costumes for Hershey for her role in the mini-series “From Here to Eternity.” While on set, Rose met Costume Designer and Head of Wardrobe for Columbia Pictures Television, Grady Hunt.
Soon after, Rose began assisting Hunt on many television movies and series including “The Oklahoma City Dolls” (1981), “Fantasy Island” (1981-1982), “Falcon Crest” (1982-1983 for Lana Turner), “The New Mike Hammer” (1983-1984), “Crazy Like a Fox” (1984-1986), “Passion Flower” (1987) starring Barbara Hershey and Bruce Boxleitner and “A Killing in a Small Town” (1990 for Barbara Hershey).
She not only enjoyed working with Hunt, but also appreciated the freedom and opportunity to be able to work on multiple projects at one time.
When Sony Corporation bought Columbia Pictures Entertainment in 1989, Mary Rose left and went to Paramount where she worked on the sitcom, “Mr President” (1987-1988) starring George C. Scott. and then to 20th Century Fox where she designed the show “True Colors,” (1990-1992) a half-hour series about an interracial marriage and the subsequent blended family.
During the course of her career, Rose worked with a long list of leading directors, show runners and stars. She served as Costume Designer, Costume Supervisor and designed for specific actors and actresses on a wide range of projects including “Cast a Deadly Spell” (1991) starring Fred Ward and Julianne Moore, “Paris Trout” (1991) starring Dennis Hopper, Barbara Hershey and Ed Harris, “Loverboy” (1989) starring Patrick Dempsey and Kate Jackson, “Defenseless” (1989) starring Barbara Hershey and Sam Shepard, “Witches’ Brew” (1980) starring Teri Garr and Lana Turner, “Crazy Mama” (1975) starring Cloris Leachman, and “Big Bad Mama” (1974) starring Angie Dickinson and William Shatner.
While at 20th Century Fox, a friend introduced Rose to her now-husband, Gordon, who was 12 years her senior and a Vice President for Farmers Insurance Company. The two married in 1985. By 1993, her husband had retired and Mary Rose decided that she was not going to work “as much.”
Instead of going to the set every day, Rose began to dedicate more of her time to the entertainment industry associations and organizations for which she had been involved, as well as with design schools and museums around the world.
A member of Local 705 since 1977, Rose was accepted into the Costume Designers Guild, Local 892 in 1982 and has served as an Executive Officer since 1992. In 1998, she was elected to the first of several Executive Board positions and served for over a decade. Rose received the CDG’s first Distinguished Service Award in 2006, and in October of 2010, was elected President of the Costume Designers Guild for a second term.
Rose also has a long history with the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS), participating in peer groups since the 1970s. She later became a member and was elected Governor of the Costume Design & Supervision Peer Group in 1998, 2000, 2004 and 2011. In 2002, she was elected to the Academy of Television’s Executive Committee and also served as the First Chair of the Television Cares Committee.
In 1992, Maggie Murray, the Visual Consultant at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) contacted Rose. She wanted to put together an exhibit featuring costumes from popular feature films, but did not know where to begin. Rose helped her and soon after was inspired to do her own exhibit. In 1998, she organized and curated her first large film costume exhibition for the Hanae Mori Foundation at The Space Museum in Tokyo. Among the 147 costumes on display were pieces from the 1920 silent film “Sex” and the 1994 hit “Legend of the Fall.” Rose was also able to procure over 76 original illustrations of the costumes that were featured in the films.
In 2006, she arranged a partnership between The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS) and the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) to feature costumes from the small-screen and to coincide with Emmy Awards season. Rose serves as the producer and guest curator of the exhibit, which takes about four months to complete, from the initial prep to the final reveal. The annual exhibit entitled “The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design,” is showcased at the FIDM Museum & Galleries and is on display each year from the end of July through October. The exhibit includes a wonderful collection of over 75 television costumes and salutes the work of many of the Primetime Emmy-Nominated Costume Designers and Costume Supervisors.
“I’m very proud of this exhibition,” says Rose. “It gives so many costume designers who design for television the opportunity to step into the limelight and show off their excellent work.”
Every year, with the help of her own volunteers and CDG members, Rose works around the clock to put together what she considers to be the best design work being done. “We are celebrating the excellence of our colleagues.”
This month, on February 19, 2013, the Costume Designers Guild Awards will be celebrating its 15th anniversary. The CDG Awards, which celebrates excellence in film, television and commercial costume design, is considered to be one of the most prestigious and well-respected entertainment industry events during the awards season as it celebrates the spirit of collaboration between costume designers and the actors and directors with whom they work.
Rose is especially proud of what has been achieved throughout the years. “It’s like day and night” she says when thinking back to the first CDG Awards in 1999.
“Now people are really realizing how big it has gotten. Now they call us to find out when we are announcing the nominees and honorees. [The CDG Awards] has done something for our Guild. It has helped our profile.”
Currently serving her second term as President of the Costume Designers Guild, Rose says, “I would like to run one more time.”
It is important to her that new members understand the history of the Guild. She encourages younger volunteers to ask questions. At the end of the day, “I want them to belong and to feel that they are a part of something special.”