René Hubert, The Man Who Dressed Film Stars and Airplanes

“Transforming individuals into characters: few on either side of the Atlantic have done this as exquisitely as the costume designer Rene Hubert (1895 – 1976). From black-and-white silent films in the 1920s to the saturated colors of wide formats in the 1950s, the multitalented designer shaped some 200 cinematic films and approximately fifty stage productions. Apparently, without effort, he moved between his native Switzerland, large European cities and Hollywood.”

And so begins, René Hubert, The Man Who Dressed Film Stars and Airplanes, a new book edited by Andres Janser and published by Lars Müller Publishers.

Who’s René Hubert? This may be your first question on hearing Hubert’s name. René Hubert is an unsung hero, really a pioneer, of the fashion and film world. In this new book, René is finally recognized, not just for the costumes he created for the movies, but for his contributions to the stage and fashion world as well.

Hubert was born in Switzerland, in 1895, and spent most of his life traveling for work. He trained as a draftsman and as an embroidery designer, before moving to Paris to study painting.

The first movie René worked on was Monsieur Beaucaire (1924) starring Rudolph Valentino and Bebe Daniels. He then worked with Gloria Swanson, designing her costumes for Madame Sans-Gene (1925).

Madame Sans-Gene, 1925

One of my favorite anecdotes, recounted in this book, are René’s efforts to meet Gloria Swanson (Do you know Gloria?). He finally met her after being hired, as the costume designer, for her movie Madame Sans-Gene (1925). Meeting Gloria would forever change René’s life. When Swanson left France and returned to the United States, she brought René with her. He went on to design her costumes for her movies from the mid-1920s into the 1930s. He also designed her personal wardrobe. Swanson, as a movie star, fashion icon and trendsetter, was contractually obligated by the studio to dress elegantly on a daily basis.

One of Hubert’s designs for Gloria Swanson’s personal wardrobe
Gloria Swanson and Rene Hubert, 1953
Gloria Swanson and René Hubert, 1953

Hubert worked on at least 200 movies, along with innumerable plays and revues. A few of those movies are Things to Come, Anastasia, Desiree, Lydia, Forever Amber, Curly Top and The Four Feathers. Hubert also designed the costumes for four of Vivien Leigh’s movies: Fire Over England, Dark Journey, A Yank at Oxford and That Hamilton Woman.

Costume design for Vivien Leigh in That Hamilton Woman, 1941
Vivien Leigh (in a gown designed by Hubert) & Laurence Olivier in That Hamilton Woman, 1941

Hubert was a versatile and creative genius. A fact that’s illustrated by many of his design sketches which have survived over the years.

Hubert earned an international reputation as a glamour expert, with companies asking for his design expertise when it came to displaying their products, such as the Bally shoe company. He designed fabrics for Stoffel & Cie and occasionally dresses for them with his own fabric line.

René Hubert designs fabrics for Paris, New York and Hollywood

In late 1950, when Swissair, Switzerland’s national airline, decided to redesign their flight attendants’ uniforms, René Hubert was the designer they called. He worked with the airline for almost 20 years, not only creating new uniforms, but also redesigning the interior of the planes. “As a frequent flier due to his career, Hubert was well prepared to create the desired combination of glamour and professionalism.” (page 32)

Flight attendant uniforms designed for Swissair in 1965

René Hubert, The Man Who Dressed Film Stars and Airplanes isn’t a traditional biography, but rather a collection of essays on Hubert’s body of work. Each chapter is self-contained and written by a different author. Interspersed, throughout the book, are quotes from René’s unpublished autobiography.

Ingrid Bergman, modeling her costumes from The Visit, 1964

It’s a must-read for fashion and film enthusiasts everywhere with 248 pages and 275 beautiful illustrations. Gloria Swanson, Ingrid Bergman, Jean Simmons and Vivien Leigh fans will be thrilled.

Available for purchase at the publisher’s website: click here.
Also available for purchase online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *