Swiss designer René Hubert not only created a fabulous range of glamorous outfits for Hollywood film stars, he also helped Swissair achieve cult status. Now his work can be rediscovered at an exhibition in Zurich.This content was published on May 22, 2021 - 09:00
- Deutsch René Hubert – Kleider machen Hollywoodstars
- Español René Hubert, el hombre que vistió a las estrellas de Hollywood
- 中文 雷內·休伯特：用服饰造就好莱坞明星和前瑞航
- Français René Hubert, le couturier suisse de l’âge d’or d’Hollywood
- Pусский Рене Юбер — человек, одевавший Голливуд и Swissair
- Italiano René Hubert, l'uomo che ha vestito le star di Hollywood
Hubert's international career was launched by a woman: Gloria Swanson, the Hollywood superstar of silent movies. She was shooting a film in Paris in 1921 and wanted the most beautiful costumes for her role. Born in Frauenfeld in northeastern Switzerland, Hubert (1895-1976) was living in the French capital after studying at the École des Beaux Arts – and his costumes for music hall and variety acts were as glamorous as they came.
Swanson was thrilled. “Gloria Swanson hired me from Paris to New York as her personal ‘créateur’,” Hubert told Swiss television decades later. This meant designing and tailoring all her clothes – whether for theatre, film or her private wardrobe.
But that was just the beginning. Soon Hubert was dressing stars such as Jean Simmons, Marlene Dietrich, Ingrid Bergman and Shirley Temple. “Opulence was his style,” says film historian Andres Janser, who curated the exhibitionExternal link, René Hubert: The Clothes Make the Star, at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich.
Hubert had a virtuoso way of combining fabrics. Matt materials versus shimmering stone, and different layers. That’s where his training as an embroiderer in St Gallen showed, Janser said. “He understood the potential of fabrics, which can be enhanced when combined.”
Success didn’t take long. Hubert was nominated twice for a Best Costume Oscar, for Désirée (1954) and The Visit (1964). He was sought after on both sides of the Atlantic – including in Switzerland. At the 1939 National Exhibition he showcased the fabrics of the Swiss textile industry in the so-called Fashion Theatre with great effect.
In the 1950s Hubert moved back to Switzerland, to Zurich. Being gay, he saw himself increasingly threatened during the McCarthy era in the US.
Sky’s the limit
Thus began his involvement with Swissair. The national airline was looking for someone to “demilitarise” the staff uniforms. The rumour was that he had been recommended by a “culturally aware” pilot.
Hubert reinvented not only the lighter look of the costumes, but the whole of Swissair. “He defined the shade of blue that very quickly became known internationally as Swissair Blue,” Janser said. “Swissair Blue was part of the airline’s brand identity from 1950.”
The star dresser spent his final years in seclusion in Zurich. After his death, a neighbour saved his possessions from the rubbish, preserving his designs, film photos and even some original costumes.
‘René Hubert: The Clothes Make the Star’ is at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich until June 20.
(Translated from German by Thomas Stephens)