Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Book Review - Dressing Marilyn

Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood icon was styled by William Travilla 
- Andrew Hansford with Karen Homer

As a collector of Hollywood related books, especially those on Marilyn Monroe, I was excited to hear that there would be a book published to coincide with recent tour of Travilla's costumes. Travilla is most famous for being Marilyn Monroe's (and many other leading ladies') favourite costume designer.

He was responsible for some of the most famous dresses of all time including the pink dress worn during "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" routine in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and the white dress which was caught by a gust of wind by the subway in The Seven Year Itch. I received this book as soon as it was published but have only just had time to review it now and give my unbiased opinion as a fashion history and Marilyn nerd.

Firstly, the book itself is a lovely addition to any bookshelf. It's a hardback and the design is based on the pink dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the design of which features on the cover. Under the jacket, the book is bound in a lace print and is pink inside.

The text is lovingly written, first as an account of the life and career of William Travilla which include some interesting accompanying photos, such as a telegram from Errol Flynn thanking Travilla and congratulating him on his Oscar for his costume design work on Don Juan. It offers insight into the workings of the costume department in the studios in the golden era and reads very nicely. Of course, the focus of the book is Travilla's designs for Marilyn Monroe and their relationship is comprehensively covered. They were obviously very close, having worked together on eight of her films. She wrote a note to him which read - "Billy Dear, please dress me forever. I love you, Marilyn."

The book is, of course, beautifully illustrated with his superb costume designs, which are rather reminiscent of Rene Gruau's fashion illustrations. Along with these are photos of the original dress patterns which have survived fire and flooding over the years, and photographs of the dresses themselves. I think all the gowns featured are the original dresses, or prototypes, worn by Marilyn. I know that for the tour, some of the gowns were remade from his original patterns for display as the originals are now much too fragile and precious for a tour. Also, most of them are in various collections around the world. Thankfully, the owners allowed the authors to have photographs taken for the purpose of this book.

Cut for length. Click on the "read more" below for the whole post.

Marilyn Monroe Costume Design by Travilla

Mannequins at Travilla's studio
Marilyn Monroe's mannequin alongside others in Travilla's studio in the 50s.

Travilla Costume Design for Marilyn Monroe, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
Travilla's design for the "Two Little Girls from Little Rock" routine in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes".

Marilyn Monroe's Costume from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

A Costume Test of Marilyn for "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Travilla Costume Design for Marilyn's "Sunburst" Dress in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
Costume design for the "Sunburst" dress, originally designed for a scene in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" but was deigned too risque for the screen. You see it briefly in a scene when she's dancing, from memory, I think with Piggy.

The dress did however become famous after being featured in a photoshoot by Gene Kornman. Some of the most iconic images of Marilyn.

 She also wore it for the Photoplay Awards in 1953 and incurred the wrath of Joan Crawford (for stealing her limelight). This caused a bit of a media storm at the time. The following year, Marilyn wore another version of this dress in silver lamé. Take that, Joan. I love you but jealousy is a terrible thing. The following photos are from my personal collection although the silver dress is covered in the book.

 Marilyn at the 1954 Photoplay Awards in a silver lamé dress designed by Travilla.

There were a few version of the gold dress made. This one was worn by Ginger Rogers and is similar if not identical to a dress originally designed for Marilyn.

The original design for the dress above.

And another version was worn by Jayne Mansfield. I think this is probably the same dress worn by Marilyn in the Kornman shoot and for the '53 Photoplay Awards, only heavily altered.

Original Dress Pattern for the "Sunburst" Dress from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
The pattern for the "Sunburst" dress, the original illustration having later replaced by a photocopied photo. The book details how the fabric used is unavailable now and much care is needed when dealing with the dresses now. In my experience, lamé is a bitch of a material and frays terribly although it seems to hold the pleats in this dress well, even after all this time.

The dress featured in the book has a bow detail and the book says that this version of the dress was the one favoured by Marilyn and Travilla.

A Version of Marilyn Monroe's "Sunburst" Dress from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

A Version of Marilyn Monroe's "Sunburst" Dress from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

Travilla Costume Design for Marilyn Monroe, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
Costume design by Travilla for the "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" routine in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes". This design replaced one that was discarded by the studio, again for being too risque. I was pleased to see this discarded design covered in the book, and to hear of what became of it. At some point it was taken apart, the top used for a costume on another film. The bottom part still exists and there are photographs of it in the book.

The original costume for the "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" routine.

Original Dress Pattern for the "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" Dress from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
The dress pattern for the pink dress. This dress is another feat of engineering. I remember reading somewhere how the pink satin fabric was interlined in something similar to the felt used for snooker tables and literally folded into shape.

Detail of the "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" Dress from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
This detail photo shows how the bow is held in place by transparent thread.

Detail of the "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" Dress from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
The belt is leather, covered with the pink fabric. These kinds of photos are invaluable. For years I've been studying this dress, pausing the film and staring at it trying to figure out how it was constructed. Again, I have to thank the authors for such a fantastic job on this book.

Detail of the "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" Dress from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
Here you can seen the difference Technicolor had on the intensity of the pink dress. These effects had to be taken into consideration by Travilla when picking out the fabrics.

Marilyn's Costume from "How to Marry a Millionaire"
This dress is from "How to Marry a Millionaire". 

Travilla Costume Design for Marilyn Monroe, "River of no Return"
Costume design for one of the more glamourous scenes in "River of No Return". For the majority of the film, Marilyn wears jeans and a shirt.

Travilla Costume Design for Marilyn Monroe, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
Probably one of the most famous dresses of all time and one that Travilla described as "That silly little dress".

The shooting of this scene, with the dress blowing up over Marilyn's head and exposing her underwear was cause of a big rift between Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn as it was filmed infront of hundreds of onlookers. Joe stormed off the set.

Original Dress Pattern for the "Subway" Dress from "The Seven Year Itch"
The original pattern for the dress. It was reused by Travilla for some of his later fashion shows. The original dress, because it was pleated, was not cut on the bias as this pattern suggests.

Original Dress from "The Seven Year Itch"
This is the original dress worn by Marilyn in that scene. The fabric is more of a bone colour than white. Debbie Reynolds bought this dress after filming and sadly had to sell her collection of film memorabilia last year. This dress sold for $4,600,000 at auction.

Costume Test of Marilyn in "The Seven Year Itch"
A costume test of Marilyn in a dress from The Seven Year Itch. Another clever design, being innocent and erotic at the same time which shows what a fantastic designer Travilla was in designing for Marilyn.

Set Photo of Marilyn in the "Tiger" Dress in "The Seven Year Itch"
The back of the "Tiger" dress from "The Seven Year Itch". This is a new photo for me and wonderful to see the back of this dress.

"Bus Stop" Costume
The costume for "Bus Stop"minus the tail, which Cherie would not be pleased about. 

 Unfortunately the costume is damaged. As you can see in the picture above, the original had obvious repairs figured into the design and these and some of the beading has been lost in the costume as it is today.

Milton Greene took many beautiful photos of Marilyn during the filming of "Bus Stop". This is one of my favourites.

Travilla Costume Design for Marilyn Monroe for "The Stripper"

This is a design for Marilyn who was to star in a film called "The Stripper". The designs are lovely and many more are included in the book. Marilyn didn't take part in the end. Although the film was thought up with her in mind, the studios obviously hadn't understood how Marilyn was trying to take roles which showed her as a serious actress. The film was made in 1963, renamed "Woman of Summer" starring Joanne Woodward.

Also featured in the book are photos of Marilyn in borrowed clothes from Travilla. While entertaining the troops in Korea (at the same time as being on Honeymoon with Joe DiMaggio) Marilyn took a few costumes with her as part of her personal wardrobe.

This Marilyn in Korea wearing a costume from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" as seen in a costume test below.

There's a lovely part in the book which shows a dress she brought back from a night out which is still marked by her lipstick and a dirt stain from when she brushed up against a car.

My views on the book is that it's an absolute joy. Both an interesting read, a wonderful tribute to Travilla and to Marilyn and I highly recommend it. It's very reasonable, being 20 pounds in the UK and when it's released in the US, the price will be 30 dollars.


Jasmin Lopez said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Thank you for the photos, they're amazing. Marilyn is such a classic beauty. <3

Laura said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Thank you for the comment and you're welcome. She was a beautiful, lovely lady. xxx

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Dear Laura.

Thank you very much for the lovely review.

It was lovely to read and I am so glad you liked the book.

It was definatley a labour of love.

Kindest regards

Andrew Hansford

Laura said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Hi Andrew,

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my review. I hope the book is very successful for you because it certainly deserves much praise. I throughly enjoyed reading it and it's a lovely addition to my collection and a wonderful, poignant tribute. I hope that this review encourages people to seek it out. It's perfectly balanced as a biography, film and fashion book and I couldn't have wished for more as a enthusiast.

I was also lucky enough to see the Travilla exhibition in Bath, UK when it toured and your dedication really shines through.

Congratulations and thank you again. All the best for your future endeavours.

Ligia who? said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

amazing post! Congratulations!

Laura said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Thank you very much! *blushes* xxxx

nikki said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

this is truly amazing. im getting a tattoo soon and the artist William Travilla absolutely made it hard to choose. they're all such beautiful works of art. im obsessed with marilyn monroe. shes my one and only idol. this site it absolutely amazing

hljmarr said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Enjoyed the acclaimed siren of beauty! Marilyn,Diana and Jayne. You never replace there
elegance. Nor should we, Madonna's popularity.
Associate the beauty of "Golden Hollywood" no.
Emulating and denying it never. Displace or erase
beauty of Marilyn glamor Queen! Websites Madonnashots.com,QueenMadonna.com,Allaboutmadonna.com and Madonnalicious.com. Years 1989-1992 stealing from Marilyn n Jayne. Marilyn Diviemarilynmonroe.canablog excellent detailed.

Sandy said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I know I'm a couple of years late commenting, but this is a very enjoyable page. Travilla's work for Marilyn is some of the best in Hollywood history. I have always been particularly impressed by his design for the showgirl ensembles worn by Marilyn and Jane Russell in the opening of 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.' How do you create ONE design that looks great on small, curvy Marilyn - AND tall, athletic Jane Russell? Travilla managed the feat handily. Thank you for putting up this tribute to his genius. I'm also pleased to see mention of the 'Tiger' dress from 'The Seven Year Itch.' The white halter dress gets all the attention, but the 'Tiger' dress is the most ambitious and elaborate design from the film, as well as the most expensive - and all for a brief comedic fantasy sequence. Again, thanks for a great page.

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