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's mannequin alongside others in Travilla's studio in the 50s.
Travilla's design for the "Two Little Girls from Little Rock" routine 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.
é. 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.
é 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.
é 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.
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.
This detail photo shows how the bow is held in place by transparent thread.
This dress is from "How to Marry a Millionaire".
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.
$4,600,000 at auction.
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.
The costume for "Bus Stop"minus the tail, which Cherie would not be pleased about.
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.