Saturday, November 26, 2022

Recreating Marilyn Monroe’s Iconic Outfits in ‘Blonde’

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Marilyn Monroe’s on-screen costumes are almost as iconic as hers. Think about that hot pink strapless gown she wore to sing “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” Or the white halter cocktail dress that bills in “The Seven Year Itch” on a subway great.

They have been remastered, remastered and referenced many times, from big budget movies and music videos to cheap costume stores and everything in between. The white subway dress she wore for the scene fetched $4.6 million at auction in 2011, and several years later the “touring” replica went for $120,000. Suffice it to say, “blonde” Costume designer Jennifer Johnson felt an enormous amount of pressure Wednesday to get the costumes we all know so well for the streaming Netflix film.

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While “Blonde” may be a fictionalized version of Monroe’s story, the costumes are torn from reality. The majority of Frock star Ana de Armas wears as Monroe in the film, which is what Johnson and his team had to make without the actual reference costume on hand. In fact, the only item Monroe she was able to study in real life, a jacket from the movie “Niagara” in Los Angeles dressed in western attire, didn’t make the cut.

Instead, Johnson relied on the films himself, the photographs in director Andrew Dominic’s 750-page “Bible” to shoot, and a short booklet by longtime studio costume designer William Travilla, for Monroe’s most famous film looks. were responsible.

“We obviously couldn’t reach the same fabrics, but it was really important to maintain the build quality of those original fabrics so that they didn’t feel like cheap simulations or costumes,” Johnson said.

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She learned in Travilla’s book that while the pink “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” dress wasn’t going well, when Monroe was singing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” as she walked down the stairs, she, in a last-minute panic, did some Green felt for a pool table from the second department and lined the garment with it. Although she didn’t resort to the pool table technique, she sympathized with Travilla’s problems when she herself faced similar problems.

Headaches aside, she said, when the money is there, “it’s always easier to make” then find something vintage.

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“It’s hard enough to find things that exist,” she said. “Old clothes are going away. It’s literally evaporating off this planet.”

The most difficult outfit to recreate, however, was the white pleated dress immortalized in another Travilla composition “The Seven Year Itch”. Pleating proved somewhat complicated, as there are not many places in the United States that now specialize in the technology that requires custom molds.

Johnson said, “We had a lot of setbacks.” It was incredible how much fabric it took to create the arch and the drama of that dress when it blew through the mesh of the subway… I think we went through about 50 yards of fabric because of the pleating was not correct. It looked great, but the molds weren’t designed properly for pleating. There was a lot of research and development and waste going into that.”

But it was worth it to finally see it in the movie, where it’s almost a supporting character in an important and chilling recreation of the memorable moment.

“It’s shot so beautifully by our amazing cinematographer, Chase Irwin, and Andrew is such a visionary,” Johnson said. “It’s just real dress porn in the movie. There’s amazing slo-mo and you can really luxuriate in the quality of the costume.”

Monroe’s off-screen style was heavily subdued and far removed from the sequins and glitz of her movie looks. Johnson and Dominic decided that she should have an off-duty uniform, consisting largely of capri pants and turtleneck sweaters, some of which were found vintage from a Los Angeles costume house.

“It was really important to me that that uniform wanted to be taken seriously as an actor and a performer,” Johnson said. “She was supposed to imitate the beatnik style or the French style.”

However not everything is perfect. Naturalism was paramount to Johnson, including ensuring that organizations work for both de Armas’s body and contemporary viewing audiences. One thing he did nix was the one Monroe famously sewed into his bra. That, he determined, would be distracting to the modern eye.

“I never wanted it to feel funny or costume-y,” Johnson said. “When I think about my designs, and even if we all know it’s an entertainment, it was really important that Ana never felt like she was wearing a dress.

“Those clothes are so iconic, they can easily overtake the actor and become everything about the costume. And I always wanted it to complement Ana’s incredible performance.”

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Follow TN Film writer Lindsay Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr.

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