Monday, 2 January 2012
For Christmas I received, after more than a little hinting, the beautiful book "Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood icon was styled by William Travilla", by Andrew Hansford. I'd seen it in a bookshop, rifled through and thought "Ooh, lovely pictures," but when I started to read the book it opened up a whole different world.
The golden age of Hollywood was all about its stars; big names, big movies, the transition from evocative black-and-white to glorious Technicolor. But how often do we think about what goes on behind the scenes? How many average movie fans have even heard of William Travilla? Yet without him, Marilyn Monroe could have faded into obscurity long ago. Without the couture of Travilla adorning her curves, maybe Max Factor wouldn't have decided she needed a striking platinum blonde do to complement her wardrobe? Without that white Travilla dress and that scene from the Seven Year Itch, what iconic shot of Marilyn, if any, would replace it?
I'm still in the process of reading this book, but for me the most interesting part has been the introduction and biography about Travilla, his life and early work. When one looks a little deeper into the stories behind these dresses, one realises that while it is certainly a glamorous career to dress the likes of Monroe, Jane Russell, Elizabeth Taylor and so on, it is not all silk, sequins and fairytales. There is little in the way of bohemian fancy-free artistry here: each garment is a precision-engineered piece of technical wizardry, keeping Ms Monroe's famous assets in check. The lovely thing is that these parts are photographed as well: an inbuilt girdle here, a steel bone there. And it was not until the structure of the dress was perfect could the sumptuous fabrics and exquisite artistry be brought into play.
As a fan of Marilyn Monroe, this is a great book. But as someone with a love of the styles of the golden age of Hollywood and a fascination with both the technicality and beauty of costume, it really is exceptional.