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The Most Famous Dress in the World

The following is an excerpt from Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla by Andrew Hansford (Applause Books), as posted on The Random Thoughts of Crazy Mandy.

The design that Travilla created for the dress was far quicker than the filming of the scene; he was so inspired that he produced the entire costume ensemble for The Seven Year Itch out over one weekend. When asked to create the costumes for this movie Travilla had been delighted on many levels. First, there was the obvious pleasure in working with Marilyn but, as important, was that the movie was shot in New York. Travilla loved New York and spent a lot of time there and he knew just how to evoke the feeling of the Big Apple.
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After his frenzied weekend of designing Travilla showed Marilyn his ideas and, as she always did, she approved them all. The role she was to play was simply “The Girl”; sensuous and beautiful, her character still had to possess a sweet and innocent demeanour. So Travilla had to portray Marilyn as pure and lovely, almost talcum-powder clean. Achieving this effect on a humid, sunny afternoon in New York was not an easy task.
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The script presented challenges too. Travilla knew the halter-neck dress with its sunburst pleats would have to blow up at some point in the movie. So the fabric he chose was an ivory coloured rayon-acetate crepe, heavy enough to flow beautifully as she walked but still light enough to blow up in an interesting way. It is clear just by looking at the pictures that the dress did not blow up vertically like so many of the copies have done; instead it billowed, allowing her to pose seductively among the pleats of the skirt. Travilla never normally used manmade fabric, but with pleating this posed a challenge, as 100 per cent natural fabric would not hold such stiff pleats so, for all his pleated creations, a special fabric with just a small amount of manmade fibre in it to maintain the structure had to be made.

Keep reading this excerpt on Mandy’s blog

William Travilla is one of the best costume designers of all time and Marilyn Monroe his most famous client. Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla focuses on the striking dresses that Travilla designed for Marilyn, from his early work on the thrillerDon’t Bother to Knock and the gorgeous pink dress in which Marilyn sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” to the legendary white dress from The Seven Year Itch, which arguably contributed to the collapse of Marilyn’s marriage to Joe DiMaggio. Featuring Travilla’s original sketches, rare costume test shots, dress patterns, photographs of Marilyn wearing the dresses, plus exclusive and never-before-seen extracts from interviews with Travilla, this book offers a fresh insight into the golden age of Hollywood.