Fashion Friday

Marilyn Monroe styled by William Travilla

While the dresses worn by Marilyn Monroe on screen are recognized by people from around the world, little is known about the man who created them. A new book, Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla, reveals the story behind the dresses and offers insight into the life of Mr. Travilla—the man who designed them. The book, out this week, offers a thorough look at the work that went in to the creation of Ms. Monroe’s costumes, as well as a rare glimpse into the glamorous life of the star herself. Sketches, dress patterns, and costume test shots that have never been seen before are included in the book, along with exclusive interviews from the designer himself.

It was William Travilla who came up with the iconic white dress from The Seven Year Itch, the elegant, pink strapless gown for Ms. Monroe’s performance of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and the gold, sun-ray pleated dress from that very same film.

Mr. Travilla undoubtedly knew how to make the most of Ms. Monroe’s feminine, sumptuous form, dressing her in his “signature pleated and bias-cut creations” that clung to her body in all the right places. It is rumored that Mr. Travilla and Ms. Monroe had an affair, but there is little evidence in the book to support that. Mr. Travilla fueled speculation when he once said, “My clothes for Marilyn were an act of love, I adored her.” A brief handwritten note from Ms. Monroe reading, “Billy… Please dress me forever, I love you, Marilyn” was equally affectionate and did little to alleviate the rumors.

Even people who have never seen Marilyn Monroe’s films can call to mind an image of William Travilla’s creations. There are very few dresses in history that live forever in the collective memory of the masses. Mr. Travilla managed to create three of such dresses. William Travilla’s legacy, tied as it is to that of Marilyn Monroe, lives on in a way that few costume designers could ever even begin to dream of.

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