FILM DRAMA MEETS FASHION DESIGN;
THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE MARILYN MONROE’S SHOW BUSINESS
RELEASED CONCURRENT with PHX FASHION WEEK –MM’S POPULARITY CONTEST ?
Lights, camera, action and fashion’s passion!
The dramatic world of film has definitely merged with the creative world of fashion; and in ever-blossoming ways. In the early days of a “defile” (pronounced DAY-feel-ay, the French word for fashion show), designers like Christian Dior would often not even attend the fashion show review of what he called his “children.” Referring to his designs as offspring, Dior said they could stand on their own, as he preferred to be upstairs at the Headquarters taking one of his naps during the show. The quiet parade of gentle lady-like models (called mannequins) flowing through the center of the “salon,” was as serene as a gracefully played rendition of Claude Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun.
The erudite writer Amy Fine Collins addressed the old days of couture elegance.
She did so by quoting Hélène de Ludinghausen, in her September 2009 article for Vanity Fair, called “A Stitch in Time.” The former directrice of Yves Saint Laurent Couture, Hélène noted the similarity between movie studios and fashion houses when she stated, “Each client was received as a queen—we were there to serve them. The clients were stars, and the houses were like movie studios—each a whole world unto itself.”
In sharp, almost jarring-contrast, many of today’s fashion collection shows have become a true Cirque de Soleil … gone wild. Even the music for many collection shows is designed to regulate a quicker pulse and excite the nervous system of the store buyers and clientele, inciting them to buy, buy, buy. Some might say it’s as if the psychological warfare and marketing mechanics of Las Vegas casinos have now been put into place in the fashion world.
Gone with the wind are the strains of violins sounding out a classic like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons during a slow-paced show. In its place, are runway soundtracks that are fun, fast, and sometimes feverish. One is likely to hear something more rock n roll than rococo.
Things have definitely changed. This is “not your Grandmothers Defile!” … Not if she attended the defiles of Messieurs’ Dior and Saint Laurent.
But this spark of creativity has kindled the fires of passion in the world of fashion. And creative liberty is always good. Movie-style theatrics have blended with fashion show tactics, and ironically it began to smolder at the House of Dior. It was the eccentric Englishman, John Galliano who, in the 1990’s, began weaving the wonderment of his runway theatrics into collection week. Galliano was the designer, hastily ousted from the House of Dior, who actually had designed at that house – longer than Christian Dior.
And while movie magic has influenced fashion design runways, that film drama has also influenced fashion designs themselves. In today’s times, Costume designers and Fashion Designers have now fully linked arms, in a near“kumbaya” of Couture.
In 1954, when the legendary Billy Travilla designed the costumes and gowns for his friend Marilyn Monroe to wear in the 20th Century-Fox film classic, There’s No Business Like Show Business; I imagine that, he could not have imagined, the long-ranging ripples of influence his designs would generate. And they did so in both film and fashion.
Cast by Fox alongside veteran actress Ethel Merman; the limber dancing actor Donald O’Connor; and the petite powerhouse, Mitzi Gaynor; Marilyn Monroe begrudgingly played the insipid role of Victoria Hoffman. She did so to fulfill her Fox contractual obligations. That role was Marilyn’s bargaining chip, used in exchange for the more coveted role of “The Girl” in The Seven-Year Itch.
Billy Travilla helped his friend, Marilyn, to tolerate that production window by creating some titillating, totally unique designs for her. Those designs have outlasted Marilyn’s appeasement and entered the archives of fashion in delightful and surprising ways. Billy’s designs will always be associated with the eternal style influence of the blonde.
When sharing conversation about Travilla with his old client Mitzi Gaynor recently, I was endeared by her perceptive words. Marilyn’s still-stunningly-beautiful co-star, Gaynor, offered some solid insights. “Listen, there would BE NO Marilyn Monroe, as we know her today, if it were not for Billy Travilla,” the petite powerhouse pronounced to me.
For that matter, there would be different designs rolling down the runways of Paris, New York and Milan, were it not for the pairing of Marilyn Monroe and Billy Travilla.
In 1990, when Yves Saint Laurent dedicated his entire Paris collection to Marilyn Monroe, he actually was honoring Travilla, as well as the priceless pair. Splashed all over WomensWear Daily and the fashion headlines, was Yves homage to “Marilyn.”
I would have hated to be the one to delicately break it to the timid Yves, but Marilyn DID NOT design her costumes … Billy Travilla did! She certainly filled Billy’s costumes in, in ways no other actress could have.
But even THAT was Billy Travilla’s work. Few people know that Marilyn’s costumes were laden with wiring, foam “falsies” and special effects to enhance her own beauty. It was a true collaboration of effects.
In a manner of speaking, Marilyn’s tender body was “hard-wired” with Billy’s “software.”
Valentino Garavani, a veteran designer I adore and hold in affectionate esteem, honored Billy’s work for Marilyn in his very last runway show, though few may be aware of it. Remarkably, in 2007, Valentino staged a 3-day fashion extravaganza in Rome celebrating the 45th Anniversary of his career. This epic event included an exhibit at Ara Pacis, a gala dinner at the Temple of Venus and an haute couture fashion show staged at the Santos Spirito in Sassia complex. Slinking down the seasoned Couturier’s runway was a shimmering, shaking, sassy, pink confection. It came straight from the angelic-design-cloud of one of Billy’s gowns for Marilyn. Billy’s blonde wore that Travilla gown in that film she hated doing, There’s No Business Like Show Business.
In Billy’s 1954 design for Marilyn, he created a unique technical-textile-effect. He took hundreds and hundreds of circles of delicate tulle, and stacked them like pancakes, one upon another, by the hundreds. Horizontally bound together as an ever-larger stack of sheer tulle semi-circles, this made for a thick, yet flouncy, trim. After studding that trim with a constellation of beads, Billy placed that blue tulle trim of stacked circles on the asymmetrical hem of Marilyn’s blue and white column gown. He designed this showstopper for that films big musical finale, 20th Century-Fox’s now iconic song, That’s Entertainment.
It was meant to be bold, bodacious and add a dramatic flourish to the end of the show business inspired film. And like a visual-echo reverberating through the long halls of history, Billy’s work continues to influence humanity with his distinctive designs. The image of that particular Travilla gown on Marilyn has been used for every mention or commercial venture of that film.
In the case of Valentino Garavani, he applied that same Travilla tulle-edged-technique, to dramatic effect, upon the edges of two pieces in the final collection of his 45-year career. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the design that Billy created for Marilyn’s big finale, served to inspire the work of Valentino’s big 45-year finale. What an honor for Billy! Echoing Billy Travilla’s Marilyn Monroe design, Valentino used this treatment as a double-rowed-trim in khaki grey-green upon the hem of a bejeweled slip dress, whose shoulders were surrounded by a matching khaki fur shrug.
But the Italian Maestro used it to even more dramatic effect upon on a pink evening coat in three bold, successive horizontal rows, each row below increasing in size. Another nod to a Travilla-Marilyn design in that same final collection was Valentino’s gigantic bubblegum pink bow placed askew upon the hip of a pink gown. It correctly mirrored Marilyn’s “Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend” column gown. It too, had Marilyn Monroe-Billy Travilla written all over it, albeit in a fresh take by Valentino.
The evening of that Valentino runway show, Vogue roving editor, Andre Leon Talley, gave an interview to the press back stage. The gentle giant, clearly shaken by the pink evening coat’s quivering effect, commented, “Every dress, every girl, every moment of a feather, a [tulle] ruffle, there’s so much restraint and exuberance. That PINK THING was like …” and at that point, Andre Leon Talley stopped mid-sentence, speechless, and just shivered his shoulders, shaking his head in astonishment.
When Valentino, the man affectionately dubbed by his partner, The Last Emperor, referenced Marilyn’s gowns … he too, referenced Billy Travilla. A theatrical, distinctive gown Billy invented nearly half a century earlier was still influencing the fashion world, with ALL its dramatic flair … loud runway music and all.
As the catchy lyrics in the finale song of, There’s No Business Like Show Business, state… “now THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT!” And in entertainment, both fashion and film, things change!
Perhaps Giancarlo Giametti, Valentino’s loyal, longtime partner of over 50 years, stated best the changing affairs of fashion today. He did so in 2007, stating, “The world of fashion today is very, very different. If there is a reason for Valentino to stop [designing] one day, that’s the reason; that this is not a world made for him.” Although the maestro continues to create other forms of beauty, that’s precisely why Valentino did “quit” in 2008.
The style of music at the collection shows has changed; the dramatic look of fashion has changed; the royal treatment of clients has changed; and Haute Couture itself, hanging by a silken thread, has definitely changed.
Amidst all this change, ONE THING, however, remains the same.
The style influence of Legendary Billy Travilla for a beautiful bashful blonde goes on. And just like the dynamic dramatic duo of Billy Travilla and Marilyn Monroe, the drama of film pairs well with its complement of fashion.
So whenever Fashion Week rolls around each season in Paris, New York or Milan, and maybe even Arizona, be sure to prepare yourself for … lights, cameras, action, and fashion! But remember to bring your passion!
To see the collections of KAHC and more photos of Travilla and Marilyn Monroe visit her FB Page KAHC/ Website / About.me
[This article is the tenth of a 12-part series of articles by Kimberley Ashley for 2015. Next month see her article, “Movie Legends And Film Titans; The Tigers Travilla Knew.” Stay tuned for her upcoming articles on Billy Travilla and his design muse Marilyn Monroe.]