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Blonde’s Costume Design Shows a Different Side to Marilyn Monroe

Photo; Courtesy of Netflix

Since the film aims to draw a clear line between Marilyn—the vampy, studio-manufactured bombshell—and Norma—a smart, sensitive artist—Johnson had to first establish how the two identities would differ fashion-wise. For her scenes as Norma, Johnson wanted a pared-back approach for de Armas. “Norma Jeane was quite a minimalist,” says Johnson. “She wasn’t clothes obsessed. It was important to find as many candid photographs of her and then fill in the blanks to what she might have actually worn.” Through her research, Johnson found that Monroe had become good friends with the designer Anne Klein and developed “this very chic look that was a black turtleneck and a pair of capri pants,” she explains. “[That look] signified her being a serious artist; Norma Jeane was really smart with business and image, and she wanted to be taken seriously as an actor.”

It was the glitzier scenes as Marilyn—including dresses now known around the world and endlessly imitated—that became the real challenge for Johnson. “It’s a stressful task to take something that’s been designed by some of the best designers in Hollywood,” she says, citing William Travilla as a prime example. The 20th Century Fox designer was responsible for two of Monroe’s most iconic dresses: the strapless pink gown in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the pleated white dress in The Seven Year Itch, which famously blew above her waistline thanks to a draft through a subway grate. For Blonde, Johnson recreated both designs. “Once you start investigating the materials and how it was constructed, you see it was extremely complicated,” says Johnson. “It was about getting those details right to honor those original designs.” Making matters even more difficult, scenes in the film were shot in both color and black and white—so Johnson had to consider that too. “We didn’t know what would be in color or black and white,” she says. “That was challenging because in black and white certain colors read very flat and muddy.”

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