Sunday 10 February 2013

Playing dress up


I was very lucky over Christmas and my recent birthday to receive some excellant books as gifts. Each one was something I'd asked for and tie in really well with my obession with costume, dressing up and artifice. You may remember I visited the Hollywood Costume Exhibition at the V&A last month which was really the peak of excitment for a glamour geek like me!


To further fuel my (unofficial) investigation into the theme I now own Dressing Marilyn by Andrew Hansford which covers the history of the relationship between Monroe and one of Hollwood's most iconic designers, William Travilla. Travilla was the genius behind the outfits in two of Marilyn's career landmarks, the pink dress she wore to sing Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend and the white dress which blows up about her waist in The Seven Year Itch, not to mention dozens of other outfits throughout her film career.

An interesting snippet from the book tells how Marilyn was orignally to wear a Travilla designed diamond encrusted bikini to sing Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend complete with a long tail of diamonds a diamond headress diamond choker and fishnet tights. However the scandal about Marilyn's nude calander shot came out as the film was being made and the studio decided she needed covering up not displaying more flesh! 'Cover her up, we are not selling her body'.

In a matter of hours Travilla came up with the exquisite pink dress of silk satin with it's huge bow and full length gloves which has since become so iconic and copied by many! The only things to survive from the original diamond costume were the choker and bracelets which Marilyn wore with her pink creation for Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend. Can you ever imagine her wearing anything else?

I really reccommend this book if you are interested in the old Hollywood and the fashion of the era. It also gives a different angle on Marilyn's life; one about professionalism and hard work and the clothes and her input into their design speak volumes about the woman and the legacy she has left behind.

My second great book is Kylie Fashion by Kylie Minogue and William Baker. This weighty tome travels the pop princess's career in a journey of haute couture and costume. Beginning with the  humble origins of a large brimmed sun hat with her bubble perm piled through to the first tentative steps with designers on videos such as Hand On Your Heart, right through to her triumphant comeback partly thanks to a pair of minute gold hotpants and a white slashed jumpsuit. 

This is a woman who now thinks nothing of wearing a costume of full feather headdress, making it difficult to walk, heavy plumes and corset so tight it almost prevents her from singing. This was the case during her Showgirl Tour. The corset was so tight she had to be cut out of it every night!

It's fair to say Kylie's style decisions have been part of her success. Working with top fashion houses and also up and coming designers fresh from fashion school. Not only has she helped to put new names on the map she has been a malable creative energy shaped and reshaped by fashion pushing ever onwards.

My final books of decadent design are Pin Up Girls of World War Two and Glamorous Movie Stars of the 1950's by Tom Tierney, both of which are books of paper dolls. I cannot express how beautiful Tierney's drawings are. He makes his creations look so effortless! On one page you may be treated to Audrey Hepburn in her beatnik blacks the next is an exquisite reproduction of her iconic red dress from Funny face made to measure Audrey's sylph like frame. It's like having a personal wardrobe for each famous star featured between the pages and each illusration is instantly recognisable. I have poured over the drawings remembering classic films and moments brought beautifully to life thanks to Toms eye for detail.

All these books have one very strong thing in common; they each show how profound costume and appearance can be. They show how something we may take for granted can leave a lasting impression and how the way we present ourselves can change our destiny and create our future. It can define and develop us as people and make us into something more.


While we are on the subject of books I simply had to also share this gem! Although not strictly related to the theme, it does cover old Hollywood. I had to mention Bette and Joan, The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine.


This is a book that you can't put down. Cleverly written and never shy to lay down the facts I feel I now know our dear Bette Davis and Joan Crawford like old friends. From their early years as actress and dancer, the book covers every step of their eventful careers and their star crossed relationship. For two women who swore they had NOTHING in common the similarities in their lives are striking. Both leading ladies with HUGE egos and ravenous sex drives, bitchiness does not cut it when describing the battle between them for supremacy as the ultimate Movie Queen. Long live them both.