How Blonde’s Costume Designer Crafted Marilyn Monroe’s “Emotional Armour”
Jennifer Johnson talks about revealing the particular person behind the parable, the “emotional armour” of Norma Jeane’s off-duty seems, and her ideas on the Kim Kardashian gown controversy
Marilyn Monroe. A picture embedded in our collective creativeness, the girl embodying the golden age of Hollywood, the Nineteen Fifties, the American dream. An emblem of Twentieth-century America as immediately recognisable as Coca Cola or white picket fences, a picture that speaks to an period of deep gender inequality and objectification of ladies, however which we nonetheless can’t assist fantasising about. Are we simply being hypocrites? Or is there extra to the ‘blonde bombshell’, the pinup mannequin, the final word seductress to be fascinated about?
The picture of Monroe has been so stereotyped by the business that it’s simple to neglect there was an individual respiratory behind the model; along with his long-awaited biopic Blonde, Australian director Andrew Dominik certainly wished to deliver the US icon’s humanity again. Not too long ago introduced on the Venice Movie Pageant, the movie – primarily based on Joyce Carol Oates’ guide of the identical title – is an intense, emotional and disturbing fictional journey into the interior lives of Norma Jeane Baker and her alter ego.
For costume designer Jennifer Johnson, revealing the complexity of the particular person behind the parable was the largest problem in her work on Blonde. Right here, she displays on how she introduced life to among the Twentieth century’s most iconic seems – and the “emotional armour” of Norma Jeane’s off-duty seems.
Valeria Della Valle: The core of the movie is the dichotomy between Norma Jeane, the traumatised girl, and Marilyn Monroe, the Hollywood bombshell; Norma Jeane was represented in a kind of easy and pure uniform – black turtlenecks and Capri pants, versus the glamorousness of the general public determine.
Jennifer Johnson: There are such a lot of layers to her. She was an extremely clever, articulate, well-spoken one that was enthusiastic about so many issues. She wished to be taken critically and that’s a part of what that uniform is: it’s a really mental means of dressing, very European. Take into consideration Godard or the Beat poets of the 50s. That uniform is very essential because it represents a kind of emotional armour and it’s an announcement in regards to the particular person she actually was and the way she wished to be acknowledged – as an mental particular person of curiosity, an artist. It was essential to get that structure proper, as a result of that carried her via a lot of the movie.
VDV: Second and third-wave feminists have come to embrace Marilyn as a modern-day feminist, a logo of many battles in opposition to abusive behaviour and gender inequality.
JJ: There’s this scene within the movie, you recognize, when she asks her agent how a lot she was paid for Gents Choose Blondes and finds out Jane Russell could be making far more than her, regardless of Monroe being the blonde within the title! So, she hangs up the telephone, livid. This actually occurred. She knew her price and to voice out these points within the movie was vital. For me, that’s an especially essential scene, one thing I may relate to as nicely. As costume designers, we’re largely feminine, and we have now our personal pay parity and pay fairness points with different heads of division, you recognize.
VDV: Was the stereotyping of the icon the largest problem to beat?
JJ: With an icon like Marilyn Monroe, the danger is to be tacky and low-cost. The most important problem of recreating Marilyn comes from the truth that we’re all so accustomed to her. The entire world has seen her picture someplace, watched her movies, even dressed as her for Halloween. It’s nearly as if she belongs to all of us. How do you retain Norma Jeane’s spirit inside every scene? There are shortcuts you possibly can take when making and designing the costumes or reinterpreting the unique designs as a result of you’ll be able to merely take a photograph and replica it. We had a really small price range and a quick manufacturing, so the trick was to keep away from these shortcuts as a result of when you take them, and also you don’t dig deep into the forensic work of how difficult the picture was to create within the first place, you’re left with a kind of a cheapening of her – which we see once we stroll on Hollywood Boulevard and see an impersonator within the white gown that blows up within the subway.
VDV: How do you breathe emotional life to such iconic costumes?
JJ: It has been crucial to work not solely primarily based on the character itself however respecting the position of Ana de Armas, who performs Marilyn, and the way the design ought to match her physique. Working with Ana to assist her have her personal expertise with the designs, to attain her personal transformation and skill to personal these costumes. It’s really easy in biopics to really feel very tutorial, so you should take note of the actor to be sure that every little thing turns into a residing doc.
VDV: It’s extra about the best way she was carrying these seems, how she made them come alive.
JJ: Precisely. Like when [Ana] was strolling down the steps singing Diamonds Are a Woman’s Finest Buddy within the pink gown everyone knows. We felt one thing was unsuitable, like she was wrapped in a bathroom paper tube, it didn’t have any life to it. So we went again to the drafting board and labored on the structure to determine learn how to electrify it and give attention to the motion. We had been working from an 800-page bible that Andrew Dominik had put collectively for over ten years, and the objective was to animate these costumes and provides the material its personal life.
VDV: As an expert within the discipline, what’s your tackle the talk round Kim Kardashian carrying the long-lasting birthday gown on the Met?
JJ: It’s such an enormous duty, you recognize. There’s a nice lack of conservation in costume typically. Quite a lot of sketches of historic costumes have been thrown away over many many years. Debbie Reynolds, as an example, had an enormous costume assortment, together with the ruby slippers. She tried to make a museum to maintain it collectively, however nobody was .
I believed Kim regarded superb, however why not recreate it, like we did? For my part, as a result of that gown is a singular entity and it’s so essential to Marilyn’s historical past, it shouldn’t go away a curatorial, air-conditioned, temperature-controlled atmosphere. This is similar with all of the classic clothes. Subsequent time she will be able to name me, and I’ll make one for her [laughs].
VDV: Which seems had been essentially the most difficult to recreate?
JJ: The gown she wears in Some Like It Sizzling when she’s singing with the band was one of the troublesome and satisfying to recreate. Surprisingly, the toughest one to make was the white pleated gown in The Seven 12 months Itch. That was very technical, and there are just a few folks in america who know learn how to work these outdated methods of pleating. There’s one man in LA, whose father had additionally made a recreation of this gown for Common Studios and saved doing it for them, so we needed to relearn learn how to not do it that means. For the [original] pink gown of Gents Choose Blondes, William Travilla needed to remake the unique design last-minute to be extra modest after the leaking of some pics of Marilyn posing bare for a calendar. He couldn’t discover a cloth to again the dressing and [make it] heavier, so he went as much as the artwork division at Fox Studios and located a pool-table cloth and used the inexperienced felt to make the within of the gown. It was highly regarded.
VDV: De Armas mentioned she may really feel Marilyn’s spirit on set – did you share the sensation?
JJ: Oh sure. She was all the time with us. Dominik actually pushed the authenticity, so we shot in lots of the precise places, one in all them being Arthur Miller and Marilyn’s actual home in Bel Air. The home that she died in – the place we shot the top scene – has such a wonderful spirit to it. It felt good to be in there, which was fascinating. We all the time felt like she was our protector.
Blonde is in cinemas now and on Netflix from September 28.