September 30, 2022

How ‘Blonde’ tackles Marilyn Monroe’s style legacy

7 min read

written by Mariana Cerini.

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Few pop culture figures live as vividly in our collective imagination as Marilyn Monroe, and her status as a beauty icon has been significant.

From the moment she became Hollywood’s quintessential “blonde bombshell,” Monroe’s impeccable features — hour glass, red lips, full lashes, dreamy eyes — came to define a kind of femininity. Which is still widespread. Ideal today. That lasting legacy received a nod at this year’s Met Gala in New York, when Kim Kardashian showed up in a $4.8 million crystal-encrusted nude silk gown to sing “Happy Birthday” to former U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1962. The theme of the gala was “Gilded Glamour”. Monroe still epitomizes that.

Marilyn Monroe poses in Idlewild while boarding an American Airlines flight to Hollywood in 1956.

Marilyn Monroe poses in Idlewild while boarding an American Airlines flight to Hollywood in 1956. Credit: Bateman/Getty Images

Now, a new Netflix biopic starring Ana de Armas is reliving the social reformation with Monroe once again — thanks in large part to de Armas’ extraordinary on-screen transformation into the 1950s star. .

Based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel of the same name, “blonde” — which debuted at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month — is a fictional account of the life of the woman born Norma Jeane Mortensen, who rose to fame as Marilyn Monroe. Rather than a traditional adaptation focused on historical accuracy, writer-director Andrew Dominic presents a controversial, often brutal portrayal of Monroe’s personal and public struggles, adopting a non-linear, highly stylized approach that traces her turbulent childhood, superstardom move towards and Tragic Descent, recreating some of the most memorable moments of her career along the way.
I "blonde," Anna D'Armas recreates a famous Monroe scene. "The seven-year itch."

In “Blonde,” Anna D’Armes recreates a famous Monroe scene from “The Seven Year Itch.” Credit: Matt Kennedy/Netflix

In a film that is at times shocking in its way of bending reality (some off-screen scenes include talking about fetuses and having a miscarriage from the point of view of Monroe’s cervix), it captures the starlet’s style. Decay — and the methods that drive it. Personal narrative — is one of the more fundamental aspects. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that De Armas’ stunning metamorphosis into her role was the result of meticulous preparation and daily hair and makeup sessions that lasted nearly three hours and went far beyond the glam concept. .

To be Marilyn

“blonde” Make-up department head Tina Roesler-Kerwin and hair department head Jaime Lee McIntosh did extensive research to ensure they could achieve the most accurate portrayal of Monroe’s edgy look.

“We reached out to every resource we could possibly find,” Kerwin said in a video interview. “We started with the script and the images we were going to recreate, and then moved on to books, movies, fan sites. And we never stopped — we kept researching until the very end of the movie.”

About 100 looks were recreated for “Blonde” — from magazine covers to Monroe’s red carpet appearances — though more than half of them were finalized. The wigs, McIntosh said, were necessary to ensure that D’Armes — a blusher in real life — could change quickly from one to the other. He was also key in making sure Monroe’s platinum hair would look perfect on camera.

“We used five wigs, which we customized to mimic Marilyn’s hairline and fit Anna just right,” McIntosh said via video call. The blonde hair — pre-stardom, Monroe had brown curls — was hand-woven by Los Angeles-based wigmaker Rob Pickens and his team using real human hair (including baby hair around the hairline). which could be styled in Monroe’s trademark pin. curl set.

Monroe sits at a banquet table during the Photoplay Gold Medal Awards Dinner in the 1950s.

Monroe sits at a banquet table during the Photoplay Gold Medal Awards Dinner in the 1950s. Credit: Murray Garrett/Getty Images

“We chose different shades of blonde to create each wig, then dyed them further to give them a deeper shade,” McIntosh added. (“Shadow Root” is a technique used to customize the color and achieve a perfect blend after lightening.) The idea was to mimic the texture of Monroe’s hair.

To ensure D’Armes completely covered her hair, Kerwin added synthetic pieces around her natural hairline, and airbrushed them to match her skin tone.

The rest of the make-up also required a lot of work, which D’Armes was “fully on board with,” Kerwin said.

The actor wore blue contact lenses to hide his natural hazel irises and lots of lashes to make up his eyes. More appears in the form of almonds.

“The eyes were probably the biggest difference (between D’Armes and Monroe),” Kerwin said. “So we worked on making the lashes a bit ‘straighten’ on the ends, as well as shading and contouring around her face, to make it look like Marilyn.” She also took D’Armes to an eyebrow specialist to have her eyebrows minified and bleached.

“The brief we got from (director Andrew Dominik) was not just to put Marilyn’s makeup on Anna, but to transform her into Marilyn,” Kerwin said.

Glamor vs minimalism

“Blonde” costume designer Jennifer Johnson received similar guidelines when she began working on D’Armes’ wardrobe. Like Kerwin and McIntosh, he first approached the project from a research perspective.

“Andrew had this incredible amount of archival, mood and image research — about 800 pages in total,” she said in a video interview. “I plastered them all over my office like they were wallpaper, and just kind of absorbed everything.”

He then began documenting Marilyn’s private style and stage persona, dissecting the construction and patterning of her more famous costumes.

“The biggest challenge was figuring out how to do entertainment that felt authentic, not costume,” he said. “I wanted to give the clothes a sensibility that would work in the 21st century.”

To that end, Johnson teamed up with Jose Bello, the head cutter of Western costumes at a century-old costume warehouse in Hollywood. Together, they recreated some of Monroe’s most famous looks, including the pink strapless gown in which she performed “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” the white plaid halter-neck dress from “The Seven Year Itch,” and the black souffle. and a nude silk jersey with pearls and sequins from “Some Like It Hot.”

Monroe signing autographs for an American serviceman in Korea as part of the USO program.

Monroe signing autographs for an American serviceman in Korea as part of the USO program. Credit: Greg Matheson/Getty Images

“Those original designs are very clever, and it felt important to honor them with the same level of dress, technique and quality,” Johnson said.

When it came to Monroe’s everyday attire — her Norma Jeane “uniform” — it was a different story. Away from the spotlight, the star’s sartorial choices were significantly pared down and centered around a few pieces she wore time and time again.

“She was very minimalist,” Johnson said. “She was interested in being taken seriously as an artist and creator, not as a pin-up. She wanted her clothes to reflect that.”

In fact, when she’s Norma Jean, De Armas wears black turtlenecks and capri pants, beatnik sweaters and simple sheath dresses. Her makeup is also minimal — a nude lip instead of a seductive red one. It’s an arresting juxtaposition, and an important narrative device that “Blonde” uses to further highlight the divide between the world’s visible symbol — the accomplished “dumb blonde” who has sex. Attraction was created — and there was a misunderstood, insecure woman underneath

Ultimately, Johnson said, De Armas’s performance is so compelling because she so perfectly captures that duality. “It doesn’t look like he’s wearing any clothes,” Johnson noted.

D’Armes’ decision not to use any prosthetics or padding on his body also helped make the illusion more believable. “(For Anna) to be able to use her body, I think it makes her compatible with Marilyn,” Johnson said. “He’s not a caricature.”

“Blonde” will be available on Netflix on September 28.

Add to Queue: Five More Marilyn Monroe Accessories

This definitive biography by Fred Lawrence Giles includes interviews from a lifetime with some of those close to Monroe (including her third husband, the playwright Arthur Miller, her “Some Like It Hot” director Billy Wilder and ” The Misfits” director John Huston). This is a must read for die-hard Monroe fans out there.

Michelle Williams stars as Monroe in this Simon Curtis film based on a true story, which — as the title suggests — zooms in on a week in the starlet’s life in 1956, when she was in England filming “The She was in the shooting of “Prince”. and Showgirl” and struck up a personal relationship with a younger man working on the set.

In an autobiography, feminist icon and activist Gloria Steinem paints a complex, layered portrait of Monroe through the untold stories of a past that truly helped change the perceptions surrounding the Hollywood star.

John Huston’s western is Monroe’s last on-screen role — and one of her more powerful performances. The actor plays divorcée Rosalyn Tabor (her then-husband Miller wrote the part), who falls in love with Clark Gable’s cowboy character. Spoiler alert: This is not a romcom.

A storytelling podcast (now on an indefinite hiatus) that — in the words of host Karina Longworth — explores the secret and forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century, “You Must Remember It.” dedicated a series of episodes to Monroe in 2017.

Top photo: Anna D’Armes as Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde.”

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