How ‘Blonde’ Addresses Marilyn Monroe’s Style Legacy

Written by the author Marianna Cerini

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Few pop-culture figures continue to loom large in our collective imaginations as much as Marilyn Monroe, and her role as a beauty icon has been instrumental in doing so.

From the moment she became Hollywood’s dominant “blonde bombshell,” Monroe’s unmistakable features — the hourglass figure, red lips, full lashes, dreamy eyes — came to define a type of femininity that is still pervasive. idealized today. That enduring legacy got a nod at this year’s Met Gala in New York, when Kim Kardashian Monroe appeared in the $4.8 million crystal-encrusted silk dress she wore to sing “Happy Birthday” to former US President John F. Kennedy in 1962. the theme of the gala was “Gilded Glamour”; Monroe is still the epitome of that.

Marilyn Monroe poses in Idlewild as she boards an American Airlines flight to Hollywood in 1956. Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images

Now, a new Netflix biopic starring Ana de Armas is rekindling society’s fixation with Monroe once again, thanks to de Armas’ dramatic on-screen transformation into 1950s stardom.

Based on the novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, “Blonde” — which premiered at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month — is a fictional account of the life of the woman born Norma Jeane Mortenson, who rose to fame as Marilyn Monroe. . Rather than a traditional adaptation focused on historical accuracy, writer-director Andrew Dominik delivers a controversial and often brutal portrait of Monroe’s personal and public struggles, taking a non-linear and highly stylized approach that follows her turbulent childhood and rise to superstardom. and the tragic fall, reliving some of the most memorable moments of his career along the way.
In "blonde," Ana de Armas recreates an iconic Monroe scene "The seven-year itch."

In “Blonde,” Ana de Armas recreates an iconic Monroe scene from “The Seven Year Itch.” Credit: Matt Kennedy/Netflix

In a film that is sometimes very surprising because of the way it bends reality (some of the biggest scenes discuss fetuses and abortions from the perspective of Monroe’s uterus), the portrayal of the star’s style, and her driving ways. personal narrative — is among the baseless parties. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that de Armas’ stunning metamorphosis into her character was the result of meticulous preparation and daily hair and makeup sessions that lasted nearly three hours and went beyond the glam concept.

becoming Marilyn

“blonde” Kerwin head of makeup Tina Roesler and head of hair Jaime Leigh McIntosh did extensive research to ensure they could get the most accurate picture of Monroe’s unmistakable look.

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

About 100 looks were recreated for “Blonde” — from magazine covers featuring Monroe to her red carpet appearances — though just over half of them made the final cut. The wigs, McIntosh said, were essential to ensure that de Armas — a brunette in real life — could change quickly. They were also instrumental in making sure Monroe’s platinum hair would pop in front of the camera.

“We used five wigs, customized them to mimic Marilyn’s hairline and fit Ana just right,” McIntosh said via video call. The blonde locks — prior to her debut, Monroe had brown curls — were hand-tied by Los Angeles hairstylist Rob Pickens and his team, using real human hair (including baby hair at the hairline) that could be molded into Monroe’s trademark style. set of curls

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

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

“We chose different shades of blonde to make each wig, then colored them further to give a shadow root,” added McIntosh. (“Shadow root” is a technique used to customize the color and achieve a perfect blend after lightening.) The idea was to replicate the same texture as Monroe’s hair.

To ensure that de Armas’ hair would be completely hidden, Kerwin added prosthetic pieces around her natural hairline and airbrushed it to match her skin tone.

The rest of the makeup also required painstaking work, which de Armas “did absolutely well,” Kerwin said.

The actress wore blue contact lenses to hide her natural irises, and lots of lashes for her eyes. more almond shapes appear.

“The eyes were probably the biggest difference (between de Armas and Monroe),” Kerwin said. “So we did a lot of layers of lashes at the ends to make them a little ‘straighter’, as well as shading and contouring the face to make it look more like Marilyn.” De Armas also took her to an eyebrow specialist to minimize and bleach her eyebrows.

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

Glamor vs minimalism

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

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

He then began documenting Marilyn’s private style and stage persona firsthand, dissecting the construction and patternmaking of her most iconic garments.

“The biggest challenge was figuring out how to make recreations that also felt real, and not costumes,” he said. “I wanted to give the clothes a sensibility that would work in the 21st century.”

To that end, Johnson worked with Jose Bello, head cutter at Western Costume, Hollywood’s turn-of-the-century costume warehouse. Together, they recreated some of Monroe’s best-known looks, including a pink strapless dress in which she performed “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” a white plunging neckline dress and black souffle in “The Seven Year Itch,” and “Some Like It Hot.” Silk elastic with beads and sequins.

Monroe signs an autograph for a US soldier in Korea as part of the USO program.

Monroe signs an autograph for a US soldier in Korea as part of the USO program. Credit: Greg Mathieson/Getty Images

“Those original designs are very clever, and I thought it was important to honor them by having the same level of tailoring, technique and quality,” Johnson said.

As for Monroe’s everyday attire — the Norma Jeane “uniform” — it was a different story, however. Away from the spotlight, the star’s outfit options were significantly reduced and centered around a few pieces she wore time and time again.

“It was very minimalistic,” Johnson said. “She was interested in being taken seriously as an artist and creator, not as a pinup. She wanted her clothes to reflect that.”

In fact, when she’s Norma Jeane, de Armas wears black turtlenecks and capri pants, beatnik sweaters, and shift dresses. Her make-up is also lighter: a bare lip instead of a seductive red. It’s a compelling juxtaposition, and a key narrative device that “Blonde” uses to further accentuate the divide between the symbol the world saw — the sex-appealing “dumb blonde” and the misunderstood, insecure woman she was. under.

Ultimately, Johnson said, De Armas’ performance is so believable because she perfectly captures that duality. “It doesn’t feel like he’s wearing a costume,” Johnson said.

The decision not to use any prosthetics or fillers on De Armas’ body also helped make the illusion more believable. “(For Ana) to be able to use her body, I think it makes her feel like she matches Marilyn,” Johnson said. “It’s not a caricature.”

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

Add to the queue: five more must-have Marilyn Monroes

READ: “Norma Jean: The Life of Marilyn Monroe” (1969)

This definitive biography by Fred Lawrence Guiles features interviews with some of the people closest to Monroe throughout her life (including her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller, “Some Like It Hot” director Billy Wilder, and “The Misfits” director John Huston). . This is essential reading for die-hard Monroe fans.

SEE: “My Week with Marilyn” (2011)

Michelle Williams plays Monroe in this Simon Curtis film based on a true story that, as the title suggests, zooms in on a week in the life of the star in 1956, while filming “The Prince” in England. and the Showgirl” and developed a personal relationship with a younger man who worked on the set.

READ: “Marilyn: Norma Jeane” (1986)

Feminist icon and activist Gloria Steinem paints a complex and layered portrait of Monroe through previously untold stories in a biography that helped change preconceived notions about the Hollywood star.

SEE: “The Misfits” (1961)

John Huston’s western marks Monroe’s final role, and is one of her strongest performances. The actress plays Roslyn Tabor, a divorcee (played by her then-husband Miller), who falls in love with Clark Gable’s cowboy character. Spoiler alert: it’s not a romcom.

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

Image above: Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde.”