Marilyn Monroe was one of the very first women and Hollywood stars to demonstrate the appeal of jeans, including that pair of Levi’s she wore in The Misfits (1961). So I am going to leave Jean Louis’ dresses designed for her film wardrobe out and concentrate on her casual style, because not only did she make that pair of jeans famous, but she effortlessly donned the denim on denim look, punctuated with the perfect break-up item, the white shirt. The jacket was a Storm Rider by Lee, a model launched in 1933, with blanket lining and corduroy-lined collar, which the likes of Paul Newman and Kirk Douglas used to sport. But worn by her, it became the most influential denim jacket, even for men.
I like this Marilyn, different from the glamorous star in fur, sequins, pink and silver, the image the public has mostly associated her with. A tomboyish, typically American girl, with a very natural and understated way of dressing. Simple, confident, modern, in pared-down colours, it was this remarkably cool, ahead of her time style that she would many times emulate off-screen. It shows a sense of style rather than a love of fashion.
Jeans are probably the mainstay garment of the twentieth century, part of America’s heritage, and Marilyn Monroe is responsible for some of the greatest denim moments in fashion history. James Dean and Marlon Brando made denim defiant and sexy in the 1950s – the first decade in which young people’s style was distinguished from their parents’. Soon Marilyn became the female version of the look, equally sexy and rebellious. I think her jeans looks are what play a big part in Monroe’s statute as one of America’s biggest symbols of youth culture, her pervasive image having held an influence over generations ever since.
Marilyn’s denim look in The Misfits was beautifully captured by photographer Eve Arnold, who was given exclusive access to shoot the production of the film in the Nevada Desert. Her portraits of Marilyn are among her most famous works. “At photo sessions, she was in total control,” the photographer later recalled. “She manipulated everything – me, the camera. She knew a lot about cameras and I had never met anyone who could make them respond the way she did. So she got what she wanted, because she wasn’t under all the kinds of pressure she felt during a film-shoot: remembering her lines, enduring hours of preparation. With me, she was in charge of the situations.”
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photos: Eve Arnold, on the set of The Misfits, 1960