One night in 1954 in Manhattan, a white cocktail dress made cinematic history when it collided with the breeze.
In Billy Wilder’s picture, Marilyn Monroe acted like a guileless celebrity who keeps her panties in the refrigerator and dunks potato chips inside her Champagne. A summer season of flirtation along with her downstairs neighbor leads to a climactic scene. It happened immediately after the duo catches a movie on 52nd Street, Monroe pauses over a subway grate to enjoy a cool blast of air from a train passing by and says – “Isn’t it delicious?” in her jingling voice, as her dress exposes her legs.
William Travilla, a top costume designer for 20th Century Fox, did not think much of the garment, which became his most famous creation; he called it “that silly little dress.” Travilla worked on eight of Monroe’s films, including “How to Marry a Millionaire” and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” The actress adored his clingy, figure-hugging layouts: “Billy Dear, please dress me forever. I love you,” she wrote to him. William Travilla crafted her “Seven Year Itch” dress from rayon-acetate crepe, a cloth heavy enough to swing as Monroe walked, but mild enough to catch the breeze. Cut with a halter neck and sunburst pleats, and a slim belt slides its way around the waist into a neat bow. Travilla describes it as a crisp and clean, in a filthy, dirty city.
14 Takes for the movie
In the early hours of September 15th, 1954, Marilyn Monroe stood beneath Klieg lights on Lexington Avenue, while a member of this crew crouched from the grill beneath her heels operating a wind-machine. A few feet away behind a police barricade, thousands of fans and press photographers jostled to catch a glimpse of the celebrity.
The crowd was not quite as spontaneous as it appeared. Fox had spread word of the impending event, counting on some free publicity. Wilder shot 14 takes (the scene was later re-shot in a studio lot in California), while the mostly male audience shouted “higher” whenever a burst of wind raised Monroe’s skirt.
Onlookers, along with Monroe’s then-husband, New York Yankees center fielder Joe DiMaggio, were thrilled. In his book, Wilder described the “look of death” on DiMaggio’s face as he stormed off place to stew at the nearby St. Regis Hotel. Biographers had chronicled when Monroe returned the debate that ensued in Suite 1105. It was one of several straws that allegedly ended a marriage; back in Los Angeles three weeks later, she announced their divorce.
The enduring legacy of this flirty dress
From the years as the launch of the film, the dress is becoming a shorthand to get Monroe herself.
The image was imitated in countless fashion shoots and used to sell automobiles, orange pop, and even hair removing lotion. Absolut vodka needed to picture one of those bottles onto the subway grate with its label fluttering, and the reference was not evident. Modern assumes on the apparel are worn on stage by Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, in shoots from the famous blonde, also with the likes of Madonna and Lindsay Lohan, Barbie.