The much anticipated My Week with Marilyn hits British cinemas today. Team LBD caught up with Jill Taylor, the film’s head costume designer, about recreating the iconic star’s wardrobe and working with an all-star cast including Michelle Williams, Emma Watson and Dame Judi Dench.
Styling up hit films isn’t new to British-born Jill Taylor. She’s headed up the costume design on movies including Johnny English, The Full Monte and Sliding Doors in the past. However, working on A Week with Marilyn was somewhat of a dream come true for Jill, as she has been an ardent Marilyn fan all her life. Team LBD spoke to Jill about the hugely anticipated biopic which recounts a real week in the life of Marilyn Monroe as she filmed her first big film, The Prince and the Showgirl, and follows her heart-warming relationship with the film’s assistant, Colin Clark.
What was it like to be recreating such an iconic figure?
When creating such an iconic legend you are massively open to criticism. There are millions of fans and I count myself as one of them – I have been collecting images and book on Marilyn Monroe since I was a little girl – and they could all be very critical. I’ve found myself being very critical in the past too. You know when you watch these mini-series and American portrayals of Marilyn and you feel they haven’t done your icon justice. But there was so much love and care with My Week with Marilyn, everyone was so determined to get it right and to do Marilyn and her fans justice. So it’s really getting the audience to believe that who you’ve put up there is Marilyn, and I think Michelle did a brilliant job. So it was exciting and challenging, but not too worrying.
How did you get involved in the film?
Well, like with any job, in my profession you still go to interviews! I went along for this interview and because of my passion and enthusiasm for Marilyn, I already had an extensive collection of photographs and inspiration I could take with me. I put together a look book of my ideas for how we should dress Marilyn and I’d also found an original cast and crew picture from The Prince and the Showgirl that Simon Curtis, the director, hadn’t actually seen before. I got the job!
What is a day in the life of a costume designer like?
Well I had just six weeks prep time for My Week with Marilyn. And you’re responsible for everyone on screen, from the main characters to the extras; everything they wear is down to me. For my research I visited four costume houses and lots of vintage fairs. We found as much vintage as we could but for Marilyn most of the costumes have been made by us so that they’re closer to the real thing.
Were the vintage pieces difficult to find?
There is this one bag in the scene where Marilyn Monroe arrives in the country and it is so heavily documented in news reels and photographs that it was important for me to find a close copy. That’s the difficulty with these films about the past, you are looking for something so specific, you’ve seen it and you know in your mind exactly what you’re looking for and that makes it even trickier to find. But with this bag we were so lucky; I found the perfect piece at a vintage place in Hammersmith.
How involved was Michelle in the costumes she wore for My Week with Marilyn?
For Michelle’s wardrobe I had this closet of clothes as you or I would have and then we went through and she picked the ones she thought were right. It meant that lots of the clothes didn’t make it into the film, which is a shame, but it’s about what feels right. She was very involved, and she had a lot of ideas of her own which I think is very important. She had images and lots of research and was very interested. I like to think that what she ended up wearing was a collaboration.
Emma Watson is renowned for being quite fashion-forward. What was it like working with her? Did you feel you had more freedom with her costumes?
For Emma’s character (Emma Watson plays one of Marilyn’s wardrobe assistants) I used the original photograph I’d found of the cast and crew of The Prince and the Showgirl. Her character could have been one of a few real people in that picture. There was a girl wearing a tartan dress and I just really wanted to have some tartan in there somewhere. I ultimately saw this character as a kind of Sandra Dee (an American actress from that same era), quite youthful, inspired by Jimmy Dean. All of Emma’s clothes are originals which of course she was very excited about. She was really lovely to work with. But I only had about three hours with her trying lots of things on.
Apparently Simon Curtis got quite emotional when he saw Michelle’s transformation. How did you feel when you saw Michelle Williams as Marilyn for the first time?
Oh dear, I put that one out there… he’ll kill me! Let me explain. For every film, we do what is called a ‘wardrobe test’. This is, everyone from the lighting people to make-up and hair, and myself, see at the cast in costume to check that everything looks right. So when Michelle was ready for the wardrobe test, Simon Curtis was seeing this project that he’s worked on for seven years and is so passionate about, come together for the first time. And yes he did get a bit emotional, but we all felt that way. That’s what made you want to get it right – his enthusiasm and love for what we were doing made you want to have everything just so.
What do you think it is about that era (the 50s) that has become so iconic in the fashion world?
Today fashion designers look backwards. And today, film is such a huge influence on what we wear. The costume houses I visit to find costumes for the films I work on are always filled with people from labels like Dior and Stella McCartney. TV has influenced our style with shows like Mad Men, and I think this 50s style will begin filtering down from film to catwalk to our shops more now, too.
Who dressed Marilyn – did she have a stylist or were things different back then?
I think stylists are actually quite a modern phenomenon. Hollywood stars used to get their costume designers to make them dresses for evening events rather than having their own stylist. I think Audrey Hepburn was really one of the first to get someone to dress her and that was of course with Givenchy. But even with that, that started on film.
What made Marilyn the star she was?
I don’t know why it is that one actress gets picked over another – I suppose it’s that ‘X-Factor’ that you can’t quite put your finger on but Marilyn certainly had it. With Marilyn, I personally believe aside from the fact that she was gorgeous and stylish and talented, it was her vulnerability that made her so loved. Underneath all this glamour and confidence actually she was very shy. There was this softness, this innocent quality to the ‘sex symbol’. It is definitely this softness that Michelle picked up on. She stood out but in such a soft and delicate way, like Marilyn.
Was there an element of sadness to this film about a star that came to such a tragic end?
I think there will always be a lot more attention surrounding a star that dies young. Marilyn will be forever young in our memories; she lives on as a legend. But there wasn’t really any sadness on set – it was more about representing Marilyn in the best way we could. It was so important to Jenny (make-up) and me that we got her right, to do her memory justice.
Which was your favourite outfit and why?
I don’t really have a favourite. I’m very critical of myself so it was more a case of being very pleased when I saw a dress on Michelle and it just worked. There is this one dress though; it’s in the scene where Colin Clark (assistant director on The Prince and the Showgirl played by Eddie Redmayne) visits Marilyn at her house. It’s really very beautiful, and it just reminds me of what an icon Marilyn was. Another of my most iconic figures is Audrey Hepburn. I absolutely adore her style and the way she wears her little black dress.
Any LBD moments for us to look out for?
At the end of the movie, Marilyn is singing and she is wearing the most beautiful black dress. It has this wonderful sequin-like beading. It was a brilliant find by one of my friends who is a collector of vintage dresses.
Marilyn is often remembered for her more revealing dresses – how important was it for you to include some of the lesser known, more conservative outfits?
I think Marilyn was ahead of her time in terms of style. She had a very particular style and it was actually very simple: clean lines, neutral shades and a lot of blacks. I wanted to get across exactly what she was like – she was very practical but effortlessly stylish at the same time. I have some brilliant pictures of her, and she looks just as comfortable and beautiful in her Capri pants and cardigans as in her fitted black pencil dresses.
Working with all of these fantastic and extravagant costumes all the time, does the LBD still have a place in your heart?
Absolutely, I love black dresses! It’s such a classic look and I own several that are great for every occasion.
Could you give us some tips for dressing up this Christmas party season?
I think LBDs are great all year round but Christmas is the one occasion to be a bit daring. It’s the best excuse to wear sequins and lots of glitter. I’m such a magpie, whenever we go to the costume houses I’m always stopping by all the things that sparkle. So this Christmas I recommend a little black dress but with beading, or some really nice embellishment. To get the Marilyn look stick with classic pieces. You’ve got two options really if you want to emanate Marilyn; she had this Hollywood side which was very classic, form-fitting, pencil skirts, and court shoes. You also have this relaxed chic side; she loved men’s shirts with belts around them, her Capri pants, chunky cardigans- comfortable style.