Dressing an actress to play a global icon is tough. However, watching Michelle Williams channel Marilyn Monroe in "My Week With Marilyn," you're seeing not the sex-kitten public film star but the private woman. It was this public versus private persona that helped costume designer Jill Taylor overcome any trepidation about tackling such a singular figure for this film, which recounts the tumultuous days of a young assistant on the set of "The Prince and the Showgirl," which costarred Laurence Olivier.
Was this an intimidating thing to do, dressing a character who is not only universally known but also who as wardrobe driven as Marilyn Monroe?
In terms of intimidation and dressing her as the iconic character that she is, no; I was just very aware — as is everybody when they take on a biography of anyone — that you just want to get it right. A lot of time and energy goes into getting details right. And when you're a big fan of somebody — I mean I just loved her — oddly enough, I didn't really spend a lot of time thinking about how she dressed herself in her private life until this project. This was a film to find her everyday life as opposed to the iconic Marilyn, the singing-to-the-president, "Bus Stop" Marilyn. So that helped.
I was struck by how much neutral she wore; almost as a monochromatic backdrop canvas to her face, to illuminate it.
Oh, yes. Marilyn wore neutrals in her everyday life. She loved white, cream, beige, camel, red, black. It was only later on in the Pucci-Kennedy-Rat Pack years that she wore color. She was really ahead of her time, in terms of style and color, the way she put things together. She was a Calvin Klein girl before there were Calvin Klein girls. Marilyn had a true simplicity about her, as did Audrey Hepburn. She was very casual: she wore her capri pants, her lovely chunky cardis, there was just a simplicity and a luxury to her.
Chanel had that old adage that she always wore white next to her face to show off its luminosity and I think Marilyn picked up on that. You look at private stills of Marilyn in that period and she does look absolutely luminous. And I hope we got that with Michelle; I think we did.
How was it dressing Michelle, personally?
She's really into her clothes and look, quite rightly, and she did a huge amount of research as well. And I welcome that, when an actress brings her opinions, and Michelle had different looks; it was a two-way thing. To me, it's a collaborative effort. We all know what it's like when we go out of the house feeling wrong — it can ruin your day. Here the stakes are much bigger. So I always try and get them out of their trailer feeling great.
How did that beautiful blue dress that she wears off the plane come about?
That was a feat of engineering that dress. I did try to get it to look as much like the original dress as possible. I can't tell you how many blow up photographs of that bloody dress I had around my house, just to see where they cut it, where the seams were. There was a photograph of it but without color reference. It was my job to match it exactly and I was trying to match the tones.
I needed a fabric that gives a little light, not too flat, so we got a very fine Venetian wool and that silvery-blue color is gorgeous and looks just right with the white mack [raincoat]. And funny, a few weeks ago I saw a photograph of the Duchess of Windsor in an Amanda Wakeley dress and I thought, oh my, that's very similar to the Marilyn dress. I think everything goes around.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times