For a man who created some of the most iconic dresses of the 20th century, William Travilla is surprisingly little known. It was he who dressed Marilyn Monroe for the screen, he who dreamed up the knicker-revealing white dress from The Seven Year Itch , the pink strapless gown from the number Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and the gold sun-ray pleated dress from the same film.
The second dress made famous in the film is actually seen only for a few seconds. Created out of a single circle of fabric, this gold lamé garment in sun-ray pleats (a Travilla trademark – ‘When I die, don’t have me cremated, have me pleated,’ he once said) has two thin, flexible iron bars in a V-shape starting at the waist and travelling up the bust, moulding the dress to the body. Monroe was sewn into it for her performance. When she later asked to wear it to the 1953 Photoplay Awards, Travilla refused. ‘It was fine for the movie, but for real life it was way too sexy and flashy. Also… it didn’t even have a zipper,’ he said. Monroe, a girl who didn’t hear the word no, went over his head to Darryl Zanuck, the head of Fox, and the dress was released. Again she was sewn into it, but promised Travilla she would wear her hair simply and walk like a lady. Whether she did or not, Joan Crawford was quoted as saying Monroe looked ‘vulgar’ . But she was front-page news the next day – and ever after.