How the Hair, Makeup and Costumes Came Together to Recreate Marilyn Monroe in ‘Blonde’

It should be easy to invoke the look of Marilyn Monroe with little more than a blonde wig, black eyeliner and a choice of costume replicas, but like countless celebrities such as Madonna (“Material Girl”) As Michelle Williams (“My Week With Marilyn”) and Mira Sorvino (“Norma Jean and Marilyn”) have learned, there’s a vast gap between surface resemblance and uncanny reproduction.

In the Netflix movie “Blonde,” hair, makeup, and wardrobe combine to make one of the most compelling Monroes in quite some time. The artwork is perhaps the only uplifting piece in an otherwise dark and controversial story by writer and director Andrew Dominik.

The fictional film follows Monroe from her Norma Jeane childhood to her metamorphosis into an iconic star. The selection of Ana de Armas, a Spanish brunette of Cuban descent, to play Monroe was met with skepticism, but her transformation into the blondest of bombshells not only exemplified the effectiveness of the wardrobe and beauty teams. , but also earned a point for a more inclusive cast. The actress covered her hazel eyes with blue contact lenses but wore no other prosthetics other than pieces to fit her wigs.

The crew could have easily been overwhelmed with reference material on Monroe, one of the most photographed women of the 20th century.

“Andrew came to the project having already worked on it for maybe 12 or 14 years. So he was ready,” costume designer Jennifer Johnson said. “He really knew what he wanted. He had compiled a PDF that was maybe 800 pages. We called it the bible and it was his visual document that really inspired the look of the film.

Johnson also brought up Monroe while studying auction catalogs of her belongings and clothes, which were photographed in great detail. Filming in places where Monroe lived or worked in Los Angeles maintained the immersion.

“The make-up and hair trailer was covered in images of Marilyn,” said Tina Roesler Kerwin, head of the make-up department. “As we recreated them, we put Ana’s photo next to them. There is a TV in the trailer and the Marilyn Monroe movies were still showing.

Before having wigs made, hair department head Jaime Leigh McIntosh researched images of Monroe’s unstyled hair to identify her natural texture.

“Recreating a hairstyle is one thing, but recreating hair and nature is another,” said Leigh McIntosh.

“Once we got the wigs done and found our Norma Jeane and our Marilyn, we were able to relax a bit and not have to dig [into research] all the time, and we could focus on what we knew we were going to see,” she added.

Roesler Kerwin then gave De Armas Monroe’s face, a daily process that took nearly three hours.

“It took us a minute to find our Marilyn in Ana. I’m working on her in real time, on a real person, so there were tiny little tweaks that conveyed a message that worked or didn’t work.

“Before starting the film, I took Ana to an eyebrow specialist who minimized and bleached her eyebrows,” she said. Both actresses have sunken eyes, but Roesler Kerwin reshaped De Armas’ round eyes into Monroe’s almond shape. “Raising the lashes slightly above Ana’s eye line gives the illusion of that,” she said.

The eye makeup was perhaps the most difficult because, like Monroe, De Armas cries. And cry and cry. A trial and error process, lots of waterproof makeup and a Charlotte Tilbury magic foundation kept the color from fading.

More challenging, some scenes were shot in color and black and white, but the crew didn’t know which would be chosen during production, which they variously described as “trial by fire”, “racing racing”, “hyper-warp speed” and “to date, the most insane filming program I’ve ever worked on.

Wig changes have been reduced to a less than 10 minute process. For the nearly 45-day shoot in 2019, the crew went through 100 costume changes and several crowd scenes that required a total of nearly 2,000 background actors dressed in period costumes. To speed up production, the crew sometimes dressed in period attire to allow the cameras to roll during large scenes where they managed the extras.

The reliable constants – and the biggest challenges – were Monroe’s iconic images.

“It was a heavy burden to recreate the best designs,” said costume designer Johnson, who had to work against the forces of history, including the loss of period techniques and craftsmen. Recreating the famous white halter dress from “The Seven Year Itch” required a now-rare pleating technique and reverse engineering of an intricate pattern.

“Everyone had to go back to square one and forget what they knew to do it the way that [designer] William Travilla and his team had done it,” she said.

The same difficulty conceptually applied to most of the film’s wardrobe.

“I think it was difficult because you sort of sort out all the things that were done wrong, right? You see these recreations and those [on impersonators on] Hollywood Boulevard or Universal Studios. You see them and you forget what the original looks like and it becomes the design you remember. And so it was really important to sort out that feeling that we all have.

Johnson also had to reframe his own approach.

“I didn’t dress Marilyn Monroe. I dressed Ana de Armas. I always kept that in mind. is very literal, it can feel very stiff and not alive,” Johnson said.

Capturing the mystique of a star who died 60 years ago may seem insane, but in many ways Monroe is still alive and well in our popular culture, with collectors willing to pay $167,000 for an iconic sweater and filmmakers still aiming. to resuscitate her.

These high expectations, along with the dizzying speed of filming and the sheer number of costumes, props and sets, tested the skills and resilience of the team, Johnson said. “To see it all fall into place, we just cried.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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