Over the past week, the public have been reacting to the top piece sold at auction in the Debbie Reynolds sale held by Profiles in History last weekend, with the famous “subway dress” attributed to use by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch (1955) breaking all records and realizing $4.6 million dollars (amounting to as much as $5,658,000 with fees, depending on method of bidding and payment). Scott Fortner, who publishes articles on his Marilyn Monroe Collection blog and was in attendance at the event, this morning published an article posing some questions about the dress, based on his analysis of images from a variety of sources.
The public sale of the piece has captured the attention and imagination of the mainstream media, the public, and the hobby at large in that the subway dress and much of the other pieces made available at auction sold well beyond what many felt were high estimates (see Impressions, Questions: Profiles in History’s Debbie Reynolds Sale Event Raises the Bar on Values Realized at Auction).
In his analysis on his own blog, Scott Fortner compares images of the dress sold at auction with a replica of the dress created by original designer Billy Travilla (previously sold at auction by Profiles in History), a studio test shot of Monroe wearing the costumes, screen captures from the film, and images and video of an original Travilla subway scene dress worn by Roxanne Arlen years later in another film, Bachelor Flat (1962).
In his comparisons, Scott found some differences between the dress sold at auction and the one seen on screen in The Seven Year Itch (at least with those images that he uses as references), most notably the pleating of the dresses and the hem and length of the skirt, and includes some analysis of the belts (or lack thereof) as well.
Scott also spoke with the curator of the Travilla Estate, Andrew Hansford, and learned that four subway scene dresses were originally provided to Fox for the film.
Below is the description from the Profiles in History auction catalog:
354. Marilyn Monroe “The Girl” ivory pleated “Subway” dress by Travilla, the most recognized costume in film history, from The Seven Year Itch. (TCF, 1955) Ivory rayon-acetate halter dress with pleated skirt. Handwritten label “1-27-1-8171 M. Monroe A-734-12.” Worn by Marilyn Monroe as “The Girl” in one of the most iconic images of film history in The Seven Year Itch when she stood above the subway grate and uttered that famous line, “OOOH isn’t it delicious?”
The Seven Year Itch storyline, unlike some of Monroe’s earlier films, held no promise as a costume showcase. It was not a period piece and had no dance routines. Yet this was to become the vehicle for Travilla’s most famous dress design, in bias-cut crepe with a halter top and sunburst pleats.
“So I wondered what could I do with this most beautiful girl that Marilyn was to play to make her look clean, talcum-powdered, and adorable,” Travilla mused. “What would I give her to wear that would blow in the breeze and be fun and pretty? I knew there would be a wind blowing so that would require a skirt.” [Hollywood Costume Design by Travilla, Maureen Reilly]
The fabric Travilla chose was an ivory colored rayon-acetate crepe, heavy enough to flow beautifully as Marilyn walked but still light enough to blow up in an interesting way. A fabric very hard if not impossible to get now, the closest is georgette. Travilla never normally used man-made fabric but this posed a challenge with pleating as 100% natural fabric would not hold such stiff pleats, so for all his pleated creations a special fabric had to be made with just a small amount of man-made fiber in it to maintain the structure. Acquired by Debbie Reynolds directly from Twentieth Century-Fox during the “pre-sale” when she bought all of the Marilyn Monroe wardrobe from the studio prior to the auction in 1971. $1,000,000 – $2,000,000
As seen in the catalog, it is described as worn by Monroe in that specific scene.
As an example from Scott’s analysis in his article, below is a close up of the difference between the hem of the skirt from the Reynold’s dress and one of the famous images of the dress as seen worn by Monroe in the film:
Scott Fortner’s full article can be read at www.TheMarilynMonroeCollection.com:
Scott concludes his article with a number of open questions:
Was this truly the dress worn in the subway scene in The Seven Year Itch?
Might this actually be a prototype dress, designed by Travilla, but not used in the film?
Did Travilla perhaps alter the dress when he borrowed it from Reynolds to recreate his patterns?
Could Reynolds have purchased a (possibly altered) dress that was worn by Arlen in Bachelor Flat?