We talk so much about the nude dress that Marilyn Monroe wore at John F. Kennedy‘s 40th birthday event, just a few months after his death. Signed by Jean Louis, with whom she was working on the film Something’s Gotta Give, the model is now considered her most relevant, due to the historical moment. However, directly competing with him is the other most famous image of the actress: the flowing white dress she wore in The Seven Year Itch, this one signed by her biggest partner in fashion, Norman Norell. Unforgettable.
As well as Jean Louis’ dress, another Norman piece that Marilyn wore in 1962 gained prominence because Kim Kardashian also appeared with it at the MET ball in 2022. The beautiful green logo that the actress was seen to receive her award at the Golden Globes ( alongside José Bolaños). A piece that was the signature of Norell, considered one of the greatest American designers, having been a pioneer in having his own brand and naming a perfume, for example. And work with stars.
Norman David Levinson was born in Indiana on April 20, 1900. The son of a tailor, he was influenced by his design aesthetic that favored a more minimalist and sophisticated silhouette, with elements of menswear, but credited his mother for her interest in fashion. At age 19 he moved to New York to study at Parson’s School of Design and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. His connection with cinema was almost instantaneous, and at the age of 22, after school, he went to the studios of Paramount Pictures, in New York, where he ended up designing looks for silent film legends such as Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino. At the same time, he also designed costumes for Broadway. Joan Crawford also used pieces from him.
His big opportunity to grow as a designer came with the Second World War. By this time, her clothes were of a quality that matched Paris haute couture, and in a time when access to French fashion was restricted in America, Norell’s creations quickly gained relevance. To overcome fabric rationing, for example, Norell designed slimmer, low-waisted chemise dresses reminiscent of her favorite era, the 1920s. Thus was born her mantra that permeated her designs: less is more. He created simple, V-necklines that had a slimming effect and more body-conscious designs. Another signature of his was also born of opportunity. For the evening dresses, he wore paillettes, which were not rationed and the shimmering effect, later known as the shimmering mermaid, was a hit. In the late 1960s, during the height of their popularity, “mermaid” models sold for $3,000 to $4,000 and were considered the most expensive dresses in the country.
Being minimalist did not prevent daring. From changing the swimsuit neckline to introducing leopard prints, years before they were a fashion classic, Norman has always been at the forefront. It was also during this period that he adopted his artistic surname, Norell, which used part of his first name, the L for the surname and the second L for sound and aesthetics (of course).
In 1960, he bought the Traina company and renamed it “Norman Norell”, being the first designer to receive a Coty Award and the first to be inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame. Even working with the biggest stars of the day, including Marilyn, her integrity and discipline were legendary. He taught at Parson’s School of Design and founded the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
For him, quality was his North. No manufacturing changes could be made after he approved a design, one of the reasons his creations are popular vintage pieces to this day, both because of their incredible quality and classic design.
His relationship with Marilyn Monroe extrapolated the screens to friendship and personal partnerships. It was in her beautiful black mermaid dress that he posed for Richard Avedon. An emerald green version was the one he wore to the Golden Globes in 1962. The Arthur Miller wedding dress was also commissioned from Norman, who won his second COTY for the design.
Other stars such as Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland, Doris Day and Jackie Kennedy were also clients of the designer.
In 1962, Normal was diagnosed with throat cancer, a consequence of his smoking habit. He had surgery that affected his vocal cords, but he still lived for another 10 years. On October 15, 1972 he suffered a heart attack and 10 days later he died in New York.
His pieces are respected and used to this day, such as Michele Obama who wore one of his models at the White House Christmas party in 2010. Norman Norell believed that his greatest contribution to fashion was the inclusion of simple, low-cut dresses. But with Marilyn, the sensuality of his pieces was evident and eternal as well.
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