If prosecco is drunk in sufficient quantities, it is really rather remarkable how fluent I am in Italiano. I’m interacting like a native this season’s Pitti Uomo in Florence even though I suspect I sound like a gibbering ape to the poor natives. I would give you the fashion scores on the doors at Pitti this season but have much more thrilling news courtesy of the Ferragamo Museum. When Better Half and I arrived in Florence on Wednesday I clocked a poster on the wall of the Palazzo Ferragamo advertising a Marilyn Monroe exhibition. I made a note to go see but was somewhat distracted by our checking into the wrong hotel.
I was in the shower when Better Half took the telephone call from reception to tell us that there is more than one Residenza hotel in Firenze. Anyway, long story short I popped into the Ferragamo palazzo at 5pm yesterday en route to a prosecco break on the terrazzo of the Tornabuoni Beacci. Descending the stairs into the vaults beneath the Palazzo Ferragamo, I was initially unimpressed.
There was no sign of Marilyn except for a screen showing the dancing scene from her last completed film The Misfits. The room was dressed with light box vitrines displaying famous Ferragamo shoes such as Judy Garland’s rather hideous multicoloured suede platforms, the Maharani of C0och Behar’s jewelled slippers and Carmen Miranda’s platforms designed hollow so the lady could store her stash of cocaine. Ay Ay Ay Ay Ay I Like You very Much!
Anyway, I then spied the second room hung with very important and very rare photographs of MM and set with video screens displaying footage of MM entertaining the troops in Korea (a highlight of her life), her wedding to Arthur Miller, the Savoy press conference with Laurence Olivier for The Prince & The Showgirl in 1956 and precious footage from Marilyn’s lost last film Something’s Got To Give when she was arguably at her most luminously beautiful. The only footage shot was the infamous nude swimming pool scene when MM wiped Elizabeth Taylor off the fan magazine covers and the scene where she acts with a naughty, frisky spaniel and two children and laughs like a little girl as each take is blown…not by her I might add.
Comes the next room and here are some of Marilyn’s most fabulous photographs shot by Beaton, Avedon and Burt Stern juxtaposed with artworks and sculptures that explain the iconography and mythology of Marilyn Monroe and give more than a clue as to why she endures as the 20th century’s most famous, fabulous blonde. The next room took the breath from my body. Here are glass vitrines set with many pieces from Marilyn’s personal wardrobe and her entire collection of Ferragamo shoes. I remember the Christie’s auction of Marilyn’s estate in 1999 and never ever thought I’d see those pieces together again.
Not only did the exhibition have Marilyn’s famous ruby Swarovski crystal Ferragamo heels, they had the dress she wore them with. Each room was also set with her personal hand-annoted scripts, scraps of poetry and letters. I was most amused and amazed to see the nude rhinestone Jean Louis Happy Birthday Mr President dress posed opposite an Andy Warhol screen print of her nemesis Mrs Kennedy. What I thought to be the final room broke my heart. It was a white room displaying a single image of Burt Stern’s Last Sitting with MM weeks before her death and a bed with a human body silhouette outlined beneath a white sheet.
Like Pitti Uomo, Florence always saves the best until last. I love Fridays at Pitti. All the fashion fame monsters have migrated to Milan and all the Pitti family relax and allow themselves a bit of a pat on the back. The final room in the Marilyn exhibition was quite simply magical. It displayed every famous film costume Marilyn ever wore from the great movies: Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, The Prince & The Showgirl, Some Like It Hot and Something’s Got To Give. The stateroom was set with a large Cinemascope screen showing an edit of Marilyn’s most marvellous moments on celluloid. I stood there for more than an hour enchanted by Marilyn’s talent, humour and beauty.
After the show I met the curator Stefania Ricci and gave her my compliments and respect. She warmed my heart by saying ‘and of course Marilyn could act’. Hear hear. As Dame Sybil said to Olivier, she’s the only one who knows what she’s doing on camera. So Rowley, if there’s one thing you do this summer it is book an Easy Jet ticket to Florence and go to see Marilyn. Not only is it the best exhibition ever staged about Marilyn, it is one of the most intelligently curated exhibits about a single subject I have ever seen.