On the night of the 4th of August 1962 Marilyn Monroe began her descent into darkness. We will perhaps never know how, who or when Marilyn’s life ended. Her death is arguably the greatest conspiracy theory of the 20th century involving Mafiosi, Kennedys, Hollywood rat packers such as Kennedy pimp Peter Lawford and Marilyn’s on/off lover Frank Sinatra. When these giants are forgotten, I would suspect Marilyn Monroe – a light comedy actress and the 20th century’s most famous blonde – will live on. The fact that she was only 36 when she died is a tribute to Marilyn Monroe’s magic.
I think I’ve been in love with Marilyn since I was ten years old. There isn’t a film I haven’t seen, a book I haven’t read or magazine picture I haven’t cut-out involving the brief life of MM. Millions of words have been written about Marilyn’s life and death. Hundreds of hours of film have been dedicated to her memory. But I think there’s a simple truth to Marilyn’s life that makes her resonate with generations 50 years after her death. That sweet combination of vulnerability and sensuality is quite simply irresistible. Making light of an ostensibly tragic life is equally attractive.
I think Billy Wilder got it so right if it were he who coined the aphorism: ‘the trouble with Marilyn is that she wasn’t dumb and she wasn’t blonde’. Marilyn was as dumb as a fox. What I truly love about her is that she is as fascinating to women as to men, as interesting to intellectuals as to teenagers and as attractive to gays as to heterosexuals. US Vogue editor Diana Vreeland said she was a geisha. I think she was a warrior who battled child abuse, a history of family mental illness and exploitation both professionally and personally and yet made a glittering, glamorous life for herself. So rest in peace Marilyn. You earned it.
While resting on the divan in Bloomsbury Towers with an ostrich feather fan and an Aspirin, I happened to flick through the September issues of the international glossy magazines. It is Vanity Fair’s annual Best Dressed List. I remember the lady who established the Best Dressed List. Her name was Eleanor Lambert and she was the Queen Mother of New York fashion PR. She launched so many designers; not to mention my idol Halston. I met Mrs Lambert at Harry’s Bar in London towards the end of her life for lunch.
I was green and had never been to Harry’s Bar so didn’t realise you needed to wear a tie let alone socks. The kind maitre’d suggested I run round to Mount Street and buy my gentlemen’s requisites – that I could ill afford in my early twenties – from Hayward. This I did and met the legendary Mrs Lambert. She told me secrets about Halston that bewitched a young man. She was probably aware that I was a minnow in her world but she gave me her time and her encouragement.
When at a later date I was desperate to nail an interview with Liza Minnelli in Las Vegas, Mrs Lambert came to my rescue. She was PR for the legendary American versus French fashion gala at Versailles in the early 70s when Liza headlined the Halston presentation. I got the interview. Just to digress for a moment, I’ve just watched Andy Murray and Flora Robson – sorry Laura – go into the final of the Olympic mixed doubles. What a lovely couple they make, no?
Back to Vanity Fair. When Mrs Lambert directed the Best Dressed list, she executed it with integrity and immense style. Now it is controlled by style journalism skeletons who are entirely cynical and nominate their friends or people of power/wealth who will contribute to the greater glory of Vanity Fair. Most of the winners are in the fashion/media/financial industry or are royal or they are children of fabulous people. Nepotism isn’t even in it. The actors and actresses nominated are tied to a major fashion brand and, needless to say, it is entirely multi-cultural. It’s like a stir fry of emerging wealth from China, the Middle East and South America.
There is also a piss poor feature about the Duchess of Cambridge’s style and an execrable article called Scenes of Glamour about the greatest fashion films of all time. I don’t disagree with many of the movies listed but do object when the author has zero knowledge about men’s tailoring. For The Thomas Crowne Affair, she fails to mention Steve McQueen’s tailor Doug Hayward. For Cary’s suits in North by Northwest, she doesn’t name the Savile Row tailor Kilgour, French & Stanbury who made the only suit Mr Grant wears in the film. She also says it is grey when all sartorialists know it is a blue suit. Appalling work from one of my favourite magazines on the newsstands.
As for the other glossies, chapeau to Love magazine for a magnificent issue of maximim modelling and styling. I think Kate Grand scores because she has been loyal to her creative family. British Vogue served up a rare treat with Testino’s Deauville Rendezvous shoot styled by Lucinda Chambers featuring the lovely Stella Tennant. But the rest of the book? Lazy and commercial. I particularly enjoyed the vast feature about Smythson creative director Samantha Cameron whose sister Emily is the Deputy Editor. It’s a small world after all…
But back to 2012.