In many cases, costumes and styles stand as material memories of friendships and partnerships. In others, garments take centre stage and become unforgettable symbols in their own right, also helping to turn the idols wearing them into icons.
This is surely the case of the white dress that Marylin Monroe wore in one scene of the 1955 film The Seven Year Itch, directed by Billy Wilder. The dress was designed by costume designer William Travilla: a light-coloured ivory cocktail dress in the 1950s style, with halter-neck with a plunging neckline, fitted waist and flowing skirt. The dress is made of softly pleated cellulose acetate - a sort of rayon - that moves following the wearer’s body. Indeed, movement is what made the dress so famous: the image of Monroe above a windy subway grating has been described as one of the most iconic images of the 20th century.
Another blonde icon, Brigitte Bardot, even managed to give her name to a specific motif: the ‘Quadretto Bardot’ was renamed after the actress wore a checked dress for her wedding. It became all the rage amongst young women wishing to imitate their idol.
Since the 1950s, musicians and singers have been real popular phenomena, moving thousands of people and inevitably influencing markets and material culture.
Elvis Presley’s over-the-top style - made of flashy country suits bedazzled with rhinestones and sequins, and completed by sunglasses and rockabilly hairstyles - was and still is copied everywhere, both by impersonators and admirers, and reproduced all over the world. Elvis’ visual impact continues to date, also supported by new productions reflecting on the difficult life of the artist - documentaries and movies revamping the interest in his life and, of course, his style choices.
In the 1960s, four boys from Liverpool revolutionised music forever: the Beatles. They were literally everywhere: on TV, movie screens, magazine covers, lunch boxes, dolls, dishes and more. In late 1963, the British press coined the term 'Beatlemania' to describe the phenomenal and increasingly hysterical interest in the Beatles.
The Beatles' emergence coincided with a new consideration for the concept of male beauty, made of ‘moptop’ haircuts and smartly cut suits - first designed by Pierre Cardin and then made in Carnaby Street, the heart of Swinging London. Interestingly, along with all the Beatles-themed paraphernalia, ‘Beatles wigs’ were popular and widely available in European stores.
Speaking about their influence on fashion, writer Sean O'Hagan wrote:
Everything about them – the clothes they wore, the way they spoke, the songs they created with an effortlessness that seemed almost alchemical – suggested new ways of being. More than any of their contemporaries, they challenged the tired conventions that defined class-bound, insular, early-60s Britain.
Beatlemania paved the way to new icons influencing audiences with their styles: from Freddie Mercury to Michael Jackson, from Britney Spears to, more recently, Dua Lipa.
Merchandise connected to performers is often a prized possession that, once entered in museum collections, represents people's changing interests - or better, obsessions. Their fans want to feel part of something bigger and, therefore, create and foster their own heroes.