Marilyn

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At the Ferragamo museum in Florence there is an exhibition honouring the death of an extraordinary woman 50 years ago. It is simply called Marilyn.

The museum is in the the Palazzo Spini Feroni which is also the headquarters of the Ferragamo shoemaking empire. It is a remarkable setting for a moving and beautiful collection. Shoes are prominent, of course. More that 30 pairs in the same style with the 11 cm heel that she always wore. One pair is completely covered in Swarovski crystals, others are in soft leather or suede in every shade. They have been looked after well but if you look carefully you can see marks of her toes on the inside. 

The dresses that the shoes were made to match are on display too. There is, arguably,  the most famous dress in the world of cinema  – the white halterneck from the subway scene in The Seven Year Itch. Then there is the shocking pink satin evening dress and gloves that she wore as she sang Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend, the split to the thigh, scarlet sequined gown from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the black dress that Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon couldn’t take their eyes off in Some Like it Hot.  Off to one side, looking out of place among the sequins and satins and furs there is a simple sun dress from the last film she completed, The Misfits. Monroe was physically and emotionally unwell when she made this film and she poured her own life experiences into her part. It’s a heartbreaking performance, and quite moving to see the dress that she wore during that time.

There are dozens more dresses and what is striking is how petite she was, and how cleverly made the dresses are to make her look so incredible and to let her breathe at the same time! 

In another room there are photographs, magazine covers, pages from her diaries and notebooks. Video clips show her singing Happy Birthday to President Kennedy, giving press conferences, entertaining US troops in Korea, and scandalously swimming in the nude. There’s her famous pose for Playboy and some of the last photographs taken of her a few days before her death.

The last room is completely white with only an unmade bed in the centre and the shape of a body under the sheet. In other circumstances it could be criticised for being overly dramatic but here it seems a fitting and respectful finale to a dramatically lived life.

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