By the time Marilyn Monroe, the woman, had become Marilyn Monroe the Hollywood bombshell, she'd been put through what would today be called corporate branding. The bleached blond hair? Certainly not her idea.
Same with the minor cosmetic surgeries that shortened her nose slightly and narrowed her nostrils. At 22, she wasn't Norma Jean Baker anymore, and she put her trust in the professionals who believed they could make her a star.
In "Marilyn in Fashion" (Running Press), a new 280-page book celebrating the actress's relationship with designers, authors Christopher Nickens and George Zeno underscore how innately perfect Monroe was in grasping the importance of not just wearing glamorous clothes, but in making that look her own.
The book isn't just about her relationship with clothes, however. We learn that she made wigs fashionable again in the early 1960s, that she hated the big skirts of the 1950s and much preferred body-hugging designs, but more important, for all her emotional insecurities, she, of all people, knew Marilyn the Star better than anyone.
Often imitated but never duplicated, even after all these years, Monroe had a way of turning even a simple Pucci print into something sexy.
Over her professional career, she was dressed by some of Hollywood's top designers, including William Travilla, who made her his muse and was, according to Mr. Nickens and Mr. Zeno, briefly her lover.
"They had a terrific relationship, he really understood her," Mr. Nickens said in a recent phone interview. "He appreciated her input, and, you know, her big thing in life was being taken seriously and being respected.
"He did that for her, he understood what she had that made her so special."
Mr. Travilla, whose credits included "The Seven Year Itch," "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "Monkey Business," created two of the most iconic dresses in film history -- both worn, of course, by Monroe.
For a "Seven Year Itch" scene in which Monroe cools off on a hot summer night, Mr. Travilla designed a draped, halter-neck dress of white pleated rayon acetate that would billow like a parachute when the actress stood over a subway grate on New York City's Lexington Avenue.
The scene was shot on Sept. 15, 1954.
"That subway dress is a deceptively simple masterpiece," Mr. Nickens said.
It also inspired countless versions of the modern-day sundress, because who wouldn't want to look like Monroe?
The dress was later worn by actress Roxanne Arlen in a comedy, "Bachelor Flat," but later acquired by Debbie Reynolds at a Fox auction in the 1970s. Last year, it went at auction for $5.6 million.
Mr. Travilla's other iconic contribution to the Monroe legend happened only because executives at Fox had a fit when they saw what he'd designed for her to sing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."
Hoping to copy the burlesque style of the Folies Bergere, he created a slinky fishnet bodysuit dripping with big clusters of rhinestones and crystals over the bust and bikini line. It didn't leave much to the imagination.
" 'Put her in something sexless,' " the execs demanded, according to the book.
The result was a hot-pink, strapless gown of satin upholstery material, with matching opera-length gloves that would later be copied by Madonna for her "Material Girl" video.
Jean Louis was also a big influence in creating the Monroe image. When she asked him to create something "historic" for her performance at President John F. Kennedy's birthday event in 1962 he designed two form-fitting dresses: one that dipped low in front and was covered in sequins.
She chose the second, which had a scoop neck and bare back, described by the designer as: "Nude, very thin material, embroidered with rhinestones so she would shine in the spotlight. She wore nothing, absolutely nothing, underneath."
According to the book's authors, Monroe paid $5,000 for the dress, which later sold at a Christie's auction for more than $1.2 million.
Although the birthday event's producer, Jean Dalrymple, had "asked her to wear something modest," what were the odds the actress would comply? She had just gotten back into great shape by losing weight, and she would be working a room with some of the most powerful people in the world.
"She was very, very shrewd that way, she knew this character," Mr. Nickens said. "She knew when to bring it out of the closet, and when to put it back."
It was similar to when, six years earlier, Monroe was told to dress demurely in preparation for meeting Queen Elizabeth. She turned up wearing an almost-strapless, burnished gold lame gown purchased during a shopping trip in London.
Although the Queen didn't seem to take offense, Monroe was ripped by the newspapers the next day. The following year, in a Life magazine interview, she noted, "If I had abided by the rules, I never would have gotten anywhere."
Maria Sciullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.