Having just discussed the history and cinema style of Marlene Dietrich in A Foreign Affair (1948), it was important to elaborate even further on the film's ongoing influence in fashion. Illusion gowns--so named for the nude effect from strategically placed sequins, beads, lace--had their foundation in the 1930s, such as Walter Plunkett's sheer number for Ginger Rogers in Flying Down to Rio (1933). But it wasn't until Marlene took ownership of them in the 1940s that they really made an indelible impression on style. During World War II, she turned to legendary costume designer Irene when she needed dresses for the cabaret act she took on tour with the USO. This wardrobe included two tantalizing longsleeve illusion gowns that almost single-handedly boosted morale along the front line. Photos of Marlene looking ever the intrigante appeared all over the world, including in LIFE magazine (as you'll see below). Then, as an interesting twist, she would wear these same gowns again in friend Billy Wilder's A Foreign Affair...largely to remind the audience that (pro-American) Marlene was far different than the (Nazi) character she was playing.
This was yet another stunning style moment from Marlene, a star already revered for her groundbreaking fashion choices both on and offscreen. As an example, she was largely responsible for bringing menswear to the masses when she donned a tuxedo in 1930's Morocco. Because of the international impact her illusion gowns made in A Foreign Affair, Marlene turned to yet another great costume designer in the early 1950s for more more more--Jean Louis. Louis was himself responsible for iconic style, namely Rita Hayworth's in Gilda (1946), and Marlene commissioned him to create costumes for her new cabaret act in Las Vegas. The show and its signature style were so popular--illusion gowns with floor-length furs as well as tailored tuxedos--that she would continue to tour all over the world until the 1970s. Marilyn Monroe was such a fan of Marlene's illusion gowns that she asked Louis for her own in 1962. It, too, became iconic when she wore it to sing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden.
The evolution of these illusion gowns has continued to be beyond influential to the best in fashion today. Designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Michael Kors, Marchesa, Zuhair Murad, and many others have all paid homage to the style in their collections. Murad is one who has taken the designs from the runway to the red carpet to the stage, where he has outfitted Jennifer Lopez in illusion costumes for her current world tour. Rather appropriate considering that Marlene's first illusion gowns started on stage with her tour during World War II. Though this article hardly captures every single cinema connection, you can certainly see some of the evolution of the illusion and more of Marlene's lasting impact on style.
In an illusion gown by Irene at the Astor Hotel in New York City 1942
and on tour with the USO in World War II
In the same Irene illusion gown for 1948's A Foreign Affair,
including a video of her performing "Illusions"
Lace illusion gown from fashion designer Zuhair Murad's Spring 2013 collection (above)
and Jennifer Lopez showing it off at this year's Golden Globes
In a metallic illusion gown by Irene on tour with the USO in 1945
That same illusion gown by Irene appearing in 1948's A Foreign Affair,
and video of her performing "Black Market"
and video of her performing "Black Market"
After A Foreign Affair, Marlene turned to Jean Louis to design more illusion gowns
for her and her Las Vegas cabaret act in the early 1950s
Marchesa's gunmetal illusion gown on their Spring 2012 runway
and on Lea Michele at that year's Golden Globes
Marlene's illusion gowns have been highly influential on stage,
including Marilyn Monroe's own iconic Jean Louis in 1962 at Madison Square Garden
Rihanna made Jean Paul Gaultier's Spring 2011 illusion dress famous at the 2013 Grammys (above)
and Kylie Minogue channeled more Marlene in December 2011, complete with white fur pooled on floor
Marlene's legacy appears in stage costumes of singers like Britney Spears (at 2000 MTV Video Music Awards, above)
as well as Jennifer Lopez in Zuhair Murad again for her current world tour
Though not exactly an illusion gown, much of Madonna's look at the 1991 Oscars
owes its inspiration in one way or another to Marlene (by way of Marilyn Monroe)
No one could wow a crowd like Marlene...in front of a sold-out Stockholm, Sweden crowd in 1963
with the same style and act she started in the 1950s (she appears around 3:15 minute mark)
Thanks to Getty Images, LIFE magazine, Vanity Fair,
and Chocolate Lounge Beauty Blog for photos