How Marlene Dietrich’s desire for a glowing dress became a reality
The legendary style icon Marlene Dietrich was known as the master of lights. She ensured that the stage light falling on her, while performing, was perfect. Though her dynamic personality could light up the entire stage, she aspired for more – a gown that could glow and be interactive. She dreamt of a spectacular glowing dress that would puzzle the audience and leave them speechless.
In her letters, dated 1958, to designer Jean Louis, she wrote, “The most important thing is effect. We have to find a way to make the dress glow.” Marlene’s vision of wearable technology was ahead of the times. Her explanations of the granularities of the dress design were well-researched and highlighted her intimacy with fashion and her wardrobe. Her understanding of couture was unsurpassed. She took a keen interest in the way her designers worked and how they approached her clothes. Moreover, her vision to create a FashionTech design in a dress was unimaginable back then.
She further wrote in the letter to Louis: “If you are worried about the technical side, let me just say that I make the contact with my foot (on wire running to a small plate on the sole). The contact plate, which is fed electricity by the main line, is on the floor of the stage. This way, I can light up and take the light off at will. This will puzzle the people, which is good. They will not know if they imagine the light or if they are there.”
Marlene had strong opinions and believed in herself. She aspired for couture design that made designers think out oftheir comfort zone. The way Marlene planned her stage performances was phenomenal. She surrounded herself with the best staff possible. Every detail - from the beginning of the show till the end - was worked out in advance. Case in point are the extremely sophisticated and detailed stage lighting plans found in the Deutsche Kinemathek archives in Berlin (the city where she was born). Her approach to the dress she could never have was similar. Despite the detailed descriptions, designers were not able to fulfil Marlene’s desire to wear her the dream dress.
While her first letter explained the vision, the second one explained the technological process to achieve it. In her correspondence, Marlene often probed how technology could make this happen: “How can we hide the cables and the light bulbs under the flower petals of the dress?”
Since the technology was not as advanced back then as it is today, a FashionTech glowing dress was not possible.
Most of Dietrich’s desires in life were fulfilled except this dress that would light up, something she desperately wanted for a major appearance in Las Vegas. Almost 70 years later, ElektroCouture, an internationally acclaimed and innovative FashionTech company made her dream come true by recreating the dress.
Creating the dress required a combination of new technology and traditional handiwork, in addition to working with tulle and embroidery. The dress leverages 3D printing and laser cutting and includes 151 LEDs and 2371 specifically developed crystals from Swarovski. The dress glows in various patterns to match Dietrich’s different songs. By fulfilling her vision of a glowing FashionTech dress, the company honoured Marlene Dietrich on her 25th death anniversary.
Recreating the dress was like reverse engineering. “Marlene told her designers exactly what she wanted and explained her vision. In modern times, we would do the same and it is the job of the fashion designer and technologist to figure out a way”, says Lisa Lang, Founder and CEO of ElektroCouture. Marlene was not afraid to experiment and was very pragmatic.
Marlene’s designers made numerous sketches, but Lang's team did not look at them at the designing stage. “We wanted to make a dress relevant for 2017, not 1958. We took a modern approach and used technology. Of course, it had the sparkle and flowers that Marlene would have wanted”, says Lang. But this time the flowers were created with modern 3D printing and laser cut technology - all hand sewn to the haute-couture dress. Craftsmanship and technology came together to help Marlene’s dream come true.
Keeping every minute detail in mind, designers and creative technologists created the dress that is now travelling the world and will be seen in exhibitions. This creation symbolizes how inspiration from the past can be used to create fashion of the future and how the avant-garde dreams of yesterday can push the technical limits of today. As Marlene would say, “All my love and kisses to everyone, Marlene.”
VDMD – Netzwerk Deutscher Mode- und Textil-Designer e.V.
in association with ElektroCouture