Born on this day – William Travilla Costume Designer

william-travillaWilliam Travilla, known simply Travilla was  born on March 22, 1920. Multiple Oscar and Emmy nominee and one time Academy Award  winner for the Adventures of Don Juan. Travilla is probably best known for dressing Marilyn Monroe.  He designed  the iconic  white dress in Seven Year Itch as well as  the costumes for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How To Marry A Millionaire.(For a fascinating look into the white dress’s history read the blog – Marilyn Monroe Collection– .)

white dress

He also designed costumes for Valley of The Dolls. Thorn Birds and  won his last Emmy in 1985 for the television series Knots Landing. He designed uniforms for United Airlines and Frontier Airlines that were noted for their comfort and stylish designs.

Image from Travilla Style
Image from Travilla Style

Travilla was very much an artist. Showing advanced artistic ability so much that at the tender age of 8 he was taking classes at the Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles. He got his first start in costumes by selling burlesque costume sketches  for 3 dollars a sketch.

He landed in Hollywood, after the army deemed him unfit for duty due to flat feet and soon became highly sought after by popular actresses. He dressed stars such as Sonja Henie and Ann Sheridan but it was a meeting in 1952 that would escalate Travilla even higher. At this time he met Marilyn Monroe and would go on to design costumes for her in 8 films.

pink dess
Sketch for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

He was married to Dora Drake from 1944 until her death in 1989 ( although they separated at one point but never divorced). They had known each other for 10 days before tying the knot. They had one daughter Nia Novella. Dona Drake a talented beauty herself has quite the story to tell. See her below as Rita Rio And Her All Girl Band.

Travilla died November 2, 1990 of lung cancer. In 2008 a large personal collection of Travilla’s was to tour but for reasons unknown the entire Travilla collection was set up for auction. In November 2013 most all of Travilla’s personal effects, costumes, sketches and dresses were auctioned off to the highest bidder. It’s too bad, a tour of his would have been amazing.

Here is Rita Rio (aka Dona Drake) and Her All Girl Band


More reading on Travilla check out  Travilla Style 


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