“Marlene Dietrich: Dressed for the Image”

A new exhibition takes a closer look at the carefully cultivated image of the immortal movie star, fashion trendsetter and gay icon.


Acrtess in white suit and beret on deck chair

Marlene Dietrich on the SS Europa, 1933, Cherbourg, France. (Photo by Paul Cwojdzinski, Deutsche Kinemathek – Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin)

“Marlene Dietrich: Dressed for the Image,” the first major exhibition in the United States to focus on the iconic movie star, opened June 16 at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition showcases the life and influence of the actress in more than 45 objects, including correspondence, film clips and photographs. Among the images are many of Dietrich at various points in her life taken by notable photographers including Irving Penn.

“Dietrich is a study of contrasts in many ways,” said Kate C. Lemay, exhibition curator and National Portrait Gallery historian. “She was known for her discipline and dedication to her craft while unapologetically breaking social barriers and embracing female independence.”

Dietrich brought androgyny to the silver screen through her roles in movies such as Morocco (1930), Shanghai Express (1932) and Seven Sinners (1940). The biggest Hollywood star at a time when “talkies” were still new, Dietrich challenged strictly limited notions of femininity through her lifestyle and fashion. She once stated, “I dress for the image. Not for myself, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men.” Relying on her good looks, striking voice and witty intelligence, Dietrich achieved international fame during her long career.

Dietrich received many honors including the Medal of Freedom for her service entertaining American troops for 18 months during World War II, often near the front lines. The German-born star, who became an American citizen in 1939, remains a symbol of anti-Nazism, a fashion icon and an influential figure of the LGBTQ community.


Posted: 27 June 2017
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