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By Edel MacBride
When the movie director John Hueston made Ireland his home, even becoming a citizen, his stylish wife Ricki became a fan of the authentic knitwear and tweeds at Cleo, Dublin. Soon more of Hollywood followed.
It was through this connection that costume designer and three times Oscar Winner Dorothy Jeakins (Samson and Delilah 1951, Joan Of Arc 1949, The Night of the Iguana1965) became a Cleo customer. Dorothy was familiar to the shops team as a ’very understanding and sympathetic person’ in the words of Kitty Joyce, a lady I was honoured to know.
Dorothy Jeakins (1914-1995) was nominated for Twelve Academy Awards in her career and even worked with John Hueston in the 1987 film ‘The Dead’ which was set in Ireland and started Hueston’s daughter Anjelica together with a host of famous Irish names like Colm Meaney, Donal McCann and ‘Irelands Golden Tenor’ Frank Patterson.
According to Kitty Joyce in the book ‘CLEO: Irish clothes in the wider world’ written by Hilary O’Kelly, ‘Time was not a concept one was used to being thanked for….’ Referring to how polite the 'new' tourists were.
The shop benefitted greatly from the opening of Shannon airport in 1946 and an influx of North American visitors. Many stayed near the shops Molesworth Street Dublin location in the 1950’s. (Cleo is now on Kildare street).
TIME is what it takes to make a real Aran or hand knit Irish sweater, time and skill. While the more masterful the knitter the less time and better resulting fit and finish. Kit and Kitty of Cleo became Hollywood’s knitting grail from movie sets to ski slopes.
Dorothy and Marilyn
Dorothy had dressed Marilyn Monroe in the 20th Century Fox box office hit ‘Niagara’ in 1953. This film noir thriller gave Monroe top billing elevating her to star status.
A few years later it was against this background that Dorothy Jeakins contacted Cleo in Dublin, close to Christmas 1959. Her order was for four identical Aran sweaters and Cleo posted them in January 1960 to the 20th Century Fox Studios in Hollywood where filming had begun on the movie ‘Let’s make Love’.
Originally called ‘the Billionaire’ the production was fraught with leading actor controversy. Gregory Peck bowed out early when Monroe’s role was expanded by then husband Arthur Miller making script adjustments!
In Marilyn’s opening dance scene playing off -Broadway actress Amanda Dell to Cole Porters ‘My heart belongs to Daddy’ The Aran Sweater makes an immediate entrance as she slides down a pole purring ‘BOYS’ and an energetic dance routine follows.
Often referred to in media as ‘blue’ the sweaters would likely have been traditional white bainin wool in 1959. The studio lighting or post production could easily have added the lilac blue tinge.
Given the celebrated skills of Jeakins and her team they may have washed the sweaters in an indigo dye bath (i.e. steeped them with blue jeans!) to get a blue-wash effect, the wool being porous and absorbing the indigo easily.
While researching Aran an image of Marilyn Monroe in the movie ‘Let’s Make Love’ popped up and I noticed the sweater she was wearing unfamiliar having seen images from this movie before over the years.
Why two different sweaters?
According to Kitty Joyce’s account in the book by Hilary O'Kelly, four identical sweaters were ordered from Cleo for ASAP delivery. The wool may have needed prepared or spun and Christmas fell soon after the order was placed. As handknits were made at home it's worth remembering that many rural Irish homes were still without electricity.
It’s very likely that a compromise was made on the design of all four. With knitters working from their own heads rather than written patterns it’s clear two very different sweaters are worn by Marilyn in the song and dance sequence.
The generalisation of ‘all Aran looking more or less the same’ may have been relied on by the costume department.
All Aran is not more or less the same!
Let’s look at Marilyn’s sweater or gansaí as it would have been called in Ireland, and the two different versions she wore in the sequence. Where is the blackberry? Which image is the correct one?
Let’s call them the Honeycomb, V1 (the example worn first in the dance sequence, back and white image above ) and the Blackberry, V2 (the example worn second here in blue).
Blackberry is a highly textured stitch with a bobbled surface and very easily recognised.
I was unappeased until I watched the movie. In the same dance sequence are two totally different sweaters!
What wardrobe dilemmas and back stage drama this must have caused.
I would have loved to have been in the middle of this Hollywood situation to be resolved.
Here’s my hot take!
The four sweaters ordered never arrived as identical copies.
All were intended for Monroe’s character Amanda Dell and ordering four was insurance against wear and tear, sizing changes, plus busy dance sequence sweat! It was likely all four would not be needed but better to have them.
This was an energetic opening scene and sadly Marilyn’s last musical.
Knit in the traditional wool of the time, these sweaters were heavy and super warm. Originally developed for keeping one’s family safe from the elements of the North Atlantic through the Irish seasons, with all four seasons usually happening in one day.
Now here is Hollywood’s most bankable artist in her penultimate movie role dancing and singing with a full dance troupe in nothing but an Aran knit, leotard, tights, and a smile.
There’s an image of two dressmakers (wish I knew their names) altering the boat neckline of sweater V1, as Monroe smiles or laughs and looks very relaxed. I love this image of Marilyn, quietly standing as she’s being expertly stitched into the jumper. There are pictures online of the sweater with the boat neckline falling wide open or the later stitched into place version.
While in the opening scene Marilyn wears V1, sweater V2 appears suddenly during the chorus of the Cole Porter song ‘My Heart belongs to Daddy’, originally written for the 1938 musical ‘Leave it to me’ and recorded by Ella Fitzgerald in 1939.
The seamless dance sequence for Marilyn was choreographed by Jack Cole.
The difference in the two sweaters was either overlooked by the Hollywood editing team or they hoped would be overlooked by the viewers. Afterall who’s counting stitches while watching Marilyn Monroe perform?
I can imaging Dorothy Jeakins watching the finished movie and thinking ‘Oh Dear’ while Monroe was not over joyed with her role as Amanda in this movie either.
This was a great moment for Aran!
Dorothy Jeakins introduced true Irish Aran onto the screen in full glamour. Her creative genius recognised the style fit for Monroe’s character Amanda Dell in ‘Let’s Make Love’. In one scene Amanda is knitting to the side of the stage and it’s believable that a dancer would knit her own warm rehearsal sweaters even today.
An alternative explanation could be that the second sweater was knit in the USA during filming.
It’s speculated that the producer of ‘Let’s Make Love’ Gerry Wald complained that the sweater billowed making Monroe look pregnant. Stitching the knit to her leotard helped keep it in place. Maybe the second style, V2, with the longer body was whisked up by some of Dorothy’s team. This distinctive pattern is an Aran sequence that was available in 1959. Actress Jean Seberg is photographed wearing the same design in 1959, with a large neck cowl added. Did the actresses cross paths? share sweaters?
#Coolestplaceontheplanet (IG) wearing Edel's Aran Ink Blue #JeanSeberg style on a ramble near #Muckish Mountain Donegal in January 2021 the sweater is available in white, grey, sky, Athenry green too or in lighter merino wools
Regardless, overlooking the sweater drama Jeakins ignited a fascination and connection between Aran and the big screen that lasts now sixty plus years later.
The ripples were immediate!
Marty Ehrlichman manager of the Clancy brothers and Tommy Makem ordained that they wear handknit sweaters on the Ed Sullivan show in 1961, the year after ‘Let’s Make Love’. Having been researching a visual identity for the group for a while they arrived at the Blue Angel nightclub in Manhattan wearing the 'geansaís' sent from home. Mrs Clancy in Tipperary knit them in preparation for the cold Winter.
“That’s it” Ehrlichman exclaimed on first sight of their three dimensional chunky knits and the fate of the Aran sweater was sealed in folklore.
The famous Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show was shortly after on March 17th 1961.
Their album ‘The boys won’t leave the girls alone’, Columbia records, followed soon after in 1962. The cover image shows four girls in Aran sweaters, silk head scarves and bare legs. This styling strongly reminiscent of Monroe’s character in ‘Let’s Make Love’.
The 2020 Folklore album by Taylor Swift shows the star styled in an ecru Aran sweater and bare legs. All things connected?
(I was first told the story of how the Clancy’s and Makem arrived at their confident ‘Aran identity’ in 2014 by Tommy Makem’s nephew and prodigy Tom Sweeney from Tyrone. He told me about the album cover as well)
Marty Ehrlichman (b 1929) notably discovered and managed Barbra Streisand for over fifty years).
And so Aran and the movie star became a rite of passage.
Recent examples of Aran and screen making waves being Chris Evans in ‘Knives Out’ 2019, and Adam Driver in the upcoming movie ‘House of Gucci’ from the book of the same name by Sara Gay Forden.
There’s a notable difference. These recent Aran sweaters are machine made imitations developed from the original indigenous designs. Those ordered via a phone call at three am from Hollywood to Dublin in 1959, were knit by Irish hands burning midnight oil and drawing from locally developed patterns and skills.
Without a doubt Marilyn Monroe, Dorothy Jeakins, The Huestons, Hollywood, Cleo, Mrs Clancy and Marty can be thanked by Ireland and legions of happy knitting hands since the 1960's.
While machines and global sourcing in the name of commerce and ‘making -more’ may have threatened the ‘Aran’ as a true living craft and while government policy was not in favour of cottage industry in the last decades of the twentieth century, thank you to Twentieth Century Fox for this great piece of Aran knitting history.
Aran in music and culture
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem’s Ed Sullivan Show appearance was March 17th 1961
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem’s album ‘The boys won’t leave the girls alone’ Columbia records, 1962
Taylor Swift, Folklore album promotional image 2020
Ariana Grande recorded "My Heart Belongs to Daddy'
Dorothy Jeakins, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Jeakins
Early Aran were sweaters worn by, John Lennon, Elvis, Steve McQueen, Princess Grace of Monaco and many other music and film icons.
Check my Pinterest board #Aranville on this link
‘Cleo, Irish clothes in a wider world’ by Hilary O'Kelly, published by Associated Editions 2014.
Aran in recent cinema
Knives Out 2019:
House of Gucci, Opening November 2021:
The Mandalorian, Season 2, Mon Calamari dark grey Aran sweater
The Holiday (2006) with Cameron Diaz, Jude Law
Another image of V2: https://screengoblin.com/2016/02/23/lets-make-love/
For the knitters:
Marilyn Sweater V1, the stitches used
Single honeycomb or waffle
Vee stitch or half diamonds on a stockinette base
Marilyn Sweater V2, the stitches used
If you would like to order a Marilyn sweater V1 or V2 knit in your size, or both, please write to Edel via the website or at email@example.com
About Edel and her interest in the connection between knitting and social history in Ireland
Edel MacBride returned to Aran knitting in its traditional form to preserve the Craft in Ireland. Having designed extensively and produced hand knits for a home market and international clientele she saw the skills base under-encouraged and disappear.
Edel studied Fashion and Design at Limerick School of Art.
‘While I used Aran reference always, having grown up in this knitting tradition I saw it as a design resource only to be altered or exaggerated in some way. While keeping it relevant it’s also of massive importance to preserve the traditional ways, or where will future makers, designers and producers resource from?’
Aran requires a unique skill set.
The Aran knitter still remains an unnamed artist, an undercover society, predominantly but not exclusively women, often marginalised.
Many from past generations are gone and their expertise with them.
While some may have had their work appreciated, never across public platforms or to the extent it should have been.
I have always found the Aran knitter knows exactly who she is. It is and has been my great privilege to have worked alongside and learned from so many in Donegal, Derry and beyond since my childhood.
Edel MacBride lives in Ballybofey, Donegal East near where she grew up in the rural and farming border community of Convoy. Until 1987 the local mill produced fine woollen fabrics and blankets for over a hundred years and employed a great many of her family and friends.
Her parents were both crazy about the movies (mum Eilish still is) and her father was renown as the family and community Super 8 movie maker. Every local event was filmed and folks gathered to see the results. He rarely watched a Western without commenting on editing over-sights particularly those involving harness or wardrobe.
She is active in the creative arts and crafts sector in both the North and South of Ireland, especially in Donegal and Derry. A mother of four, grandmother of three, married to Peter Gillespie.
She loves Wool, Donegal tweed, Irish Linen, Art, Vintage Clothing, Real Cowboy Boots, Books, Horses, History, Sheep, Coffee, Cake, Poetry, Music, Roses, Trees, of course Knitting and Crochet too, often with Blackberry Stitch, People, Donegal and Derry (we are all the one people), Milwaukee, NY, Synge and ED, Islands, Dancing, the Full Moon.
A passion for travel and welcoming like-minded folks to her beautiful region is on hold...for now.
You will find Edel MacBride collections, yarns and more for sale on www.edelmacbride.com
Buy the real thing and it will serve you well and long