Marlene Dietrich’s Last Dress

Innovations in fashion tech are allowing designers to reinterpret the past. In what was a wishful flight of fancy in 1958, actress and fashion icon Marlene Dietrich described a gown whose crystal flowers shimmered with real lights that were controlled by the wearer. Back then, that dress was a dream—what’s more, it could have killed her had the circuitry she imagined actually been applied!

Until now: just in time for the 25th anniversary of her death, “The Marlene Project” has brought her vision to life. French-German television channel ARTE commissioned the Berlin-based studio ElektroCouture to create the miracle that Dietrich had dreamt up, using 3D printing and masterful LED technology.

The project came about when filmmakers at CO2 Berlin discovered letters to Hollywood designer Jean Louis in Marlene Dietrich’s archive in which she reveals some surprisingly future-forward ideas for wearable technology. They promptly set off to make a documentary about it.

“If you are worried about the technical side, let me just say that I make contact with my foot (on a 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,” wrote Dietrich to the designer.  “The lights would only be good if they take the place of the embroidery and the place of the sparkle, but always so hidden that one does not exactly know what it is.” Her aim was to amaze and delight her audience: was the miraculous glow from the crystals themselves, or from some trick of the light?

Designer Anja Dragan made Dietrich’s flowers sparkle using e-broidery® technology by Forster Rohner Textile Innovations, covering 151 Osram LED lights with 2,371 bespoke Swarovski crystals on the nude tulle creation.

The documentary, entitled Das Letzte Kleid der Marlene Dietrich (Marlene Dietrich’s Last Dress), aired on ARTE early May. It reimagines the ideas expressed in Dietrich’s letters, and details ElektroCouture’s exacting process to carry out those plans. The actual gown will begin its global tour this August.

In Dietrich’s fantasy the lights came from within, a sparkle set off by the whims of the wearer. With a little help from today’s fashion innovators, the glow can finally radiate out to the world.