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Marilyn's Mexicano: The Two Stories Behind the Iconic Actress and Her Mexican Coat

Marilyn's Mexicano

by  Mónica Belén Hernández Bennettz 

Friday, July 13, 1962, Santa Monica California - Several hours have passed. The beach, the shy sun, she was sitting on the wet sand, her hair perfectly disheveled and damp, her sublime legs covered with an orange towel, her face a little even naughty, her fleshy pumped lips, hands in prayer, surely, she was tired.  He, stunned and happy, was playing with his Nikkon camera photographing her, yes, she, the unique, incomparable, vulnerable and powerful Marilyn Monroe. "Come on George, take it now, the last one now" ... and so it was, the last.

Her eyes did not leave the camera.  She played with the sand, made figures with her feet and jumped happily like a gazelle, laughed, touched her lips coquettishly. The only outfit that Marilyn used for that session was a beautiful Netlakentilistli, which means coat in Nahuatl, made with sheep tómiltl (wool)in Santiago Tianguistengo or Chiconcuác, both municipalities in the State of Mexico.

There are two versions of how she obtained it, one of them is that it was purchased for 130 pesos (6.5 dls) by Marilyn herself at a clothing stall during her visit to the pyramids of Teotihuacán on one of her visits to Mexico in February 1962.

Another version, told by the textile artisan Juan Martínez Nava, is that the garment was made by his family, specifically by his sister Rosario Martínez for local sale in Guadalupe Yancuictlalpan, better known as Gualupita, and that she was a young American who was studying exchange at the UNAM* and in 1960 bought several clothes and took them to the United States. She was the one who gave the garment to Marilyn. Juan says that 5 years later Kattie herself sent them a framed photo of the Diva with the Netlakentilistli.

Juan Martinez Nava and the Netlakentilistli

Sheep wool weaving is a tradition in the State of Mexico, since pre-Hispanic times (1450AD) in Chiconcuác.  Beautiful cotton textiles (ichcat) were made which served as barter (exchange for products)throughout the region.  Fray Pedro de Gante who introduced the use of European techniques of looms and needles during the colonial period. (1521-1821 AD). Currently, Chiconcuac (which owes its name to Chicomecóatl Goddess of harvest, subsistence, and food) has one of the largest tianguis (markets) for woolen clothing in Mexico and preserves the tradition of the artisan production of high-quality clothing.

Marilyn's coat took between 10 and 30 days to make and a “wool tanning” job takes more than 20 hours. Without a doubt, it is a handicraft work heritage of Mexico and the world. Marilyn's Netlakentilisti is a beauty. At her death, it was auctioned for $ 160,000, a few weeks after the iconic photoshoot. She never said how she got "the Mexican" with whom she made her last photo session with her old friend George Barris; she died three weeks later, on Saturday August 4, 1962, becoming a legend.

Marilyn visited Mexico three times, but that is another story that I will gladly tell you later, so stay tuned.

*NATIONALAUTONOMOUS UNIVERSITY OF MEXICO