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Paris Celebrates Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich in 1943.
AP
Paris paid tribute Thursday to film legend Marlene Dietrich, renaming a square in a posh neighborhood in her honor as a museum prepared to open an exposition of the clothes that made her a fashion icon.

The show, "Marlene Dietrich: creation of a myth," opens Saturday at the Galliera, the Fashion Museum of Paris, and features items from the closet of one of Hollywood's most exotic actresses.

"The clothes tell us about Marlene's personality," said museum director Catherine Join-Dieterle.

The museum borrowed more than 250 pieces of the late star's wardrobe and accessories from a collection at the Filmmuseum Berlin, where Dietrich was born in 1901.

The pieces are exhibited in three dark rooms, the clothes mysteriously lit and her songs playing in the background - just as the sultry screen siren might have liked it.

The actress mostly wore pajama-type silk pants in the house, but would dress up outside - even while shopping in case she encountered a photographer, Join-Dieterle said.

"She not only was 'a la mode,' she also influenced fashion directly," she said.

While top tailors and fashion designers, such as Dior, created her dresses, Dietrich made them famous. Barbara Schroeter, who restores textiles for the Filmmuseum, said Dietrich would stand still in a dress for 10 hours at a time while tailors improved it under her direction.

"Glamour, shock, provocation, elegance" are some of the words that best describe this distinct Dietrich style, according to Werner Sudendorf, director of the collection in Berlin.

Dietrich reached the height of her career in the 1930s and 1940s with films like "Shanghai Express," "Morocco," "The Blond Venus," "The Blue Angel" and "The Flame of New Orleans."

The actress, who died in 1992 at age 90, served as inspiration for a generation of fashion designers. One of her pantsuits was later picked up by Yves-Saint Laurent and now constitute common attire for women.

In Dietrich's day, women didn't wear pants, especially not in public - so her trousers and male accessories like hats and canes were particularly shocking. One Parisian hotel in the 1930s wouldn't allow her to enter through its main door in pants, Schroeter said.

The final piece in the exhibition, a famous white, majestic swan-feather coat, gives a sense of the myth she created: a screen queen, self-confident, icy and glamorous.

The coat contrasts with a uniform she wore while singing for American troops during World War II. Dietrich renounced Nazi Germany in the 1930s and became a U.S. citizen in 1939.

Later Thursday, a square was named in Dietrich's honor in the chic 16th arrondissement of western Paris, where she spent the last 17 years of her life.

By Julia Zappei