Skin and Beads
Fifty-four years ago Marilyn Monroe stood in Madison Square Garden in New York City preparing to sing in front of fifteen-thousand people. In the sea of the crowd, there were photographers, business men and women, and paparazzi, but among them was the President of the United States at the time, John F. Kennedy. The event was held ten days before Kennedy’s forty-fifth birthday, but fifty-four years later everyone is still mesmerized by one thing from that night-- Marilyn’s infamous dress.
After World War II a new trend in films was coming about-- nudity and censorship. Some bombshells of the time, including Deborah Kurr, Rida Hayworth, and Marilyn Monroe, paved the way for hierarchical diffusion of this new popular culture trend to spread. This cultural boom was an event that everyone knew was going to come, but many, many people were not ready for it to happen. Despite all of this, designers continued to create what was then considered scandalous clothing for these bombshells to wear and the public to see. One of these designers was Jean Louis, a designer born in 1907 in France, who moved to Hollywood to work in the film industry. Let me tell you-- he was successful. Louis’s clothes were considered risque and outrageous at the time he made them, but they are now considered charming. He worked for more than forty years in Hollywood with some of the biggest celebrities of the time including Deborah Kurr, Rida Hayworth, Katherine Hepburn and, you guessed it, Marilyn Monroe.
After Monroe saw the works of Louis, she went to him to design a dress for the performance she had coming up, and of course he accepted the offer. Although Louis is often credited for the creation of Monroe’s dress, it was Bob Mackie, a young designer working for Louis, who first designed the dress. When Monroe purchased the dress, it cost her $12,000. On the night of her performance, Marilyn was very nervous, not only because she was going to be singing for the president but also because her dress did not fit! Monroe’s dress was meant to be skin-tight, but not to the point of being too small! Nonetheless, Monroe had to make it work, so moments before she was supposed to be walking on stage, she was instead being sewn into her dress, which is believed to be one of the reasons Monroe had to be called onto stage multiple times before appearing. She eventually made it onto the stage wearing a fur cover up; she teased the audience, showing bare shoulders and sparkle before revealing her gown as she began to sing. The world was stunned not only by the sultry performance but more so by the scandalous dress. Under the spotlights on stage, only the glitter of the 2,500 crystals and 6,000 hand-sewn rhinestones could be seen. The nude, sheer fabric and fit of the dress made it appear that Monroe was nude on stage. Since she was wearing nothing under the dress, only the strategically placed crystals and rhinestones on the dress covered her up. Monroe described the dress as “skin and beads” because of the illusion it made. This night was one of Monroe’s most iconic performances and one of her last. She passed a few months later in her home of a drug overdose in 1962.
Monroe’s dress was first auctioned off to a private collector in 1999 at a Christie’s auction for $1.27 million. The dress was preserved and kept in mint-condition for nearly seventeen years and was recently resold at a Julien’s auction in late November of this year. Darren Julien, president and CEO of Julien’s Auctions, predicted the dress could be sold for twice the amount it did in 1999, at around $3 million dollars. Edward Meyer, the vice-president of Julien’s Auctions, told the Press Association, ”We believe this is the most iconic piece of pop culture that there is...In the 20th century I cannot think of one single item that tells the story of the 1960s as well as this dress.”
Three million was the upper estimate for how much the dress was worth. However, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, an American franchise, stunned everyone when they purchased the dress for a whopping $4.8 million. This price tag made this fifty-four year old dress the most expensive personal item of clothing to ever be sold at an auction. Ripley’s Believe It or Not plans to display the piece in their “Marilyn Monroe” gallery in Hollywood as the signature piece.
Although Monroe’s dress was scandalous at the time, the wow-factor that skin-tight, nude dresses evoke remains. The world gives the same reaction when celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé come out wearing this same style of gowns. What fashion trend could be the representation of pop culture in the twenty-first century?
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