When Hollywood film star Marilyn Monroe stepped out to sing Happy Birthday to President John F Kennedy at a New York fundraising event 60 years ago, it wasn’t only her seductive singing voice that dazzled everyone.
Taking to the stage at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962, she removed her white fur coat to reveal an astonishing sheer, figure-hugging dress that made history in a split second and has had people talking about it ever since.
Leaving little to the imagination, the long, gold marquisette gown was smothered in sparkling rhinestones and beads. Some sources claimed Marilyn wore nothing underneath it and that she was sewn into it to ensure a perfect fit.
With everyone’s eyes firmly fixed on her, the actress – star of films like Some Like It Hot and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – launched into her very grown-up, flirty version of the song usually associated with children’s birthday parties.
Her eyes locked in direct contact with the President as he sat in an audience of 15,000, ensuring Marilyn’s performance made front page news the next day, fuelling speculation of a clandestine affair between the two.
Until this week when Kim Kardashian stunned the Met Gala audience wearing the infamous dress, that had been its only public outing.
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Unbelievably the design was the first professional project of a 21-year-old graduate called Bob Mackie who was working with the acclaimed French costume designer Jean Louis, who made the imaginative creation into reality.
Its price tag at the time was $1,440 but its value exploded after Marilyn secured its place as a piece of fashion history. Less than three months after wearing it, the actress was dead at the age of just 36, and the dress went into storage as part of her estate.
It was first listed by Christies in 1999, when it sold for $1.26 million. That was almost quadrupled in 2016 when Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum paid $4.8 million to buy it and put it on display in Orlando.
Before the auction at Julien’s, Bob Mackie recalled the moment Marilyn debuted the dress saying: “That kind of dress, the illusion of being naked, thinking you can see something but you really can’t. It was magical and it was simple. It was simple, yet so powerful.
“ Marilyn was used to being naked. She didn’t care and she looked amazing. Nobody had ever seen Marilyn in person like that, it was unbelievable.
“That was the first time I had ever been involved in a dress like that. Since then I’ve done probably millions of them.”
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