Saturday, June 18, 2011

Marilyn Monroe Dress Breaks Record at Auction, and Darren Julien Comments

Yesterday marked Julien's Auctions annual entertainment memorabilia sale. The auction was conducted at their new location in Beverly Hills, and prices for Marilyn Monroe memorabilia reached new heights. Of particular note, a Marilyn Monroe owned cocktail dress, estimated at $30,000 to $40,000, sold for an astounding $348,000. This is undoubtedly the highest price paid for a Monroe dress at auction since the now world famous 1999 Christie's sale, "The Personal Property of Marilyn Monroe."

Lot Description: A black crepe cocktail dress with deep v-neck and low cut back, with pouf hemline. Interior label reads “front” to identify the front of the dress. Monroe wore this dress to a 1958 party at The Beverly Hills Hotel and is pictured on the cover of the book Marilyn Monroe: From Beginning to End by Michael Ventura. No size present.

Incredibly, the original sale price for this dress in 1999 was $23,000. The 1999 pre-sale estimate was $10,000 to $15,000.

There were also other items of note. A two-piece Pucci ensemble sold for $48,000. The pre-sale auction estimate was $6,000 to $8,000. While only a fraction of the cost of the cocktail dress, this is an astounding amount of money for a Marilyn Monroe outfit considering there is no known photograph of Marilyn wearing the ensemble. Even more astounding, I saw this two-piece Pucci outfit sell at auction several years ago for a mere $800. Finally, this Pucci outfit was formerly owned by Robert Otto, and was one of the few authentic Marilyn Monroe owned items displayed on the Queen Mary as part of the now infamous Monroe exhibit in 2006.

Lot Description: A two-piece silk jersey in seafoam green, boatneck, sleeveless shirt with elastic waist together with matching knee-length skirt. Each of the pieces have both Emilio Pucci and Saks Fifth Avenue labels. This Pucci outfit sold originally at the 1999 sale for $9,775.

Finally, a swimsuit with a Marilyn Monroe label from an unknown MGM film sold for an astonishing $84,000. Again, an astounding sum of money considering there are no known photos of Marilyn wearing this item. The original estimate was $6,000.00 to $8,000.00.

Lot Description: A Marilyn Monroe costume swimsuit from an unknown production. Swimsuit is dark blue with light blue ribbon across bust. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer tag reads "M. Monroe 36," additionally stamped MGM under bust lining.

So why are prices for Marilyn Monroe memorabilia items soaring? I had a chance to chat with Darren Julien today, President & CEO of Julien's Auctions. We discussed yesterday's events, in particular the Marilyn Monroe pieces selling for astronomical prices. My questions and his answers are provided below:


MMC: "Darren, in your opinion, why are Marilyn items selling for more and more money each year?"

Darren Julien Response: "Marilyn Monroe has a global fan and collector base. It is becoming more and more difficult to obtain items with solid provenance from her life and career. The demand for her items are increasing while authentic items are becoming more difficult to find and make available to the public at auction. In addition, investors have started to buy Marilyn Monroe as a way to diversify their portfolio, and this even further increases the demand for her items. She is a safer investment than stocks or bonds."

MMC: "What was the draw to the itmes that sold for so much beyond the estimate; The swimsuit, the Pucci ensemble, and the black cocktail dress?

Darren Julien Response: "This is a very difficult question to answer because I think it really depends on the demand for each item and who is bidding. For example, we had three people who wanted the black cocktail dress. When the auction started they all felt that they were going to get it, and they had already emotionally committed themselves to buying it. That's why they were willing to go much higher than the estimate, or any values they'd pre-determined that they would pay for the dress. I think this was likely the case also with the Pucci outfit and the swimsuit."

MMC: "Were there any Marilyn lots yesterday that shocked you? For example, the price they sold for, either low or high?"

Darren Julien Response: "I was shocked by all of them. Even her books that sold several years ago for $500 to $800 went for $3,000 to $5,000 yesterday. It just goes to show you that everyone loves Marilyn Monroe.


There are a few other auctions this summer with Marilyn Monroe items up for grabs, most significantly the Debbie Reynolds film costume collection auction next month. Marilyn Monroe has always been one of the most famous women in the world, with Monroe collectibles often selling for prices far greater than estimates. The Jean Luis dress Marilyn wore when she sang "Happy Birthday" to President John F. Kennedy in 1962 still holds the record for the most expensive dress ever sold at auction. This might be the most important auction year since 1999, determining just how much money fans, collectors, and now investors, will spend to personally own a piece of her magic. If yesterday's auction at Julien's was any indication, we'll likely see more Monroe pieces reach new heights.

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