Video: Vintage Marilyn Monroe dress and memorabilia on display in Belfast
Gail Bell visits the new Icons of Style exhibition at Newbridge Silverware in Belfast and speaks to owner William Doyle about curating its collection of vintage fashions and memorabilia from Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn
A SLINKY pink Pucci silk jersey dress owned and worn by Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe has become the star attraction of a newly-opened Belfast shop – but it's definitely not for sale.
The dress, along with a St Christopher pendant once owned by the actress, is on display in the Newbridge Silverware shop in Arthur Street, which opened in true Hollywood style last week with a little help from 'professional Marilyn artiste', Suzie Kennedy.
As well as the little pink number, several Marilyn artefacts are on loan from the Museum of Style Icons at the Newbridge factory in Co Kildare, which includes one of the world's greatest collections of Audrey Hepburn couture.
Now one of the most popular free tourist attractions in Ireland, the museum – set up by Newbridge owner William Doyle – features walk-round displays of iconic outfits and accessories which once belonged to late, great stars of the silver screen such as Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor, as well as modern-day trendsetters Victoria Beckham and Kim Kardashian.
Special guest at the Belfast opening, Suzie Kennedy – who has starred in Oscar-winning The Theory of Everything and Me and Marilyn – turned heads with a recreation of the memorable subway scene from the 1955 Marilyn movie, The Seven Year Itch.
However, the star's famous billowing white dress won't be on display in Belfast, although other costumes from the prized Newbridge collection are being dusted down and folded up ready for a trip north at the end of the month.
"We wanted to introduce ourselves to Belfast in a memorable way and Marilyn has certainly made an impression in the city," said Mr Doyle, who had the idea for his museum after a chance acquisition of a little black dress owned by Audrey Hepburn.
"I was aware the Hepburn dress was going to be sold and I thought the association would greatly enhance our brand, but I was completely stunned by the reaction," he said.
"A well known auction house then heard of the acquisition and took an interest in us, offering to bring an entire Marilyn Monroe collection to Ireland for us to display in our 'museum' which, at that stage, didn't even exist.
"We didn't actually have a museum – just the one Hepburn dress – so I told a little lie and pretended our musuem would be delighted to welcome the Monroe display," says the savvy CEO.
"There's nothing like a deadline to make you get something done and we had about three months to get the imaginary museum up and running before the Marilyn collection arrived."
It was a ploy that paid off and set Mr Doyle off in a new direction and with a new passion – bidding for and buying rare and beautiful costumes synonymous with celebrities from yesteryear right up to the present day.
"Thousands came to the Marilyn exhibition and when it left, we still had our one dress, so, in a way, I had no option but to try to source more costumes to fill the empty space," he says.
"It also fits in with the Newbridge image, as our jewellery and homeware is inspired by classic icons of style and we always look to the trendsetters in music, film and fashion to inform our contemporary designs."
London-based Suzie Kennedy, who took time out from her European tour to fly into Belfast for the opening, said wearing the famous white dress made her feel a "real connection" to the 50s screen siren.
"I'm honoured that Newbridge Silverware invited me to unveil this beautiful dress worn by Marilyn Monroe," said the modern-day Marilyn, who revealed she was more alarmed at the Belfast sunshine – she must keep her skin realistically pale.
"Seeing this dress, I feel a real connection to her, as it’s an item she actually owned."
The St Christopher religious medal, meanwhile, although less glamorous, will also be of local interest as it comes with its own intriguing Marilyn story.
The silver tone pendant and chain was given by the star to her masseur and confidante, Ralph Roberts, along with a handwritten note confirming to him that she was not pregnant.
According to Roberts, the pendant was originally given to Monroe by Natasha Lytess, her early acting coach, with Marilyn stating she had "outgrown Natasha" when presenting him with the gift.
The pink Marilyn dress and artefacts, which include a letter and receipt along with the medal, will be on display in Arthur Street until May 25.
They will be replaced by another iconic costume from the Museum of Style Icons Museum which attracts thousands of visitors from across the world each year.