Last Monday many celebs dazzled at the Met Gala with unique and gorgeous attires. The theme was Gilded Glamour, a nod, and homage to the fashion of the Gilded Age (1870s to the 1890s), and while many guests understood the theme perfectly, others simply wore fabulous gowns that in their heads meant Gilded Glamour. One of these celebs was Kim Kardashian, the last one to make her appearance, and the one who caused a stir from the first second. Why? She wore the exact dress Marilyn Monroe wore when she sang Happy Birthday to President John F. Kennedy in 1962.
Now, once the surprise and craze were over, many problems about her choice emerged, starting with the fact that she starved herself for three weeks to fit in the dress. But that’s a toxic and problematic subject for another article. What seems to be bothering many people, especially museum curators, is the fact that she even dared to ask for the dress and the irresponsibility of the Ripley’s Museum to allow her to wear this valuable piece of fashion history.
Kardashian told Vogue she came up with the idea right after the September Gala last year. She claims she thought about what else she would’ve worn to the In America theme and thought there wasn’t anything more American than Marilyn Monroe. So, for months she’s worked to be able to get her hands on the iconic Jean Louis gown, and she managed to do so.
Now, according to representatives of the Ripley’s Museum, there were no alterations made to the dress, and there were some guidelines set for her to be able to wear the gown. Starting with the fact that she would only be allowed to wear it for the red carpet; a replica was made for her to wear at the event. Besides that, they had a team of professionals handling the dress plus insurance to protect themselves. After all, this particular dress is considered to be the most expensive one in American history valued in near 10 million dollars today.
But are those measures enough? Not for many curators. According to Sarah Scaturro, chief conservator at the Cleveland Museum of Art and formerly head of the Met’s Costume Institute, after all these decades the piece, no matter how well it’s handled, will have inevitable damages that come from sunlight, perspiration, oxygen, change in temperature, and so on. Fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell added that “putting it on a human body will damage it no matter how careful you are.” She also declared that there was no need to wear the dress if she already had a replica made for her. The idea is right there, and there was no need to endanger such a valuable piece of history.
Marilyn Monroe’s Jean Louis gown is made of a fabric called souffle, a very delicate one. Originally, it was a stretchy and quite resilient fabric but over time, it becomes weaker. To this, you must add the fact that it’s heavily embroidered with beadwork, which only adds weight to the fabric. According to Kevin Jones, curator of the MIDM Museum and the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, “whenever you move, something is giving way, even if you can’t see it. Under a microscope, it would show all these little splits. And over time, that would be a big problem.”
Sarah Scaturro added that back in the eighties it had been agreed by costume professionals that no historic costume should be worn no matter the circumstance: “now fashion conservators, collection managers, and curators are going to suffer under pressure from fancy powerful rich people who think they should be able to wear objects in costume collections since after all ‘it’s just a dress.’” In a lengthy Instagram post, she also added that while working as head of the Costume Institute’s conservatorship lab, many celebrities (and Anna Wintour herself) requested permission to wear pieces from their collections, but they were always denied.
Scaturro deemed the Ripley’s Museum, Ana Wintour, the Met Museum, Vogue Magazine, and of course, Kim Kardashian as irresponsible, and any damage the dress should present in the future will be on their conscience.
Last but not least, it’s worth noting that Ripley didn’t let the dress just because they love Kim K. “She’ll be donating to two Florida-based organizations, a goodwill gesture in appreciation of us allowing her to wear the dress.” The gown will return to Ripley’s vault in Orlando today where it will be placed in a temperature and humidity-controlled room. The dress won’t be washed and it will go on display with some of the jewels Kim Kardashian wore at the Met Gala. Of course, she lent Ripley a private jet to make sure the dress makes it home with no issue.