Conservators “speak out” that Kim Kardashian wore Marilyn Monroe’s dress to attend the Met Gala.

Fashion curators and textiles conservators are shocked that the beauty queen Kim Kardashian wore Marilyn Monroe’s famous Jean Louis gown for the 2022 Met Gala. Monroe’s iconic dress was made famous in the year that the Hollywood legend donned it to sing “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy.
Kardashian is a pop culture celebrity on her own and was the only person to wear the iconic dress to attend the Monday’s Met Gala, a “gilded glamour”-themed event in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. “The Kardashians” star joined thousands of people to celebrate at the opening reception of the Costume Institute’s new exhibit, “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” which explores the context of history and tells the tales of untold heroes from the early days of American fashion.
“I’m unhappy because it puts back what’s supposed to be a professional treatment of historical costumes,” says Sarah Scaturro, director of the conservatory of the Cleveland Museum of Art and former conservator with the Met’s Costume Institute. “In the 1980s when a group of costume specialists met to adopt that historical costumes shouldn’t be worn. My concern is that influential individuals could soon pressure those who work in costume collections to allow them to wear their costumes.”

Cara Varnell, a longtime independent conservator of art specializing in a dress from the past, puts her thoughts in this manner: “We just don’t wear the archived pieces,” she says. “If you have the work of Charles James hanging in your grandmother’s closet and you’d like to put it on, great. If it’s archived, it’s of sufficient cultural significance that we are proud of the item and wish to save it. This dress represents something extremely significant- it’s part of our cultural heritage. I’m in awe of it.”

The reality television star chose to take on the theme of the evening’s sartorial soirée and required historical context by choosing Monroe’s bejeweled dress that she claimed was “the first gown that was naked.” This “Some You Like It Hot” star was required to be sewed into the dress before her sexy 1962 performance at a Madison Square Garden fundraiser just a couple of months before she passed away.
“The idea came to me following the gala in September of last year. I was thinking about what I could have done to the American theme had it chosen not the Balenciaga style? What’s the most American thing you can imagine? That’s Marilyn Monroe,” Kardashian, 41, said to Vogue. “For me, the most memorable Marilyn Monroe moment is when she sang ‘Happy Birthday” to JFK. So it was that look.”

Monroe’s dress, the most expensive gown ever auctioned, is constructed of delicate fabric known as souffle. It’s elastic and supple when new; however, it becomes less brittle and weaker with time. Furthermore, it’s embellished with heavy beads with thousands of handmade beads. “Gravity can cause quite a bit of harm,” says Kevin Jones, director of the FIDM Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. “Whenever your body moves, there is a sign that something gives way, even though you don’t notice it. It will reveal all the tiny cracks if you look at it under a microscope. In time, that could cause a major issue. “
The issue, Jones adds, is more than simply the dress. It’s a way that reflects the past and culture “it speaks,” and any damage it causes can have cultural implications for generations.
“Our mission is to deliver the garment on the shelves of the next generation as minimally damaged as is possible to ensure that in 500 years from now, the objects can be used to speak about our past and our human history, design, technology, art, and culture,” Jones says. “All of that is combined into one thing that is, in this case, the garment. It’s a brief moment within time.”

Its Ripley’s Believe It or Not in Orlando gave the dress thought to be valued in the current market at over $10 million to Kardashian after she purchased it in 2016 for $5 million. In the statement, Ripley’s claimed that it “strongly believes it is the case that this gown, having the pop culture and political significance, is the most recognizable piece of clothing that dates back to the twentieth-century art and culture.” (The dress and the Kardashian and Monroe accessories will be in the exhibit at Ripley’s It or Not Hollywood for a short period beginning Memorial Day weekend.)
“We are extremely grateful to be the guardians of such a renowned artifact, and we are delighted to be able to contribute to its significance culturally by collaborating with Kim Kardashian, who is telling the history of Marylin Monroe and her illustrious career with a completely new generation of viewers,” Ripley’s vice-president of licensing and publishing, Amanda Joiner, said in a statement issued Monday.
It’s important to note that Ripley’s Believe It or Not is an actual museum. It’s a privately-owned non-profit “attractions company,” which is the name it uses to describe itself, and has themed locations worldwide. Although Kardashian did not pay the company for the gown, she gave money (Ripley’s would not reveal the amount — to two different organizations on behalf of Ripley’s.
“She’ll be making donations to two organizations in Florida -as a gesture of goodwill to show our appreciation for and allow her dress to be worn,” Joiner said in an interview. “We’re not divulging their names, but these are organizations that we’ve worked with in the past, and they’re geared towards youth in arts and communities with a lack of resources.”

Kardashian, The Skims shapewear founder, wore a blond hairstyle for the occasion and ascended to the top of the Metropolitan’s Grand Staircase. Her boyfriend, Pete Davidson, also stated that she couldn’t look good in the gown. She lost 16 pounds to the event because she was not allowed to alter her dress and was reportedly required to tie a fur stole over the zipper that was not fully fastened. After snapping photos wearing the dress, Kardashian changed to a dress that was a replica for the gala; Ripley noted that “great attention was paid to preserve this part of historical significance.”
Kardashian also stated that Guards with guns and gloves were mandatory at her event.
“With the input of garment conservatorsappraisers, archivists, appraisers, and insurance companies, the condition of the dress was the top priority,” Ripley’s said. “No modifications have been made to the garment.”
John Corcoran, director of archives and exhibits at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not, who is responsible for conservation, stated that Kardashian could use the gown only if she adhered to the guidelines. This included the absence of body makeup, no alteration, and wearing the dress only at the red carpet party at the end of the night. “No damages were caused by the event last night,” Corcoran said in an announcement, adding that Kardashian “has been an ambassador for the event and added to the past.”
However, Scaturro insists that there are unavoidable dangers: sweat, sunlight, oxygen, and perspiration, along with fluctuations in humidity and temperature, can threaten an incredibly delicate garment. “Putting it on your body could be damaging regardless of how cautious you’re,” she says.
On Wednesday, the dress will be returned to the vault of Ripley’s at Orlando, Fla., Corcoran writes. Corcoran describes the vault as a dark room, controlled by temperature and humidity. To ensure the integrity of the fabric, the dress won’t be cleaned. Instead, it will be stored inside a box, positioned on a form, and then covered with acid-free cotton muslin.
“The form prevents folding and strain to the garment,” Corcoran says, “while the muslin shields it from moisture, light, and environmental pollutants.”
How does the dress travel to Orlando? The dress is on Kardashian’s private plane, Ripley claims.
Fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, author of “Worn on This Day: The Clothes That Made History,” says the entire incident is meta.
“The Met Gala is now an important part of the history of the dress and did not have to be,” she says. “I was a bit confused by choice to wear it because it wasn’t in line with the main theme evening — but they created an entire replica; therefore, why didn’t I just wear the replica?”
If there’s a positive side to the situation the curators and conservators suggested, it’s sparking discussion about fashion conservation. However, the risks are greater than the benefits, Jones says.
“If it’s a garment, it will cause tension and strain,” He states. “Once it’s damaged, it’s damaged. You can’t go back.”

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