Kim Kardashian’s Met Gala appearance in an iconic gown worn by Marilyn Monroe was already controversial, due to the reality star’s admission she dropped 16 pounds in a three-week crash diet slammed by nutritionists as dangerous and unhealthy, but the historic fashion item may have suffered irreparable damage, according to new photos appearing to show stretched and ripped fabric, loose threads, and missing crystals.
The dress was designed by then-rookie designer Bob Mackie, who created the original sketch as one of his first assignments after being hired by haute couturier Jean Louis. Monroe raised eyebrows when she wore the pale, form-fitting gown to serenade President John F. Kennedy at a DNC fundraiser in 1962. Nude in color and adorned with more than 6,000 crystals hand-sewn into the fabric, the dress was rumored to be so snug on Monroe’s famous hourglass frame that she wore no undergarments and had to be sewn into the dress.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum in Orlando, Florida bought the dress at an auction in 2016 for $4.8 million, which after the taxes and fees tipped the price over $5 million made it the most expensive dress ever sold at auction. The museum agreed to lend the dress to Kardashian for the May 2, 2022 Met Gala under the condition that no alterations be made to the dress, and she also agreed to change into a replica gown after her walk down the red carpet.
Kardashian gushed about feeling “honored” and “forever grateful” to wear the “iconic dress,” and thanked Ripley’s for “the opportunity to debut this evocative piece of fashion history for the first time since the late Marilyn Monroe wore it.” Her appearance on the red carpet with boyfriend Pete Davidson was heavily photographed, setting off a flurry of comments admiring the dress but also worrying about whether the 60-year-old delicate fabric of one of the world’s most historically famous fashion items was being properly safeguarded.
It turns out those concerns were not unwarranted. Post-Met Gala photos of the gown as displayed at Ripley’s appear to show obvious signs of damage, with the fabric pulled and ripping along the back zippered seam, crystals dangling on loosened threads and some even completely missing.
Multiple videos and photos posted by historian and Monroe memorabilia collector Scott Fortner’s @marilynmonroecollection account showed the reported damage to the dress, and compared the post-Met Gala images to those captured by Fortner himself when the dress was auctioned in 2016.
“Without question,” wrote Fortner, “the damage is significant.” In another post, he tagged Ripley’s, criticized their pledge that the “integrity of the dress” would be protected, and asked them, “was it worth it?”
In an interview with Sky News, Fortner clarified that his criticism was not directed at Kardashian, but at Ripley’s for the “irresponsible” decision that prioritized “publicity” over their obligation to do everything they could to keep their promise to “protect and preserve the gown.”
“This is not just a dress,” said Fortner. “This is a cultural icon. It’s a political icon. It’s a Hollywood icon.”
An Instagram video posted by Ripley’s drew additional scrutiny to the decision to lend the vintage gown to Kardashian.
“Great care was taken to preserve this piece of pop culture history,” said the caption Ripley’s posted with the video. “With input from garment conservationists, appraisers, and archivists, the garment’s condition was top priority.”
However, the video shows gloved assistants struggling to get the dress up over Kardashian’s figure, gripping the fabric and pulling tightly, running gloved hands forcefully over the crystal-encrusted fabric, and tying some sort of ribbon in the back since it was too small to zip completely.
Even before the damage was reported, Mackie panned the decision to allow Kardashian to wear the iconic gown he had designed, telling Entertainment Weekly last month he thought it was “a big mistake.”
Monroe, said Mackie, “was a goddess. A crazy goddess, but a goddess. She was just fabulous. Nobody photographs like that. And it was done for her. It was designed for her. Nobody else should be seen in that dress.”
It seems likely that no one will ever again.
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