Kim Kardashian’s decision to wear Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” gown to the Met Gala in May is once again coming under scrutiny, with many online, including a Monroe historian, suggesting she damaged the gown.
Kardashian borrowed the dress from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum, which bought it from a 2016 auction for $4.8 million. Designed by Jean Louis, the dress was originally worn by Monroe to President John F. Kennedy’s birthday fundraiser in 1962. The gown is “now valued at over $10 million,” according to Ripley’s.
On Wednesday, Scott Fortner, a Monroe historian who oversees the Marilyn Monroe Collection, which collects the actor’s personal property and archives, shared several photos on Instagram that appear to show the gown’s condition before and after the Met Gala.
“Without question, the damage is significant,” Fortner wrote in one post, noting that there are “missing crystals, and some left hanging by a thread” in the after image. The image was sent to him by ChadMichael Morrisette, who took the photo of it while it was on display at Ripley’s Hollywood location on June 12.
Fortner did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But Morrisette confirmed to NBC News he took the photo at the Ripley’s Museum in Hollywood on Sunday and sent it to Fortner.
“On both sides of the zipper, the fabric was completely frayed like shredded chicken,” said Morrisette, a visual artist and costume expert who said he helped display the dress for the 2016 auction that Ripley’s bought it from.
There was also visible stress and missing sequins in the back of the dress, according to Morrisette, who called the damages he saw “shocking.”
“I have seen this dress throughout the years and have worked with it myself, and I immediately knew that there was irreparable damage done.”
A spokesperson for Ripley’s did not respond to request for comment or to verify that it is indeed an up-to-date image of the dress. The Ripley’s Hollywood website says visitors have access to “Marilyn Monroe Memorabilia” but does not specify what is on display. An employee of the Hollywood location confirmed via phone that the dress is currently there, but referred NBC News to the PR team for further information and comment.
The images shared by Fortner appearing to show damage to the dress drew criticism on social media this week, with some resurfacing their disapproval for Kardashian’s fashion choice. A spokesperson for Kardashian did not immediately respond to request for comment.
“The reason it’s so upsetting Kim Kardashian ruined Marilyn Monroe’s dress isn’t actually about the dress,” one person tweeted on Tuesday. “It’s that Marilyn was as intelligent, kind woman who was used, abused and exploited her whole life and even in death is still being so disrespected”
Others posted images of other unrelated, famous garments, like Björk’s swan dress, joking that it’s “another dress ruined by Kim Kardashian.”
Ripley’s said in a blog post after the Met Gala that there were hesitations about Kardashian wearing the dress initially, given that it had “rarely been separated from its dress form, let alone worn by anyone other than Monroe.”
“Great care has been taken to preserve this piece of history,” the museum wrote. “With input from garment conservationists, appraisers, archivists, and insurance, both the Ripley’s and Kim knew they could make the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity happen. Agreeing that the garment’s condition was top priority, it was agreed that no alterations were to be made to the dress.”
The museum also said that because preservation of the historic gown was “the highest priority,” Kardashian only wore the original dress for her carpet appearance.
Kardashian told Vogue she only wore the “the original dress for a matter of minutes” and that she changed into the dress itself at a special fitting room at the base of the Met Gala steps, with a Ripley’s conservationist assisting her. On the red carpet, she told Vogue she lost 16 pounds to fit into the dress. “It was such a challenge, it was like a role. I was determined to fit it.”
…the best way to prevent damage that is held in a historic collection is not to wear it.
-Sarah Scaturro, Eric and Jane Nord chief curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art
Sarah Scaturro, formerly a conservator at the Met’s Costume Institute, said “there were unavoidable risks with wearing a historic garment like Monroe’s gown — no matter how many preventative measures in place.”
Scaturro, now the Eric and Jane Nord chief curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art, said she’s seen images of the alleged damage to the dress online, but has not examined it herself in person.
Generally, she said, “historic garments are fragile, especially embellished silk like Monroe’s in particular, and the best way to preserve an object is to prevent damage, and the best way to prevent damage that is held in a historic collection is not to wear it.”
It’s important to protect these garments from environmental changes like sunlight, humidity and temperature because of its fragile fibers, she said.
Scaturro said she hopes both celebrities and fashion archivists alike think more carefully about how they use historic garments under their care in the future.
“Historic clothing is fragile, and wearing it does have risks. The risks are very real, and damage can occur, it’s irreversible,” Scaturro said. “You can fix the damage, but it will always be damaged.”