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Kim Kardashian’s Marilyn Monroe dress fiasco inspired top museum organization to create clothing preservation committee

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The fallout from Kim Kardashian’s decision to wear a historic Marilyn Monroe dress to this year’s Costume Institute gala in New York Metropolitan Museum of Art was so intense that the International Council of Museums (ICOM) is launching a new clothing preservation committee in response to the controversy.

“The media frenzy that followed the Met Gala highlighted the fragility of textile and clothing heritage in the face of the responsibility of museums in charge of this type of collection,” said Corinne Thpaut-Cabasset, president of the International Committee of Museums and ICOM costume collections. , Fashion and Textiles (ICOM Costume), in a statement provided to Artnet News.

The organization is currently forming a working group that will help update its code of conduct for museum members, as well as ICOM’s costume guidelines.

Monroe wore the famous rhinestone-covered dress, which created the illusion of nudity, to a fundraising event in New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1962, singing a sultry version of Happy Birthday to the then-President , John F. Kennedy.

Actress Marilyn Monroe sings

Actress Marilyn Monroe sings for President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden on his 45th birthday, May 20, 1962. Photo: Bettman via Getty Images.

It originally cost $1,440 but has since become the most expensive dress in the world, selling for more than $1.2 million in 1999 at a Monroe estate sale at Christies New York. It then sold for $4.8 million at Juliens Auctions in Los Angeles in 2016.

When Kardashian recently wore it for the red carpet moment, she and the dress’ current owner, a museum franchise Ripleys Believe it or not!drew widespread criticism from fashion historians and restorers, including ICOM, for potentially endangering the fragile garment.

Historical clothing should not be worn by anyone, public or private figures, ICOM said in astatement. Prevention is better than cure. Mistreatment will destroy an item forever.

But Ripley’s is not an accredited museum, and is therefore not bound by ICOM’s standards, even though they are made stricter by the new working group.

by Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress. Photo courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

“There is no doubt about the fragility of the dress and there was a calculated risk associated with wearing it,” Ripley admitted. Our mission is to both entertain and educate visitors and fans, and spark conversations like the Marilyn Monroes Dress Talk does just that. No matter which side of the debate you are on, the historical significance of the dress has not been denied, but rather highlighted.

The dress is particularly valuable because the material it is made from is marquisette, also known as French blown fabric, which is so flammable that it has since been banned and therefore cannot be replaced.

Ripleys normally stores the dress in a dark vault at 68 degrees Fahrenheit, with a carefully controlled humidity level of 40-50%, conditions that could not be replicated at the live event.

Kardashian took numerous steps to protect the garment during the gala, including avoiding body makeup and shedding 16 pounds to fit into the little dress.

In addition to two fittings before the gala, Kardashian only wore the outfit for a few minutes. She set up a special dressing room just beyond the red carpet, changing with the help of a Ripley restorer before climb with care the Met stairs. Once the reality star entered the museum, she changed into a replica for the party itself.

But even touching vintage clothes can damage them, say the curators.

Earlier this week, the Marilyn Monroe Collection Instagram account posted photos that appeared to show damage to the dress, with missing crystals and stretched fabric compared to a photo taken before Kardashian wore it.

These condition issues were evident even before the Met Gala came out, according to Ripley’s. The company cited a 2017 condition report that found a number of seams are pulled and worn,” and “there is puckering in the back by the hooks and eyes, among other damage.

“The dress was [returned] in the same state it started, Ripleys vice president of publishing and licensing Amanda Joiner told the New York Post. (He’s slated to premiere at Ripley’s Believe It or Not Hollywood through the fall.)

Such assurances seem unlikely to placate those who insist there is no proper forum or safe way to don historical garb such as this.

Not quite Gilded Age, but definitely golden, Kim Kardashian attended the 2022 Met Gala wearing Marilyn Monroe's Happy Birthday, Mr. President dress, the most expensive dress ever sold at auction.  Photo: Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

Not quite Gilded Age, but definitely golden, Kim Kardashian attended the 2022 Met Gala wearing Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday, Mr. President dress, the most expensive dress ever sold at auction. Photo: Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

Bob Mackie, who did the initial sketch for the dress while working as an assistant for designer Jean Louis, also disapproved of Ripley’s decision to let Kardashian borrow the garment.

“I thought it was a big mistake,” he saidWeekly entertainment. “[Marilyn] was a goddess. A crazy goddess, but a goddess. She was just fabulous. Nobody shoots like that. And it was made for her. It was designed for her. No one else should be seen in this dress.

See Thpaut-Cabasset’s full statement on the new task force below.

The media frenzy that followed the Met Gala highlighted the fragility of textile and clothing heritage in the face of the responsibility of museums in charge of this type of collection.

It is in this context and under pressure from museum professionals specializing in the conservation of fashion and textile collections that ICOM’s International Costume Committee decided, on the proposal of its Bureau, to set up a working group to include more voices and open a discussion on updating its code of conduct established and published in 1986.

This group will be composed of members of the ICOM Costume Committee, members of its Bureau and members of other ICOM Committees: ICOM South Africa, ICOM Canada, ICOM Cameroon, ICOM CC (conservation), ICME (committee for museums and ethnographic collections) among others.

The reflection work will be carried out during thematic online meetings with experts inside and outside ICOM to come up with a new proposal for the drafting of the ICOM Costume Guidelines, which will be published on its website: costume.mini.icom.museum. The ICOM Costume Guidelines Working Group wishes to work transparently and share its expertise with the international museum community through ICOM.

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