Ripley's Believe It or Not is aiming to set the record straight on recent controversy surrounding Marilyn Monroe's iconic "Happy Birthday" dress, claiming that there was no damage done to the piece when Kim Kardashian wore it for the Met Gala in May.
"One thing Ripley’s Believe It or Not! can say with confidence is that it did not cause damage to Marilyn Monroe’s famed 'Happy Birthday' dress from 1962," a statement provided to Yahoo Life and published to the brand's website reads. "Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is not the first owner of this dress. It was acquired at a Julien’s Auctions event in 2016 for $4.8 million. A report written on the dress’s condition in early 2017 states, 'a number of the seams are pulled and worn. This is not surprising given how delicate the material is. There is puckering at the back by the hooks and eyes,' among other instances of damage."
While Kardashian's appearance in the 60-year-old gown had already caused a stir online back in May, the story made headlines yet again this week when a Monroe collector, ChadMichael Morrisette, who had already seen the dress twice in person, went to see the dress back on display at Ripley's Believe It or Not in California.
"I knew that there was going to be visible damage," Morrisette told Yahoo Life on Monday, after having seen the dress on Sunday. "When I saw the shredded material, it broke my heart. I literally left in tears."
Morrisette explained that he had first encountered the dress in 1999 when it went up for auction at Christie's. In 2016, he says he was responsible for putting it on display for its second auction at Julien's.
"I got to actually handle that garment," he said, noting that there wasn't any visible damage to the dress at the time.
When he saw it on display on June 12, he took photos that were posted on Instagram by fellow Monroe historian and collector Scott Fortner, who runs the account the Marilyn Monroe Collective.
Yahoo Life had reached out to Ripley's Believe It or Not on Monday for comment but did not receive the response until Thursday, when the brand published details debunking the allegations.
After noting that damage had existed as early as 2017, after Ripley's had purchased the dress at an auction event in 2016, the statement goes on to acknowledge how Monroe's gown has since been displayed at a number of Ripley's attractions globally.
"The company understands the risks associated with this, but Ripley’s Believe It or Not! has been collecting notable pop-culture memorabilia, historical items, and unbelievable artifacts for over 100 years," the brand states. "Our mission is to both entertain and educate visitors and fans, and sparking conversations like the discourse around Marilyn Monroe’s dress does just that."
In fact, Ripley's believes that the dress hasn't been devalued, but instead has become relevant again.
"No matter which side of the debate you are on, the historical importance of the dress has not been negated, but rather highlighted. A entirely new group of young people have now been introduced to the legacy of Marilyn Monroe," the statement continues. "Kim Kardashian wearing the 'Happy Birthday' dress has been hotly contested, but the fact remains that she did not, in any way, damage the garment in the short amount of time it was worn at the Met Gala."
Further, Ripley’s vice president of publishing and licensing Amanda Joiner, who was responsible for transporting the garment from Orlando to New York as well as overseeing its wear on the red carpet, commented in the statement that no damage had been done. "From the bottom of the Met steps, where Kim got into the dress, to the top where it was returned, the dress was in the same condition it started in," she stated.
The brand also responded directly to Fortner's initial Instagram post.
"A recent social media post asked, 'Was it worth it?' Kim Kardashian did not pay Ripley’s Believe It or Not! to wear the dress, nor did the company pay her," the statement reads. "Rather, Kardashian made a charitable donation to two charities in the greater Orlando area on behalf of the company."
Ripley's Believe It or Not didn't immediately respond to Yahoo Life's request for additional imagery of the dress. Fortner, however, took to Instagram to provide an additional side-by-side of the dress, including an image that he says is a screenshot from Kardashian's fitting on May 2.
"It’s never been implied that the gown was in perfect condition. My own photos show some crystals missing prior to the auction. However, it’s significantly more today," he wrote on Thursday. "This before/after photo evidence shows that there actually was damage done to the dress due to being worn. The state of the dress today is in fact not, 'the way it was when Kim wore it.'”
Ripley's states that Monroe's famous gown will be on exhibit "in as-is condition" at its Hollywood location through Fall 2022.
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