New images posted to Instagram by Marilyn Monroe historian Scott Fortner have revealed damage done to the late actress's 60-year-old dress recently worn on the Met Gala red carpet by Kim Kardashian. And fellow collectors and fans are speaking out about the "offensive" move by the SKIMS mogul and Ripley's Believe It or Not, which lent out the dress.
Fellow collector ChadMichael Morrisette tells Yahoo Life that he first saw Monroe's crystal-studded gown, which she famously wore to sing "Happy Birthday" to then-president John F. Kennedy in 1962, when he was just a teenage boy and it first went up for auction, in 1999. "I'm in Los Angeles at 19 years old, and her stuff is on display at Christie's and the dress is there. And I go to see the dress and I have a picture of me in front of this dress," he says. "I was so happy to see it in person and see all of her stuff before it was auctioned at the Christie's Auction."
Years later, in 2016, Morrisette was reunited with the dress while working in the exhibition industry, and found himself responsible for putting it on display for its second auction at Julien's.
"I get to see it. I could hold it. I get to touch it," he recalls. "I got to actually handle that garment and put it on display for sale to Ripley's f***ing Believe It or Not, believe it or not, which is where we're now just so disgusted by everything."
Ripley's Believe It or Not did not reply to Yahoo Life's request for comment.
Monroe's dress famously sold at that auction to the company known for recording bizarre events in history for $4.8 million, making it the most expensive dress ever. "That's how reverend this is," Morrisette says.
But when rumors swirled about the possibility that the gown was coming out of display for Kardashian's red carpet moment, historians seemed to agree that the dress was in the wrong hands.
"I think my initial reaction was just shock," Fortner says. "You know, this is not just a dress. This is an iconic costume, it's an iconic gown. Not only is it the most expensive gown that's ever sold at auction, it's really kind of a representation of a period in time. I mean, it's a fashion icon. It's a celebrity icon. It's a political icon. It's cross cultural, you know, it's part of American history. So it was really shocking to see that Ripley's would allow anyone to wear the dress."
Adds Morrisette: "I work at the Academy Museum, and they told me their head of textiles was called by Ripley's, the head of textiles conservation, and they asked the Academy Museum, 'Should we do this?' And they said, 'No.' And they did it anyway. You would never see this at the Smithsonian Institute." (Editor's note: Morrisette works with the Academy as a vendor, he is not officially affiliated with the Academy Museum and his comments do not represent the Academy Museum's views).
Once Kardashian stepped onto the red carpet on May 2 in Monroe's dress, the behind-the-scenes details flooded news feeds.
"I had this idea to put it on and try it on and then they came with armed guards and gloves. I tried it on and it didn’t fit me," Kardashian revealed during a red carpet interview that night. "I had to lose 16 pounds down today to be able to fit this."
She continued, "I’m extremely respectful to the dress and what it means to American history. I would never want to sit in it or eat in it or have any risk of any damage to it and I won’t be wearing the kind of body makeup I usually do. Everything had to be specifically timed and I had to practice walking up the stairs."
And although she changed into the gown in a private dressing room at the event, footage later released by Ripley's Believe It or Not of one of Kardashian's fittings confirmed conservationist's worst fears.
"It was just shocking to see the way that this gown was being treated and forcibly, I mean, it appeared that it was literally forcibly being pushed up around her," Fortner says. "It wasn't cared for as part of those fittings."
Adds Morrisette, "I knew that there was going to be visible damage."
On June 12, when he walked into Ripley's Believe It or Not in Hollywood, California to see the dress in person for the third time in his life, he confirmed it.
"When I saw the shredded material, it broke my heart," he says. "I literally left in tears."
Morrisette explains that he was led by a manager into the room where Monroe's dress was back on display.
"Oh, my God, this is what she did," he recalls saying upon seeing it, referring to Kardashian. "I've seen it before. So I know the difference. It's dramatic. It's dramatically different. It's literally stretched out so bad. It won't even fit the same shape of the dress form anymore. It's permanently altered."
Morrisette notes the extent of the damages, explaining that crystal sequins are missing and that the original silk soufflé fabric has been torn. After sending images of the dress to Fortner to be posted to the Marilyn Monroe Collection Instagram page, a number of historians and collectors responded similarly to the damages.
THIS IS WHY HISTORIANS SAID NOT TO WEAR IT! it was literally made to fit Marilyn to exact measurements --- and it's a part of cultural history. there's nothing like it and won't ever be. even the type of fabric doesn't exist anymore https://t.co/s03Wi4NWPy
— HintofPallas 👁️ (@HintofPallas) June 13, 2022
And this is why every historical garment archivist and textile expert about had a coronary seeing Kim Kardashian in Marilyn Monroe's dress. https://t.co/XIs9MOeEiK
— Kathryn #GoBolts⛈️ Brightbill (@KEBrightbill) June 13, 2022
As a historian, this hurts not because it damaged "history" but because people still treat Marilyn Monroe and her things as public. Her face, her body, her image, her person is not seen as HERS either then or now and she deserves much more than to be anyone's symbol https://t.co/cv0EzCog9R
— 𝐁 𝐄 𝐍 𝐈 (@LaSantaBeni) June 13, 2022
"These photos are the first that the world is seeing about the state of the dress," Fortner says. "This news is actually bigger than the news that Ripley's loaned the dress to be worn."
Much of the focus of the controversy remains on Kardashian, as people have held her responsible for negating the historical importance of the gown in her determined effort to create a memorable red carpet moment. Yahoo Life has reached out to her representative for comment and will update here with any reply; she has not yet said anything publicly about the situation.
"Kim, you will always go down in history for destroying Marilyn Monroe's birthday dress. That is what your legacy will be," Morrisette says. "She damaged that dress permanently and irreversibly for an egotistical stroll on a red carpet. It's the most offensive thing I've ever seen in pop culture. Really, truly the most offensive thing I've ever seen in pop culture, where you literally steal someone's legacy and gobble it up in your mouth. It's disgusting."
He maintains that she would've looked beautiful enough, and been celebrated, in a replica of the dress.
But, Fortner adds, "I think that any celebrity that was given the opportunity to wear that particular dress probably would have jumped on it. That's the appeal of Marilyn."
Both men hope that the dialogue moves forward to highlight the importance of preserving such pieces.
"The conversation around the importance of really protecting these archival pieces, these historic pieces, it was elevated. People are more aware of it now than they were before. I don't know anybody who thought that this was a good idea," Fortner says. "That dress was made for Marilyn, and nobody else should have worn it."
Editor's note: This story was updated on June 15, 2022. A previous version of this story, published on June 14, 2022, included a quote stating that the Academy Museum had advised Ripley's against allowing Kardashian to wear the dress. Morisette is not an employee of the Academy Museum and therefore his views and quotes do not represent those of the Academy Museum. Morisette is, however, a vendor who works with the Academy Museum and is costume display expert.
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