Kim Kardashian’s Marilyn Monroe clothing fiasco inspired the leading museum organization to set up a 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 Met Gala in New York Metropolitan Museum of Art was so intense that the International Council of Museums (ICOM) is forming a new clothing conservation committee in response to the controversy.

“The post-Met Gala media hype has highlighted the fragility of textile and clothing heritage given the responsibilities of museums responsible for these types of collections,” said Corinne Thépaut-Cabasset, Chair of the International Committee on Costume Museums and Collections ICOM, Fashion and Textiles (ICOM Costume), reads a statement to Artnet News.

The organization is now forming a working group that will help update their Code of Conduct for Museum Members as well as the ICOM Costume Guidelines.

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

Monroe wore the rhinestone-studded dress, which created the illusion of nudity, to a 1962 benefit at New York’s Madison Square Garden while singing a sultry version of “Happy Birthday” to then-President John F. Kennedy.

It originally cost $1,440 but has since become the most expensive dress in the world, selling for more than $1.2 million in a 1999 sale of Monroe’s estate at Christie’s New York. It was later sold at Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles in 2016 for $4.8 million.

As Kardashian recently wore it for the moment on the red carpet, she and the dress’s current owner, Museum Franchise Ripley believe it or not!drew widespread criticism from fashion historians and conservators – including ICOM – for potentially endangering the fragile garment.

“Historical clothing should not be worn by anyone, public or private,” said ICOM in a expression. “Prevention is better than cure. Wrong treatment destroys an object forever.”

But Ripley’s isn’t an accredited museum, so it’s not bound by ICOM’s standards — even if they’re being tightened by the new working group.

Marilyn Monroes

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

“The fragility of the dress cannot be denied and there was a calculated risk in wearing it,” Ripley admitted. “Our mission is to both entertain and educate visitors and fans, and to stimulate conversation, like the discourse surrounding Marilyn Monroe’s dress, does exactly that. No matter which side of the debate one takes, the historical importance of the dress has not been negated, but rather emphasized.”

The dress is particularly valuable because the marquisette fabric, also known as French soufflé fabric, is so flammable that it is now banned.

Ripley’s typically stores the dress in a darkened vault at 68 degrees Fahrenheit and a carefully controlled humidity of 40 to 50 percent – conditions that could not be reproduced at the live event.

Kardashian took numerous measures to protect the garment during the gala, including forgoing body makeup and shedding 16 pounds to fit into the dainty dress.

In addition to two pre-gala fittings, Kardashian only wore the outfit for a few minutes. She set up a special dressing room just behind the red carpet and previously transitioned with the help of a Ripley’s restorer climb carefully the mead stairs. When the reality star entered the museum, she transformed herself into a replica for the party.

But even touching vintage clothing can damage them, conservationists say.

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.

According to Ripley’s, these condition problems were apparent even before the Met Gala performance. The company cited a 2017 condition report that found, among other things, that “some of the stitching has been pulled and frayed” and “the hook and loops on the back are wrinkled.”

“The dress was [returned] in the same state as when we started,” said Amanda Joiner, Ripley’s vice president of publishing and licensing New York Post. (It’s slated to air on Ripley’s Believe It or Not Hollywood through the fall.)

Such assurances seem unlikely to reassure those who insist that there is no suitable case or safe way to don a historical garment like this.

Not quite of golden age, but certainly gilded, 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 of golden age, but certainly gilded, 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 to designer Jean Louis, also disapproved of Ripley’s decision to let Kardashian borrow the garment.

“I thought that was a big mistake,” he said Weekly entertainment. “[Marilyn] was a goddess. A mad goddess, but a goddess. She was just fabulous. Nobody takes photos like that. And it was done for her. It was designed for you. Nobody else should be seen in this dress.”

See Thépaut-Cabasset’s full statement on the new working group below.

The media frenzy following the Met Gala highlighted the fragility of textile and clothing heritage given the responsibilities of museums responsible for these types of collections.

In this context, and under pressure from museum professionals specialized in the preservation of fashion and textile collections, the International Committee of ICOM Costume, on the proposal of its Presidium, has decided to set up a working group to integrate more voices and open a discussion on updating its code of conduct, drawn up and published in 1986.

This group will be composed of members of the ICOM Costume Committee, members of its office and members of other ICOM committees: ICOM South Africa, ICOM Canada, ICOM Cameroon, ICOM CC (Conservation), ICME (Committee on Ethnographic Museums and Collections) among others.

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

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