Kim Kardashian’s Met gala dress has alarmed experts.  Turns out they were right

Kim Kardashian’s Met gala dress has alarmed experts. Turns out they were right

When Kim Kardashian walked up the stairs of the Metropolitan Museum at this year’s Met Gala wearing Marilyn Monroe’s famous 1962 Jean Louis dress, it sparked her share of controversy. Not only did the dress, which she borrowed from Ripley’s Believe Or Not!, not live up to the “Gilded Glamour” gala theme, but Kardashian also revealed that she lost 16 pounds in three weeks to fit into the dress. This week, she returned to headlines when photos of the post-Met Gala dress revealed new rips in the back and straps, as well as missing and damaged crystals. While Kardashian chose to celebrate one of the most iconic moments in American fashion, she apparently ignored what textile conservatives have warned over decades: taking historic pieces for a spin is a big risk.

“I was really disappointed that this piece, which is iconic and, while owned by Ripley’s, is still held in the public’s trust,” says Sarah Scaturro, chief conservator at the Cleveland Museum of Art and former conservator at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume. . Institute, referring to the dress’s significance in American history.

Kardashian was aware of the high stakes of using a piece of history, which Monroe displayed during her performance of “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy in 1962. In an interview with Vogue she said she was never alone in the dress: “The dress was transported by guards and I had to wear gloves to try it on.” According to her, she only used it to walk from the bottom up the stairs and turned into a replica once inside the museum.

However, this care was not enough. Photos showing the damage to the dress were posted by Scott Fortner’s Marilyn Monroe collection on Instagram, with the caption, “Was it worth it?” (Refinery 29 requested a review of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! and Kim Kardashian, but had no response at the time of publication.) According to Laura Beltrán-Rubio, fashion curator and co-founder of Latin American fashion platform Culturas de Moda, after damage of this magnitude, a historical piece like The Monroe, that was tailor-made and used only on one occasion, “loses all history”.

And when used at an event like the Met Gala, an event that was supposed to celebrate the importance of costume conservation, the incident can set a damaging precedent for conservators and archivists. “Historically, fashion curators, conservators and archivists have often been pressured into getting people to wear clothes from these collections,” says Scutarro. “This is something that curators and conservators have really challenged a lot over the years..She points out that it was only after institutions began to notice damage to historical pieces that the costume conservatory solidified through organizations such as the Costume Society of America (CSA) and the International Committee of Museums and Collections of Costume, Fashion and Textiles (ICOM). “We’ve managed, as a profession, to minimize wear and tear and just try to stop it,” she says. Although experts such as Scaturro and Beltrán-Rubio “facilitate public access to cultural heritage”, there are many misconceptions about the importance of conserving fashion, because it is a relatively new profession that, according to Scaturro, is often seen as less for its ties to consumerism and women.

“There are rules that dictate that once a piece is in a museum, it cannot be used again,” says Beltrán-Rubio, adding that the fabrics – which are usually stored in controlled environments with custom lighting and humidity levels – are very delicate, causing them to chemically react to body odor, texture and sweat. “This is how clothes end up wearing out.”

Kardashian is far from the first celebrity to wear a shelved dress to a red carpet. Lily Rose-Depp wore a ’90s Chanel dress to the 2019 Met Gala and Cardi B wore a 1995 Mugler dress to the 2019 Grammy Awards. More recently, Zendaya wore a 1998 Bob Mackie dress to the 1998 Team 100 Gala. 2022. While these pieces aren’t in the same category as Monroe’s 50-year-old, custom-made dress — most of which were pulled from the brand’s runway archives — Sacturro says this phenomenon also illustrates the challenge that archivists and curators have to meet the demands of brands, stylists and celebrities for decades-old clothes to wear. “Fashion Archivists [inside design houses] are in a very difficult position to balance how to protect these clothes so they can be worn by the design house, while still allowing them to be worn,” she says. “These archives consist of historical clothing from the design house and are really seen as an asset that should be monetized.”

While most museums and conservators would not allow a dress of historical significance like Monroe’s to be worn outside of a controlled environment, Scaturro says there are instances where conservators should consider pulling costumes from an archive, specifically when it comes to of objects taken from other cultures and communities. “Our aim is not to harm our material objects, but we also aim to not harm the stakeholder of those objects… We make it easy to wear clothing when a stakeholder is appropriate,” she says. “This is a very important point as we begin to discuss and work with garments that are held in museum collections that belong to communities of origin and have been stolen from them.”

This issue came to a head after Kardashian’s appearance at the Met Gala, when ICOM released a statement condemning her choice to wear Monroe’s dress, saying, “Historical clothing should not be worn by anyone, public or private figures.” The statement was met with much reaction by organizations such as Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum, whose Maori curator Puawai Cairns called ICOM’s criticism “Eurocentric”. “Some fabrics in museums are meant to be used if they are to be used in ritual ceremonies or continue connections between object and kin,” Cairns wrote in a post. “Conservation is increasingly becoming the bridge to allow this to happen, not the block. Good old ICOM. Just thinking about your own Eurocentric cultural bubble.” (ICOM has since withdrawn its statement and issued an apology.)

For Scaturro, this is where the nuances of what conservatives call “people-based conservation” come in: “There are cases where wearing historic clothing is actually the most ethical path,” adds Scaturro, referring to Cairns’ comments. . Still, in the case of Kardashian, she says: “My opinion is that the two interested parties are the public and Marilyn. Marilyn is dead, so we don’t know what she would have thought, but the audience is here and the audience is expressing their opinion.”

For both Scaturro and Beltrán-Rubio, the lesson for the industry and conservatives is to tread carefully, but also to seize opportunities to make dress and fashion conservation more visible. “This is a time to talk about this subject and make it easier for people to understand the importance of curating costumes,” says Beltrán-Rubio.

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