Marilyn’s ‘Birthday Dress’ Reuse Criticised by ICOM and Bob Mackie

Following the furore over Kim Kardashian wearing Marilyn’s ‘birthday dress’ at the Met Gala (see here), the Costume Committee for the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has issued a statement.

“Historic garments should not be worn by anybody, public or private figures.

Although not every museum is a part of ICOM, its rules and suggestions of best practices are recognized and respected by many institutions worldwide … These guidelines indicate that in order to take good care of a piece, it should be handled as little as possible; it should be not washed or cleaned by anyone except a trained conservator, it must be handled with cotton gloves and without any perfume, skincare or make up on, and jewellery should not be worn to avoid catching on any loose threads. Costume requires trained personnel for handling, and special observations related to light, humidity and temperature levels should be respected. Also photographic lighting and photographic flashes must be avoided. Related to conservation, the most important notion is ‘Prevention is better than cure. Wrong treatment will destroy an object forever.’

About this particular situation, the dress that belonged to Marilyn Monroe was custom made by French designer Jean Louis … The difference between sizes of Marilyn and the new wearer give differences in fitting strain, so it can be inferred that the textile was under intense stress on the use. The material is soufflé silk, which is no longer available, so it’s irreplaceable.

Although the dress belongs to a private collection, the heritage must be understood as belonging to humanity, regardless of which institution has custody of the property. As museum professionals, we strongly recommend all museums to avoid lending historic garments to be worn, as they are artifacts of the material culture of its time, and they must be kept preserved for future generations.”

Costume sketches by Jean Louis and Bob Mackie

Furthermore, designer Bob Mackie – who was working as an assistant to Jean Louis when the ‘birthday dress’ was made – has also criticised the reuse in an interview for Entertainment Weekly.

“Another person who didn’t love Kardashian’s choices? Fashion designer Bob Mackie, who drew the sketch for the original gown in his early career working as an assistant to Jean Louis. ‘I thought it was a big mistake,’ Mackie tells EW. ‘[Marilyn] was a goddess. A crazy goddess, but a goddess. She was just fabulous. Nobody photographs like that. And it was done for her. It was designed for her. Nobody else should be seen in that dress.'”

UPDATE: Significant damage to the dress has been observed by recent visitors to Ripley’s in Hollywood, where it is currently on display – although both the museum and Kim Kardashian have publicly denied the allegations. For a full account, read April VeVea’s post for Classic Blondes.