Collectors and Historians Condemn Damage to Marilyn’s ‘Birthday Dress’

As Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ dress goes back on display at Ripley’s Hollywood – following reality TV star Kim Kardashian’s controversial red carpet appearance at last month’s Met Gala – multiple reports have emerged of visible damage to the historic garment, as collector Scott Fortner confirms in a statement on his Marilyn Monroe Collection blog.

“Videos and photos tell the accurate and truthful story about the damage to Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President’ dress. A screenshot from a video posted by Ripley’s, filmed during Kim Kardashian’s April 21 fitting in Orlando (below left), compared with a photo of the back of the dress, taken by ChadMichael Morrisette (below right), on June 12 — 52 days later — verifies that there are several crystals missing from the back of the dress.

Add to that the video shot by Darrell Rooney showing the tear to the right shoulder, together with footage shot by Inside Edition showing a very tattered and frayed kick pleat. None of this damage was evident when the gown was sold to Ripley’s in 2016, nor was it ever pointed out prior to the two fittings and/or being worn by Kim Kardashian on May 2 at the Met Gala. And, to be clear, Kardashian wore the dress at least three times, which has been verified.

Video footage of Kim Kardashian’s red carpet walk at the Met Gala lasts for approximately eight minutes from beginning to end. All one has to do is watch the videos of the April 2 fitting, posted by Ripley’s and TMZ (She Just Couldn’t Zip it Up, Problems Squeezing Into Marilyn Dress), to see how the garment was actually treated during the fittings. Quite simply, all of these videos and images verify the real story.”

Unsurprisingly, both Ripley’s and Kim Kardashian have denied that the dress was damaged, but as the New York Post reports, leading figures within the costume preservation field are also taking the allegations very seriously.

“The International Council of Museums (ICOM), whose members include the Smithsonian, The Getty Foundation and UNESCO, has announced the formation of a new committee in response to the reported ‘fashion loss,’ as Ninke Bloemberg, committee treasurer and fashion curator at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, told the Post.

‘Whatever the motivation was for wearing it, did it justify the known damage that would happen to the garment?’ said Kevin Jones, curator of the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles, which is not an ICOM member. ‘[Kardashian wearing that dress to the Met Gala] was not an uninformed spur of the moment decision.’

He added: ‘Simply put, wearing a dress like this — especially while walking up a grand staircase, which it was not designed to handle — is like driving an extremely rare, one-of-a-kind automobile in a drag race.’

‘Historic garments should not be worn by anybody, public or private figures,’ ICOM said in a statement. ‘Prevention is better than cure. Wrong treatment will destroy an object forever.’

That said, the ICOM has no authority to recall garments to museums or restrict A-listers from wearing them … For example, with Ripley’s — which is not a member of ICOM — the committee would in the future be able to offer advice on how to protect fashion. But the first note would be: Don’t put it on a human being.

Still, said Jones, ‘The damage cannot be undone. Every future generation is going to see the damage to that dress. [Kim] wearing it to the Met Gala didn’t add anything to the importance of the garment that wasn’t made for her. The story no longer belongs to just Marilyn.’

Although Jones admitted that the whole fiasco ‘makes [me] very sad,’ he and Bloemberg agree that the only decent thing to come out of the incident is that the public is now aware of fashion’s significance in both an artistic and historical context.”