Believe it or not, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! has denied that reality star Kim Kardashian damaged Marilyn Monroe’s iconic “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” dress when she wore it to the Met Gala last month.
After images of what appeared to be the sparkly gown were posted on social media showing apparent damage to the iconic dress — not to mention causing an uproar among historians and textile conservators — the entertainment company finally waded into the fiery discourse to “say with confidence” that Kardashian’s outing in the famous gown “did not cause damage.”
“Our mission is to both entertain and educate visitors and fans, and sparking conversations like the discourse around Marilyn Monroe’s dress does just that,” the company said Thursday in a statement to The Times, also posted on Ripley’s website. “No matter which side of the debate you are on, the historical importance of the dress has not been negated, but rather highlighted. An entirely new group of young people have now been introduced to the legacy of Marilyn Monroe.
“Kim Kardashian wearing the ‘Happy Birthday’ dress has been hotly contested, but the fact remains that she did not, in any way, damage the garment in the short amount of time it was worn at the Met Gala,” the statement said.
However, footage of the “Kardashians” star trying to slip into the dress prior to the May engagement led many to believe otherwise, as did the images posted online this week.
Ripley’s, which acquired the gown at auction in 2016 for nearly $5 million, initially denied Kardashian permission to wear it because it didn’t fit her. Footage Ripley’s released after the gala showed the Skims founder struggling to pull up the gown, even with the help of special handlers, and insisting on wearing more shapewear to make it work. (Kardashian said she ultimately lost 16 pounds in mere weeks to be able to wear it.)
The dress was sketched by legendary fashion designer Bob Mackie and custom-made by Jean Louis for Monroe, who was sewn into the garment before she sang a sensual “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden months before she died. (Mackie also told Entertainment Weekly that Kardashian wearing it was “a big mistake.”)
Ripley’s said that when it acquired the dress at auction, a report written on the dress’ condition in early 2017 stated that “‘a number of the seams are pulled and worn. This is not surprising given how delicate the material is. There is puckering at the back by the hooks and eyes, among other instances of damage.” But the privately owned, for-profit attractions company continued to display the historic gown at a number of its attractions around the world and said Thursday that it “understands the risks associated with this.”
Meanwhile, alleged before-and-after photos of the delicate gown were posted on Instagram by private collector the Marilyn Monroe Collection dissecting what appeared to be damage. The images reportedly showed the breath gown pre-Met Gala and now at the Ripley’s Hollywood location. New wear and tear on the garment, such as threadbare sequins, tears along the back closure, puckering and pulled seams were visible in the several posts shared on the account this week.
“That era is gone, and yet that is the dress that survives to remind us of that time and to take us back,” Kevin Jones, curator of the FIDM Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, told The Times on Tuesday after seeing the images.
“Now we have to move forward with Kim Kardashian as part of that dress — for what reason?” Jones added. “There is no respect for damaging cultural icons — whether they’re a dress, whether they’re a document, whether it’s a building — because the damage can never be repaired and it’s now something that future historians, future conservators, future viewers will see. And that’s something that didn’t need to happen.”
However, Ripley’s on Thursday attempted to cast doubt on the images. A representative for Kardashian also referred The Times to Ripley’s statement and said Thursday that Kardashian “is not commenting.”
“From the bottom of the Met steps, where Kim got into the dress, to the top where it was returned, the dress was in the same condition it started in,” said Ripley’s vice president of publishing and licensing, Amanda Joiner, who Ripley’s said was “continuously with the dress the day of the gala and during transport from Orlando to New York.”
The dress was worn only for the red-carpet portion of the annual affair at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kardashian slipped into a duplicate for the gala itself, leading many to wonder why she didn’t just wear the duplicate in the first place. Kardashian then flew the original dress from New York to California on her private jet, The Times previously reported.
Ripley’s also noted that Kardashian did not pay the organization to wear the dress and that the company didn’t pay her either. He said that the “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” alum made “a charitable donation to two charities in the greater Orlando area on behalf of the company.”
Ripley’s plans to continue to exhibit the dress “in as-is condition” at its Hollywood location through fall 2022.