Kim Kardashian and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! have been accused of “irreparably damaging” Marilyn Monroe’s iconic sheer dress after the company loaned it to Kardashian to wear to this year’s Met Gala.
Despite the great lengths Ripley’s and Kardashian said they went through to preserve the dress, photos taken of the gown at Ripley’s Hollywood location on Sunday shows the dress with significant damage compared to images taken at its auction in 2016 and in a Ripley’s behind-the-scenes video of Kardashian having her first fitting. (Rolling Stone has confirmed the legitimacy of the recent photos, reviewing metadata of when and where the images were taken.)
In the 2016 auction photos, there are one to two hand-sewn crystals decorating the back of the dress that are missing, while Ripley’s recent video shows a few more gems gone. But Sunday’s photos show even more beading had fallen off, some jewels hanging by a thread and damage to one of the straps.
There is also noticeable tearing in the delicate silk souffle fabric near the zipper and clasp enclosures. The ripped portions of the dress are all but certainly unrepairable, as the specialty French-made silk weave fabric is no longer produced and is banned in the United States due to its highly flammable nature.
“It’s just really, really disappointing,” Marilyn Monroe historian and collector Scott Fortner tells Rolling Stone after his initial post with the photos went viral. “It’s a cultural icon. It’s a political icon. It’s a Hollywood icon. It’s not just a dress, it’s a part of American history … and it’ll never be the same.”
Visual artist and creative director ChadMichael Morrisette, who previously worked with the dress in 2016 when it went up for auction, was the one who took the photos when he visited Ripley’s on Sunday. “It literally broke my heart to see the damage that she did to that,” he says. “She stole that moment of history and I’m so mad about it.” (Representatives for Kardashian and Ripley’s did not return requests for comment.)
One of the most well-known dresses in pop culture history, the gown was designed by Jean Louis and sketched out by a young Bob Mackie, who went on to create some of Cher’s most famed looks. Monroe reportedly had to be sewn into the bedazzled, figure-hugging number before surprising President John F. Kennedy with her infamous rendition of “Happy Birthday” in 1962.
The dress has been in Ripley’s hands since the company purchased it at an auction in 2016 for $4.8 million, making it the world’s most expensive dress.
Kardashian said she had approached Ripley’s a few months before the Met Gala, requesting to wear the dress to fit the night’s theme of America: An Anthology of Fashion. Kardashian said she lost 16 pounds to fit into the dress, and videos released by Ripley’s show her trying on the gown with the back’s enclosure not fully zipping up. She later decided the safest solution was to wear a white shrug to cover her backside.
Maintaining the condition of the dress was a “top priority,” Ripley’s said in a statement last month, working with “garment conservationists, appraisers, and archivists.” There were no alterations made, it was handled with white gloves, and a representative was present at all times.
“The dress was never with Kim alone,” Amanda Joiner, Ripley’s VP of licensing and publishing at Ripley’s told The Daily Beast in May. “We always ensured that at any time we felt that the dress was in danger of ripping, or we felt uncomfortable about anything, we always had the ability to be able to say we not were going to continue with this.”
To also minimize potential damage, Kardashian only wore the gown to walk the red carpet with boyfriend Pete Davidson, changing into it right before stepping in front of the cameras and taking off the dress after ascending the stairs. Inside, Kardashian wore a replica of the sheer, 6,000 hand-sewn crystal dress.
While the dress is normally stored in a dark vault, kept in a humidity- and temperature-controlled room, Ripley’s recently put the gown on display at the company’s Hollywood location.
Other images and videos taken of the dress by Ripley’s visitors appear to show several crystals missing, with some guests acknowledging there was damage prior to Fortner posting Sunday’s high-res images. Posting a photo gallery of the recent photos and an image of the dress from 2016, Fortner wrote, “So much for keeping ‘the integrity of the dress and the preservation.’ Was it worth it?”
Fortner tells Rolling Stone that he was initially excited when Ripley’s purchased the dress. It was previously privately owned by New York stock investor Martin Zweig, and Ripley’s intended for the dress to be on display, allowing millions of Monroe fans to view it.
“The fear of the Monroe fanbase at the time was [that] someone would buy it and just hide it away in their personal collection and it would never be seen,” Fortner says. “There was a bit of relief that a company — that was a public company that did exhibitions and displays — had purchased the dress. So, it was kind of an exciting moment, actually, when Ripley’s bought it. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.”
Still, Fortner says that by purchasing such an iconic garment, Ripley’s had the obligation to preserve the condition of the dress, placing a majority of the blame on the company for permitting it to be loaned out in the first place — regardless of who was asking.
“For me, this isn’t about Kim Kardashian,” he explains. “I feel like any celebrity would have jumped at the opportunity to wear this dress. She was just probably the one who thought of it and made it happen. For me, Ripley’s bought this gown, and I think they had a duty and an obligation to protect it and preserve it.”
Morrisette says the responsibility also lies with Kardashian. “I’m a Marylin fan; I’ve touched it,” he says. “I have a Marylin chaise lounge in my bedroom; I own her personal belongings, but I would never go into public wearing that dress. That’s the most sacrilegious and irreverent thing I’ve ever seen in pop culture ever. I’ve never seen someone disrespect a legacy like that until the Met Gala — that was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in pop culture.”
Several costume historians already issued scathing condemnations against Ripley’s and Kardashian for approving the loan in the first place, noting it sets a slippery precedent when it comes to people wanting to borrow historical garments for trivial purposes.
“I’m frustrated because it sets back what is considered professional treatment for historic costume,” Sarah Scaturro explained to the L.A. Times in May. Scaturro used to work as a conservator at the Met’s Costume Institute, noting in a separate Instagram post she had to previously bat away Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour’s request to borrow gowns from the museum.
“In the Eighties, a bunch of costume professionals came together to state a resolution that historic costume should not be worn,” Scaturro added. “So my worry is that colleagues in historic costume collections are now going to be pressured by important people to let them wear garments.”