Ethics in fashion and wearing Marilyn Monroe’s gown

(Photos: Instagram)
The fashion world is always awash with scandals and dramas; whether a copycat outfit or a designer faux pas, fashion publications and social media pages are never without a story to sell. However, the current scandal facing the fashion industry has more striking ethical repercussions than the usual in the gossip mill. اضافة اعلان

The case at hand is Kim Kardashian’s choice to wear the famous Marilyn Monroe John F. Kennedy (JFK) “Happy Birthday” gown to the 2022 Met Gala, as loaned by Ripley’s, and whether the historical dress was damaged.

The Met Gala is an annual celebration of fashion. Major designers showcase extraordinary archival, current, and new pieces with popular celebrities as models. Over the years, the Met Gala was host to some iconic fashion moments, including Rihanna’s opulent yellow homage to China: Through the Looking Glass in 2015 (designed by Guo Pei), Cher’s 1974 feather Bob Mackie number, and Naomi Campbell’s dazzling crystal-encrusted Versace gown in 1995.

Yet none of these iconic looks have drawn as much press as the outfits seen at this year’s gala, especially Kardashian’s usage of Monroe’s JFK birthday dress.

Two months have already passed since the occasion, yet the divisiveness over Monroe’s gown being worn by Kardashian continues to generate wide media coverage and debate.

The dress in question was designed by newly graduated Bob Mackie and Jean Louis. It originally made its public debut in May 1962, when Monroe gave her iconic performance of Happy Birthday to then US-president JFK at Madison Square Garden.

Monroe’s breathy vocals added a sultry air to the performance, while the infamous dress caught the world’s attention thanks to its sheer illusion design and delicate crystal appliqué, scandalizing audiences in the US and across the globe.

Over the years, the dress has made its mark on the fashion markets, breaking auction records over the past couple of decades. On October 27, 1999, the JFK birthday dress sold at auction for the huge sum of nearly $1.27 million, making it the most expensive dress ever sold at an auction back then, beating the previous record held by the sale of one of Princess Diana’s gowns.

The JFK dress later beat its own record, selling for a second time on November 17, 2016, for $4.8 million, setting a world record.
Kim doesn’t do replicas
The dress is a piece of fashion legacy, representing an iconic intersectional moment in politics, fashion, and Hollywood history. Hence, we can say with no doubt that Ripley’s and Kardashian were aware of the huge media reaction that would arise with the loaning of the item and the amount of publicity both parties would receive.

However, the coverage garnered by the occasion may not be quite what Kardashian or Ripley’s expected. The move received a significant level of backlash.

Most fashion experts and fans have taken issue with the treatment of the gown; in recently released photos by the Instagram page @marilynmonroecollection, it is clear that the dress now displays a number of significant pulls and tears, with a number of crystals also appearing to be missing.

As a piece of historical dress, conservators have surely taken significant efforts to keep it in the excellent condition as seen prior to the gala. Expert conservators are always required to preserve historical textiles, with their main task being to slow down fabric degradation through careful cleaning, storage, and preservation techniques.

Aged fabric is incredibly delicate, and it is usually a blanket policy not to allow historical garments to be rented out to celebrities. However, on this occasion, Ripley’s offered to loan Kardashian the dress, according to their auction partner Darren Julien (founder of Julien’s Auctions), who said, “Kim doesn’t do replicas”.

It is this blasé attitude that upset so many — who felt that the integrity of the garment has now been irreparably damaged due to the persuasive powers of those with fame and money. As a piece of fashion history, it is easily arguable that the gown should have remained on display and not in use to preserve its existence for years to come.

Interestingly, the scandal surrounding the incident is not solely related to the maintenance and integrity of the item but also the legacy and treatment of Monroe herself.

As a woman who Hollywood and the media widely exploited, many feel the re-exploitation of Monroe’s personal goods in the name of publicity was a move made without adequate consideration. Additionally, following the ceremony, Ripley’s gifted Kardashian a jar containing Monroe’s hair, arguably reducing the legacy of a monumental cultural icon down to the physical ownership of her items and body.

Wearing Monroe’s dress brought up numerous ethical questions regarding her treatment and the dress’ cultural significance. Many fashion commentators will be eagerly watching to see how celebrities and collections approach the issue in the future.

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