The images of Kim Kardashian's team forcing Marilyn Monroe's dress to adapt it to the body of the American celebrity are shocking. It did not enter the skin of the actress and lover of President John F. Kennedy. Despite cutting out sugar and carbs for three weeks, wearing a sauna suit twice a day, running on the treadmill, and eating only vegetables and protein, her body wasn't cut out for that dress. The dresses only have one body, and Kardashian modified a garment composed of soufflé silk, which is no longer available. The damage it has caused to the dress is irreparable, but it was left with the attention of the red carpet of the annual gala of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (MET) whose sole purpose, paradoxically, is to raise funds for the protection of the collection of historical clothing.
"Historical garments should not be worn by anyone." That was the first commandment launched by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), which advises UNESCO, upon seeing the appearance of kim kardashian clad in a dress that was custom made in 1962 for Marilyn Monroe. The last stitches of the "authentic nude dress" were given a few minutes before the actress entered the stage of Madison Square Garden, where she was going to sing "Happy Birthday" to President Kennedy. "Modifying a dress considered as part of the historical heritage, even temporarily, for another person to use it may seem inappropriate and distorted," Corinne Thépaut-Cabasset, president of ICOM for museums and collections of clothing, fashion and clothing, tells elDiario.es. textile.
The damaged garment is witness to a "historical moment" and forms part of the collective memory as "a delicate and sensitive polysemic object". Isn't it paradoxical that it happened at the MET, a museum that devotes so much attention to textile heritage? “Of course, this has caused a lot of questions and misunderstandings in the garment conservation museum community,” he replies. She believes that if the property belonged to a public museum, this would never have happened.
Alarms have been raised by the decision of the owners of the legendary dress: Ripley's Believe it or not, a chain of centers that sell an experience focused exclusively on entertainment. They call themselves a "museum" and have been in business since 1918. But it's a company dedicated to "family fun" with mirror mazes, laser races, amusement parks, mini-golf courses, water and amusement parks… "It's a genuine empire of the rare, the strange and the incredible", is its motto. They have establishments all over the world (not in Spain) and claim that they have more than 15 million annual visitors.
In 2016, this company acquired Monroe's famous dress at auction, made by Jean Louis. They paid 4.3 million dollars (4 million euros) for the garment, which that night became the most expensive in the world. The owners of this peculiar museum offered Kardashian the 60-year-old dress for the MET gala. "It will forever be one of the greatest privileges of my life, to be able to channel my inner Marilyn in this way," she said in an interview with Vogue in which she noted that she was so respectful of the garment that she would never sit down to eat with it. .. For dinner he changed and wore a replica.
Corinne Thépaut-Cabasset clarifies that this fact of global importance can generate an effect contrary to what was expected. "This event can create habit in the proposals of the future", adds the French specialist. However, as this newspaper has learned, claims of historical dresses preserved in museums have been going on for years. Although Kardashian's action is a turning point in the relationship between fashion and society, Sarah Scaturro, former curator of the Met Costume Institute and current chief curator of the Cleveland Museum of Art, acknowledges that when she worked at the Met He turned down many such requests. Among others, by Anna Wintour. The proposal is for models and celebrities to use irreplaceable objects from the collection at galas such as the MET, of media importance.
As Scaturro recalls, in the 1980s a group of professionals dedicated to preserving fashion came together to oppose the use of historical dresses. "My concern is that other colleagues from historical fashion collections are now pressured by important people to let them wear garments kept in museums," says the North American specialist. It is a very common confusion, the result of the lack of an awareness pending forge: a museum is not a cabinet with pieces available.
"It has been surreal. The Marilyn dress has been nonsense, although I know that the MET does not control the plans of the guests. They have no responsibility for this," summarizes Miren Arzalluz, director of the Paris Fashion Museum since 2018 He attends us from Mexico by phone and comments that we live in a media moment and there are risks. Despite this, she assures that the social perception of fashion has changed. "Things that happened 20 years ago no longer happen. Fashion is a spontaneous good and closer than the plastic arts. It is less intimidating and sometimes things like this happen. That closeness can confuse and cause a lack of recognition, respect and care Fashion is part of our daily lives and that is why it is difficult to understand a dress as a work of art and heritage, but they are," says Arzalluz.
They are very delicate goods and, once they reach the museum, they cannot return to public life. The street and the bodies cease to be their habitat. Despite this, the Cristóbal Balenciaga Foundation has suffered this social pressure to return dresses to social life for a report. Before the museum opened in Getaria (Gipuzkoa), Sonsoles de Icaza y de León, an aristocrat who died in 1996, married to Francisco de Paula Díez, lover of Ramón Serrano Suñer and muse of Cristóbal Balenciaga, claimed the pieces that he had already deposited. "She said they were hers and took them to dress for the report. I did everything possible to prevent it from happening," Igor Uria, director of Collections at the Cristóbal Balenciaga Foundation, tells this newspaper.
Uria acknowledges that pressure always exists, but he responds in the same way to requests for dresses to wear: "Who goes to the Prado Museum to ask for Las Meninas for a dinner? No one. We are talking about heritage and museum goods that they must be preserved. We must take care of this so that they reach the next generations. We are very strict." In fact, he remembers something that Balenciaga himself said against media splendor: "Don't waste yourself in society." And he applies it. "That's why we can't destroy heritage on a red carpet," he ditches.
Dress and body are fused. Clothes are designed and made for a body at a specific time. It is a transitory good, a dress is just an instant. "A design is absolute high precision. You cannot wear underwear other than the one used to test the model. The bodies themselves change over the years and that is why even their owners are not fit to wear them," he says. Uria to underline the delicacy of these goods. The Cristóbal Balenciaga Foundation manages more than 3,200 pieces in its collection, separate documentation. Most come as donations.
Monroe's dress had been part of other collections and exhibitions before ending up in the hands of its current owners. But the body she was sewn for was still the same. A void that no one else can occupy except the mannequin that is made for each of the pieces. The mannequin is to the garment what the stretcher is and the frame is to the painting. A fundamental false body in its conservation, which the dress also suffers from. It is told by Silvia Brasero, curator and restorer of the National Costume Museum, in Madrid. That is the time of greatest stress for clothing.
"You have to show the pieces, but not at any price: the textile is the most delicate good, even with the mannequins adapted to the piece. The most delicate moment of a dress is when you dress the made-to-measure mannequin. It is when more suffer and we do it without forcing, with all care. In the case of Kardashian, it has not been like that at all. Imagine the damage. If a garment is treated like this, it is lost, it is unrecoverable, "warns Brasero. He says that they have never received requests to wear a dress and that when they lend to other museums they always demand showcases.
When does it happen that a private good becomes a public good, that a garment becomes heritage? That moment is very identified in the National Costume Museum. The conservation and restoration officials put on their gloves to receive the garment. So, when they treat it, review it and catalog it, right there the clothing becomes textile heritage by law. That of Historical Heritage, which determines that all assets that become part of public collections are considered Assets of Cultural Interest (BIC) and from this moment will have the maximum attention in conservation. "A suit from the museum has the same protection as a Sorolla or a Velázquez. It is not considered the same, but it is the same," he clarifies. The pieces are stored in special combs: some garments hang from padded hangers and others rest horizontally.
The criteria for deciding that a piece of clothing should be protected are multiple, observes Miren Arzalluz. In fact, in the National Costume Museum they have pieces from just a year ago or the extraordinary final island dedicated to David Delfín. "And, when a dress enters a museum, it is annulled for public life. The problem with Marilyn Monroe's dress is that it is housed in a museum that is not a museum. And they are not governed by the museographic criteria established by the ICOM. It should be in a national museum because of its political and social relevance. And I wonder if they are really worried about this scandal or on the contrary because of the great publicity they have generated, "asks the director of the Paris Fashion Museum.
The market has decided on the artistic good. And it has made him suffer. Public institutions cannot do anything against private money and, above all, American money. Arzalluz says that at the moment fashion collecting is on the rise because it is much cheaper than that of the great masters of painting and that makes it more profitable. All the fine arts museums are including fashion in their temporary exhibitions, because they have a popular appeal. This revalues the properties of those private collectors.
"No museum (big or small), private or public, no collection or collector wants to see damaged goods like Marilyn Monroe's dress. So why are we going to risk it and to what end? Does this contribute to the commodification of the reputation of works of art preserved in museums?", indicates Corinne Thépaut-Cabasse. The president of ICOM finds it "even more incomprehensible and shocking" that this damage has occurred at the New York MET Costume Institute, the most famous organization in the world of fashion and museums. If it has happened there, could it happen anywhere?