Thanks to social media, reality TV and decades of fame fatigue, celebrity fashion in 2022 is a vastly different beast from what it was in 1962 – just ask duct-tape couture queen Kim Kardashian, who has once again attracted a global chorus of criticism, and bathed in yet more life-giving publicity.
The fallout, and I’m not talking body parts, from her alleged desecration of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic John F. Kennedy Happy Birthday Mr President dress at the recent Met Gala, continues unabated.
The difference between the two stars seems pretty clear: Marilyn, elevated to the status of modern deity, is just as loved today as she ever was, while Kim appears to be a star – probably just as famous as Marilyn ever was – who many of us love to hate, something she plays up to in her weirdo sticky-tape onesies.
Even the International Council of Museums Costume Committee has issued a rare admonishment on the matter, chastising the frock’s current owner, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, which claims the gown is worth $10 million – roughly a week’s earnings for Kardashian.
Historic garments should not be worn by anybody, public or private figures, the council fumed, adding that such garments should be handled as little as possible and photographic lighting and photographic flashes must be avoided.
Kim Kardashian could not exist in a world without photographic flashes. It could also be said that such attention was one of the underlying causes of Marilyn Monroe’s premature demise.
As for the actual historic dress Kim wore – albeit only on the actual red carpet and without her usual layer of body makeup before changing into a replica for the rest of the evening – the council has been abundantly clear.
The dress that belonged to Marilyn Monroe was custom-made by French designer Jean Louis in the colour to match her skin tone. It was sewn on her before she went to the event where she sang Happy Birthday for then US President John F. Kennedy in 1962. She didn’t use any underwear to give a more vivid sensation that she was naked.
Some considerations about the damage derived from the [most recent] use: The difference between sizes of Marilyn and the new wearer give differences in fitting strain, so it can be inferred that the textile was under intense stress on the use.
They couldn’t even utter Kardashian by name, referring to her bluntly as the new wearer. As for INTENSE STRESS – ouch!
The $10 million worth of souffle silk is presumably now back at its home within the archives of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, but the idea of fashion garments becoming cultural icons in their own right does pose an opportunity for celebrities looking for a quick publicity hit, and a dilemma for museum curators determined to preserve their sanctity.
Imagine the outcry if gender-challenging Harry Styles turned up on stage wearing Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly black dress by Givenchy from 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Or Katy Perry borrowing Judy Garland’s 1939 checked pinafore from The Wizard of Oz? The mind boggles with the possibilities.
Perhaps a Married at First Sight wannabe could turn up at the Logies in the late Sonia McMahon’s risque 1971 scene-stealing, side-splitting (not in the laugh-out-loud way) White House gown that put Prime Minister Billy McMahon’s wife on the global fashion radar.
How beautiful, said President Nixon, while The Washington Post reported it was one of the most-talked about costumes yet to appear in the White House.
And how delicious if Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, wore her late mother-in-law Princess Diana’s 1994 revenge dress, the little black number in which she dazzled the press photographers on the same night Prince Charles publicly admitted his adultery with Camilla (now that’s making a statement! ).
Not only are all these garments famous for who wore them, they are also famous for when they are worn and why. These are moments seared into the history books because of their impact on the collective consciousness.
It remains to be seen if, in 60 years’ time, we’ll still remember Kim Kardashian’s duct-tape bodysuit.
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