Big mistake. Huge.
When Kim Kardashian hit the Met Gala red carpet wearing Marilyn Monroe’s original 1962 Jean Louis gown, in which Monroe famously sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy, it provoked a polarizing response.
While some celebrated Kardashian for her nod to the icon, others worried about the implications of her wearing the real gown. Costume historians and conservationists decried the unfortunate precedent it would set and the potential damage it could cause.
Another person who didn’t love Kardashian’s choices? Fashion designer Bob Mackie, who drew the sketch for the original gown in his early career working as an assistant to Jean Louis. “I thought it was a big mistake,” Mackie tells EW, while previewing the new Turner Classic Movies’ fashion on film series Follow the Thread. “[Marilyn] was a goddess. A crazy goddess, but a goddess. She was just fabulous. Nobody photographs like that. And it was done for her. It was designed for her. Nobody else should be seen in that dress. “
Mackie also echoes historians’ concerns that wearing the gown was undoubtably damaging to its preservation and structural integrity. He was only 23 when he did the sketch for the gown under the direction of Louis, not even knowing what the dress was for besides an original design for Marilyn Monroe to wear.
Kevin Mazur / MG22 / Getty Images; Cecil Stoughton / AP / Shutterstock Kim Kardashian at the 2022 Met Gala; Marilyn Monroe in the same Jean-Louis gown in 1962.
TCM host Alicia Malone, who spoke with Mackie as part of the network’s forthcoming Follow the Thread series and can be seen on CNN’s Reframed: Marilyn Monroe, also raises concerns for the impact on the gown. “There are all the issues with the actual preservation of the dress and things like oxygen can affect a dress,” she explains. “Usually, these outfits are kept very much in controlled environments and we see that with the Met. The Costume Institute is so careful about how they are handling these historic items. So, it was quite alarming that she was able to wear it. I personally wish she wore a replica instead of the real thing. “
Malone says there are striking similarities between Kardashian and Monroe, however. “You can draw many parallels between Marilyn Monroe and Kim Kardashian in the way that they’re both very publicity savvy,” she notes. “Of course, this was very much a publicity stunt that worked for Kim Kardashian. Marilyn Monroe was someone who also loved to create sensation, as she did with that naked dress. Also, they are women who have changed the ideal beauty of the moment Marilyn Monroe, when she came in her curves became very popular during the 1950s. And we see a lot of young women vying to look like Kim Kardashian. For better or worse, she’s changed the ideal body shape for women. “
Monroe remains a subject of fascination, but she’s also perpetually misread and misunderstood, commodified in her death as she was in life. She wanted desperately to be seen as more than a beautiful face and body, to be taken seriously as an actress and as a human being. Her lifelong struggle to achieve that contributed to mental health challenges that affected her work and ultimately played a role in her death.
In wearing Monroe’s dress – and going on the record about her risky crash diet to fit into it, and dying her hair blonde, has Kardashian only celebrated the part of Marilyn the woman herself so desperately wanted others to see past?
Monroe earned admirers and fame for her beauty and sex appeal, and she remains one of the most recognizable icons of Hollywood to this day. But she wanted to be loved for her soul, not her body. She wanted to be understood and respected as an intellectual, a thinker, and a performer. What does it say when a woman is now famous for, well, being famous, is the person assuming her image?
Malone ponders these questions. “Marilyn Monroe is just such a mess of contradictions,” she reflects. “She’s not easy to place in a box and that’s why she has that appeal. I don’t know what Kim Kardashian is in Marilyn herself or how much she knows about her history. But definitely now, Kim will be tied to that dress as Marilyn is – so it’ll be the Marilyn Monroe dress that Kim Kardashian also wore to the Met Gala. “