A swan wrapped around the neck, a head under the arm, a piece of fabric that created Google Images, a dress made of meat. What would fashion be without a little shock, craziness, insanity and controversy?
In a time when showing too much skin on the Oscars red carpet was unthinkable, Cher (like the true icon she is) decided to say goodbye to the rules and predictable looks. “This was one of my favorite outfits,” she explained in a video for Vogue. “I came to Bob with an idea. I said I want to have a mohawk, but that is not actually Indian. I want it to be so over-the-top that it’s next week. The beautiful shawl was cashmere. I loved the whole thing.” Adding to the headpiece and the shawl, the outfit created by Mackie consisted in a jewel-encrusted bralette and a matching skirt, revealing Cher’s midriff in all its glory. As she later admitted, the outfit was chosen as a way to show the Academy that she was a serious actress – and while risky, it payed off. “Cher’s the eternal 15-year-old who’s going to do exactly what her mother says not to do,” Mackie would later say of the gown. “We had a meeting at Tom Cruise’s apartment in New York. She’d been in a lot of movies where she was wearing jeans and T-shirts and hadn’t worn a getup in a long time. I said, ‘But you can’t wear that to the Academy Awards’. She said, ‘I don’t care. I don’t want to look like a housewife in an evening gown.’ She was in every newspaper the next day; she’s not so dumb.”
“In 1993, a low-budget feature film crew drove from Sydney to Alice Springs with a truck full of sensational costumes and a pink and lavender bus now considered a fixture of Australian cinema. The film they returned with would become a worldwide smash-hit and a watershed production for the LGBT movement.” The movie described by The Guardian is “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”, written and directed by Stephan Elliot, with costume design by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, who received the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in 1995. When the night of the awards came knocking, Lizzy Gardiner arrived on the red carpet with a truly unexpected look – a dress made of 254 American Express gold cards, all of them with her name and connected through a wire. “[The dress was] full length, and [it] was split almost to the waist because there was no other way of doing it. I had gold underwear on, and off I went,” the costume designer told ABC News. "On the night it really upset a lot of people. A lot of women, I think they felt upstaged or pissed off that I wasn't taking things as seriously as I should." Then again, who said that fashion needed to be serious all the time?
Stealing the spotlight from someone like Marilyn Manson on the red carpet is not an easy task. Actually, some will argue, it’s quite an impossible one. But in 1998, on the occasion of the MTV Video Music Awards, that’s exactly what actress Rose McGowan did. The outfit in question? A black knee-length dress, totally see-through and created with intricate beads. Today, the naked dress is a red-carpet choice that doesn’t leave the masses in awe – but in 1998, the story was very different. The dress was seen as highly provocative, and images showing it were even censored and blurred out. In the years that followed, one of the most infamous red-carpet looks ever – as Rose would later admit, and although she wanted to “make and entrance, cause a scene, or whatever,” the actress had no idea that the dress was so see-through in the front (she received it the night before). Decades later, the dress is still synonymous with a true jaw dropping moment, and the reason behind it gives it another layer of meaning. “That was my first public appearance after being sexually assaulted. I was like, ‘Is this what you want?’” the actress explained in a 2018 interview. “I’ve never worn something like that before or since. That was a political statement.”
From clothes that were not ironed to perfection to items that don’t fit like they should, there are a number of faux pas that are highly condemnable in fashion – and, some say, the outfit worn by Celine Dion on the 1999 Oscars is one of those crimes that no one should have the audacity to commit. In a time when taking risks on the red carpet is not the triumph that is today, and in a ceremony known for its “serious” and more “conservative” tone when compared to others, the singer took the norms that dictate what is or not acceptable and turned them all around – and we mean this literally. "When I wore that look, yes it was at the Oscars, and when I wore that, everyone was wearing dresses, not pants," she told People. "I was the only one with pants in a backward suit from Galliano and if I would do this today it would work. It was avant-garde at the time." The decision to wear a tuxedo backwards may have sounded like the craziest idea ever. Fast forward to 2020 and what many say was a miss for Celine Dion and John Galliano is a legend in its own right.
In a pre-Cardi B era – from the four looks pulled out of the archives of Thierry Mugler for the Grammy Awards to the head-to-toe Richard Quinn floral, it’s almost impossible to count all the times the rapper left us lost for words – there weren’t a lot of hip-hop and rap artists who could rock the red carpet quite like Lil’ Kim. We don’t need further proof than the look spotted at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards: a breast-bearing purple jumpsuit and matching glittering sequins pasty that left little (no, almost nothing) to the imagination. Since then, the costume piece by Misa Hylton has set, as Vogue US describes it, “the standard for attention-grabbing awards-show fashion, but its creation stemmed from a desire to represent Kim’s personality, rather than a need for provocation.” As Hylton puts it, “the fashion statement Lil’ Kim made is the epitome of authentic style, courage, and standing in your power,” says Hylton. “Everyone had a front row view to see the beauty of being totally free in your artistic expression.”
The beginning of the 2000’s was a magic cauldron where some of the most controversial moments in fashion were cooked, but none of them is a match to Jennifer Lopez, dressed in Versace, at the 2000 Grammy Awards. While it wasn’t the first time that the Jungle Dress saw the light of day, it was thanks to JLo that the green chiffon dress with palm trees became an icon. The moment was so crazy that Google had no option but to create Google Images. “People wanted more than just text. This first became apparent after the 2000 Grammy Awards, where Jennifer Lopez wore a green dress that, well, caught the world’s attention,” said Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO and executive chairman, in 2015. “At the time, it was the most popular search query we had ever seen. But we had no surefire way of getting users exactly what they wanted: JLo wearing that dress. Google Image Search was born.” Being the reason behind a search engine being invented is outrageous but bringing back the look that made it all happen is like nothing we have seen before. In 2019, Jennifer Lopez closed the Versace Spring/Summer 2020 show wearing an upgraded version of the original dress she wore back in 2000 – and the world, as expected, reacted to the viral moment with the same energy it showed on the night of the 23rd of February 2000. If that’s not crazy, we don’t know what it is.
The Oscars red carpet is one of the last places where we expect to see a look that’s completely out there. Truth be told, there are not many examples that went down in history for the craziest of reasons – butt the swan dress worn by Björk in 2001 is one of those moments. Created by Marjan Pekoski, the outfit consisted in a nude and see-through bodysuit, completed with a white “swan” dress, whose head wrapped around Björk’s neck, as if it was a scarf. The fantasy that the dress transpired (which in turn influenced Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli to create their own version for Valentino) would have been more than enough to make the world turn wild, but Björk decided to take it up a notch. “I was very aware when I went to the Awards that it would probably be my first and last time,” the singer said. “So I thought my input should really be about fertility, and I thought I’d bring some eggs.” The scene may seem like an insanity to many, but the truth is that it remains one of the most memorable moments of the Oscars. ““She took it a step further and made an event of the whole thing by creating ostrich egg bags and laying them on the carpet,” the designer later said to The Hollywood Reporter. “With the Oscars, there's a uniform, like the police. Björk was definitely outside the box. Without people like her, it would be boring.”
From that time when she arrived at the Grammy Awards inside an egg (“I was in there for 72 hours. It was a very creative experience”) to the literal performance that happened at the Met Gala red carpet, involving four wardrobe changes, outfits by Brandon Maxwell and a whole lot of Camp, Lady Gaga is the epitome of how excessive fashion can really be – but none of her outfits was as crazy as the one she wore to the MTV Video Music Awards in 2010. “I never thought I would be asking Cher to hold my meat purse,” the singer said when she stepped on stage to receive the award for Video of the Year for “Bad Romance”, dressed in an outfit created by designer Franc Fernandez, entirely made of raw meat. Completed with a headpiece and a pair of boots, both in the same controversial material, the Meat Dress was seen by many as something crazy, and offense, even. But Lady Gaga’s intention was just one: take a stand against the anti-LGBT+ legislation Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. “The moral, ethical and political implications of that dress went far beyond what people think, which is ‘ew.’ Right? ‘Ew’”, she explained in an interview. “If we don't stand up for what we believe in, if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones. I am not a piece of meat.”
We don’t need to sugar coat it: everything that Rihanna wears on the red carpet is crazy in the best and most beautiful way. From the Adam Selman naked dress to the pope like Maison Margiela look and the breathtaking Comme des Garçons, it doesn’t take much to remember a handful of moments when RiRi left the world in a state of hysteria – but it takes a lot to pick just one. Do we dare say the 2015 Met Gala? “I’m so in love with this dress, but the train is insane!” Rihanna told VF.com on the red carpet. “I can’t really walk in it without any help—but it’s so worth it. I love this dress so much! It’s Chinese couture and it’s made by Guo Pei. It’s handmade by one Chinese woman and it took her two years to make. I found it online.” We don’t know what’s most insane here: the fact that the dress took two years to make, the fact that Rihanna found it online or that amazing train, in that amazing yellow, with those amazing details. Probably the train. Definitely that train.
When Rita Ora arrived on the 2017 MTV EMA red carpet in London, the general thought was more or less like this: “I woke up like this” but make it fashion. No, the singer was not wearing a chic pajama. No, it wasn’t a reminiscing of the bed dress presented by Viktor & Rolf in the Autumn/Winter 2005 season. We’re getting close, but you have to think less duvet and more Towel Series. Bingo: a white floor-length bathrobe with a towel wrapped around the head, diamonds and pumps, of course. The outfit was not taken from the hotel room in the midst of a wardrobe malfunction – in fact, it was a creation of Alejandro Gómez Palomo, founder of the brand Palomo Spain, originally presented at the label’s Spring/Summer 2018 show. Next time you step out of the shower and find yourself wishing you didn’t have to take your cozy robe off, just remember: Fashion can be whatever we want it to be. And craziness, it seems, follows the same trend.
Who needs the latest it bag when you can carry your own head underneath your arm as the ultimate accessory of the season? This was the exact thought (crazy, some may argue) that Alessandro Michele had for Gucci’s Autumn/Winter 2018. During the show, a metaphor of the way people construct their identities nowadays – in his own words, we’re the Frankenstein of our own lives – two models hit the runway wearing replicas of their own heads, inspiring many to follow the viral #GucciChallange, as well as Jared Leto’s interpretation of the 2019 Met Gala theme. “I think Camp is celebrating things that may be dismissed, it’s not taking life and fashion too seriously, and I am just happy to be a part of it all,” the actor said. The high-neck red gown he wore, paired with a crystal harness and a replica of his own head, was one of the most out-there choices of the night. “It’s all Gucci. The head is Gucci too. It’s a little bizarre.”
*Originally published in Vogue Portugal's The Madness Issue, from July 2020.