Cindy Crawford interviews actor and boyfriend Richard Gere at the Gianni Versace AIDS Benefit in 1991.
Season: 3 Episode: 7
Title: Spring Edition
Original Airdate: 3/6/91
Appearances: Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, Richard Gere, Gianni Versace, Sylvester Stallone, Betsey Johnson, Andre Leon Talley
RISE OF THE SUPERMODEL: CINDY CRAWFORD AT THE GIANNI VERSACE AIDS FUNDRAISER
This clip is a jewel, not only for its peek into the Versace archive at a time when the clothes were at the apex of mixed-print, bold-hued richesse, but because you get to hear Gianni talk (albeit briefly) about a cause that was important to him. For the Friends of AIDS benefit, Cindy and the supermodels descend upon Chateau Marmont for a Versace fashion show attended by the most A-list Hollywood types. Cindy does double-duty for the evening, shooting a segment (with a “Cindy Cam” while she’s backstage) for House of Style, and walking in the show. Maybe it’s because Gianni Versace was a personal favorite of mine, or perhaps because he died so tragically, but the footage is notably bittersweet. Seeing how much the supermodels loved him and witnessing again how active he was, at the peak of his career, in the fight against AIDS is poignant — especially since this was at a time when the disease was swiftly destroying whole communities, and those who were HIV-positive were stigmatized by ignorance and hysteria. “For the problem of AIDS,” says Versace, “for the problem that touches many friends. I did this with the heart.”
Naomi serves formidable hair flip as she bounds down the runway. Claudia says she always feels pretty in Versace’s clothes. And in an odd transformative note, ever notice how Gianni Versace’s Italian-ness rubs off on Christy Turlington? Her Versace billboards in the opening shot are a vision of sun-kissed, smoky-eyed, Sophia Loren-esque goodness.
Everyone backstage is calm, and the show runs smoothly. We’ve been seeing a lot of early ’90s Versace lately: Lady Gaga had a field day with the archive for a media blitz earlier this year, there isn’t a tony vintage store worth its salt that doesn’t carry a couple of pieces, Drake wore a printed Versace button-up to his birthday, and the ornate-bordered shirt has been knocked off countless times, but the differences are palpable when you’re seeing the clothes in this context—on the backs of these models—when Gianni Versace was alive.
The magic lies in the movement. Versace mixed polka dots and houndstooth, filigree and floral, with everything in electric, hyper-saturated tones, all on the finest fabrics. Watching the silk suits glide down the runway is unreal because the prints undulate and billow. Gianni Versace knew how to cut: The precision and structural integrity of what would otherwise be too-whimsical in its cavalier opulence make his clothes compulsively wearable. I never thought I’d type these words, but Sylvester Stallone says it best: “Versace has his feet firmly planted in traditionalism. But every now and then, he brings about an air of theatricality. So if you feel like being a bit bold, his clothes kinda bridge that gap.” The fact that Stallone is wearing a silk lapel, wing-collar shirt and has his nails buffed to a high sheen makes this pop culture nugget that much more satisfying. Another quotable tidbit comes from Sandra Bernhard: “I think the war has gotten Bush off the hook for a while, but AIDS is an ongoing war and battle that really hasn’t been properly fought.” And, of course, there’s Naomi Campbell, who displays startling honesty about the “most embarrassing thing in [her] closet.” Let’s just say, she talks about something of a deeply… um… penetratively… personal nature.
We also see Andre Leon Talley snap photos of our host, and for Cindy superfans, this is the first moment where Richard Gere (Cindy’s first husband) has ever seen her in this role. He’s gobsmacked. You can tell he thinks himself the luckiest bastard in the world for having landed this woman (in super-sexy, head-to-toe Versace, having just MODELED it) holding an MTV mic cube and interviewing him like a real-life journalist.
“This is amazing because we’ve known each other for two and a half years and I’ve never seen you do this before,” Gere stammers. “This is incredible. I’m just kind of floored.” From Steven Seagal in a band collar with Kelly LeBrock (dressed like a sad clown) in tow, to a photo of Michael Landon and Rod Stewart and Rachel Hunter in matching teased coifs, this was a wonderful collision of worlds, and we’re lucky that MTV was there to capture it.
+ WATCH THE VERSACE AIDS BENEFIT
DEMYSTIFYING FASHION: WHERE DO BABYDOLL DRESSES COME FROM?
Designer Betsey Johnson in 1991.
The term “babydoll dress” may have not been coined by Betsey Johnson, but she can certainly lay claim to popularizing the ’60s silhouette in the ’90s. (The thing I love most about her floral versions is that they had pockets!) “This shape… à la maternity/pregnancy, I’ve been calling the babydoll,” she says. “It’s very naive, very sweet, very young, very innocent look. It’s a mystery after the bust. And that’s what’s interesting, because it’s got a very sexy little top part, and then after that it’s like, who knows? Is she hippy? Is she skinny? What is she under there?”
In this segment, we explore “warm weather dresses” and it’s a romp through Central Park with models in different versions of the summer staple, intercut with designers in their work rooms. There is a beautiful version by New York designer Carmelo Pomodoro, whose promising career would be cut short the following year when he died of AIDS-related pneumonia at just 37 years old. He calls this his “princess dress”: it features a demure, boxy, clavicle-skimming neckline (“I have a personal relationship with the clavicle. I think it’s the sexiest part of the body”) and a plunging back.
The final “picnic in the park” scene, with daisies and a somewhat slapdash “peace” flag, calls to mind an article entitled “Fashion: Baby Dolls, Naughty and Nice” by Anne-Marie Schiro, in an October 1990 issue of the New York Times. Schiro interviewed Kalman Ruttenstein, a senior VP for fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s, and Terry Melville, a VP and Fashion Director of the Junior/Contemporary category at Macy’s. The executives parsed the general silhouette of a baby doll (“high waist, high yoke, more fabric”; the textiles used: “chiffon, challis, stretch velvet and stretch lace”; and the predominant print: “florals… next in importance are dots, then geometrics and solid-color lace’). Melville and Ruttenstein also situated the dress as a revival of the “symbol of the 1960s youthquake.” I remember these dresses. We would wear them over tights with combat boots and a choker and your hair up in a French twist, or we’d wear them over a long-sleeved bodysuit; but I did not then or now consider them to be anything but very ’90s.
Even in 2012 with the high-waisted, floral print/lace ’90s dress enjoying a resurgence and the rising popularity of the choker on people born too recently to remember the decade—like Chloe Moretz and Sky Ferreira—I can’t help but wonder whether they know that the ’90s dresses are an homage to an earlier era. I certainly didn’t. If you show me a pair of silver clogs, I won’t think ’1960s’ I’ll always think ’1991’ because of the color and the execution. It’s the fingerprint that a decade leaves on a borrowed trend as it’s repeatedly revived in the future and I wonder what the effects will be as we look back on ’80s trends from 2012 in 2032. Especially since these cycles shrink as technological innovations get faster and we become more peripatetic in pulling temporal inspiration. Colors change, mills introduce things like stretch lace, 3D printing becomes a reality and the price points for trends dip and democratize. Fashion is getting crazy accessible and it’s fascinating. It’s also interesting to see what’s picked up again with fondness and what’s left alone on each go ’round. We haven’t yet seen the sleeveless white turtleneck bodysuit and the macramé flared-sleeve, calf-length duster but I’d bet money that they’ll return. And I can’t wait to see how they’ve changed.
+ WATCH WARM WEATHER DRESSES