By Caroline Leaper – www.smh.com.au
Is any outfit truly shocking on the red carpet any more? We’ve seen huge princess dresses and tiny minidresses, Björk’s swan halter-neck and Lady Gaga’s meat gown. “Naked” dresses (those comprising little actual material, and slashed to show off the figure) have been normalised on famous women of all ages.
The original palm dress at the 2000 Grammys.Credit:AP
But 20 years ago, the story was quite different. Jennifer Lopez wore Versace’s slashed-to-the-navel jungle print dress to the Grammys in 2000, outdoing all of the other celebrities in attendance and causing a shock-and-awe reaction in the media.
The dress went on display at the V&A, as well as at The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.
Eric Schmidt, the president of Google, would later say that the dress had prompted the creation of Google Images. “It was the most popular search query we had ever seen,” he said. Before then, Google had only offered text results when people used the search engine. How’s that for a fashion moment?
At Milan Fashion Week last September, Donatella Versace went all out to acknowledge the forthcoming anniversary. Sixty looks inspired by the house’s turn-of-the- millennium design codes paraded by, working the iconic jungle print into everything from raincoats to pencil skirts.
It was the most popular search query we had ever seen.
Eric Schmidt, Google president
The last look was the actual dress, updated and modelled by Lopez herself, now 50 and arguably looking better than ever in it. The new version of “The Dress” showed even more skin, having lost its sleeves and featuring added cutouts at the waist.
The appearance of Lopez generated a global reaction from the Instagram generation. Advertising analysts at Launchmetrics estimate that the stunt prompted $US9.4 million ($13.82 million) worth of media mentions and online engagement in the days that followed.
A few months on and the Versace collection is about to arrive in stores. After all that hype and attention, will anyone actually buy the J Lo look?
The answer might surprise you. Despite this being a dress that surely only J Lo, or someone with a figure like J Lo, can pull off, “The Dress” is now one of the most wanted pieces from the spring collections.
Net-a-Porter’s buying team reports unprecedented interest from their EIP (extremely important people) customer list.
Elizabeth von der Goltz, the company’s global buying director, bought two versions; the embellished runway incarnation which will retail at £6,960 ($13,359) and a “commercial” version, with sleeves, for £4,850 ($9309), described as more similar to the dress worn by J Lo at the Grammys in 2000.
Ida Petersson, womenswear buying director at BrownsFashion.com confirms the interest from customers wanting to buy the dress was instant – the J Lo effect translated directly into sales. “As soon as Jennifer Lopez hit the runway wearing that epic dress, myself and the team had texts arriving [from VIP customers who wanted to pre-order it],” she explains. “That’s the power of Instagram. The waiting list for this dress is insane, we now have four times as many people down on the list as we bought stock for.”
Petersson notes that the price tag hasn’t deterred customers at all. “It’s [almost] a £7,000 ($13,436) dress, so it’s rare to see this sort of response,” she explains. “Demand is normally limited to a smaller customer base when we’re talking about something at this price point.
“We’ve also bought into the more commercial option for those looking for something a little less risqué.”
Harrods is planning to celebrate the dress’s arrival at the store on February 15 with a dedicated window display to launch it to customers and allow passers-by to admire it.
E-tailer Moda Operandi has had the sleeved version of the dress available to pre-order on its site for weeks, and describes buying it as “a chance to add a piece of fashion history to your wardrobe”.
That last point, perhaps, is the key to the real-life appeal. There are women who are buying the dress in order to have their own J Lo moment; to impress their friends and show off their figures at special birthday parties, black-tie galas, or, let’s imagine, just for their own enjoyment when lolling around the house.
There will be others who have bought it with Instagram in mind; what a status symbol it would be to show that, firstly, you can pull off a dress like Lopez did, showing that amount of glowing, gym-toned flesh, and, secondly, that you can afford it. The potential for “likes” online is surely endless.
There is also a school of thought that this could be a savvy investment. Vintage versions of the dress, produced in 2000, are impossible to come by because it was bespoke, meaning the limited number for sale now will likely gain value in years to come.
A 2017 sale of rare Gianni Versace pieces from the ’90s saw collectors paying thousands for items that didn’t hold anywhere near as much pop-cultural or feminist significance as this dress.
“The second time I wore it and walked out there, it was such an empowering thing,” Lopez has said of her revisiting it. “Twenty years had gone by, and I think for women, knowing you can put on a dress 20 years later – it resonated. It was like, ‘Yes, you know, life is not over.'”