Valerio Mezzanotti / The New York Times

September 25, 2019

YANDAVA | Jennifer Lopez and the Power of Iconic Fashion Moments

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You might recognize Jennifer Lopez’s green Versace dress because, following her appearance at the 2000 Grammys, it single handedly sparked the creation of Google Images. As Google CEO Eric Schmidt wrote in a 2015 blog post, “After all, people wanted more than just text . . . But we had no surefire way of getting users exactly what they wanted: J. Lo wearing that dress. Google Image Search was born.”

Last week, almost two decades later, J. Lo and Donatella Versace nearly broke the same part of the Internet they helped build when Lopez walked the runway for Versace’s Spring-Summer 2020 show at Milan Fashion Week in a similarly plunging, jungle-printed dress. This time, however, the feat was an explicit partnership between Versace and Google: Invitations included a Google Search box, digital art made with Google Tilt Brush decorated the runway and, after a montage of Google Image searches for the 2000 dress was projected, Donatella Versace playfully used Google Assistant’s voice command technology to summon J. Lo on the floor (excuse the pun). When she finally stepped out — the chiffon fabric of the new dress fanning out behind her, goddess-like — everyone stood up, phones in hand, no doubt already sending and resending the image through the stratosphere of social media.

However, the power of the new dress derives not so much from the dress itself but from its function as a throwback to an iconic moment in fashion history. Though the new dress is much more revealing than the original — with the skirt of the dress open to the navel, side cut-outs and an open back, in addition to the famous plunging neckline — after two decades of racy dresses, I didn’t find myself quite struck or moved by it as I expected to after all the hullabaloo.

To see what was missing, I took to Google Images. In comparison to the 2019 dress, the 2000 dress is quite demure — aside from that famous neckline, it has long sleeves and a long, flowing skirt with a slight slit up the middle, paired with relatively light makeup and few accessories. But this still didn’t help me answer my question: What does make a dress iconic? 

From a Vogue interview with Lopez given shortly after her appearance on the Versace runway, I was surprised to learn that J. Lo had not been the first to wear the dress. In fact, she’d been warned against wearing it by her stylist for this very reason. The dress had initially been introduced on the runway by Amber Valletta, who, as one of the reigning supermodels of the ’90s, was by no means an obscure figure. Donatella Versace herself had worn it at the 1999 Met Gala, and Geri Halliwell (a.k.a. Ginger Spice) followed, donning it at Cannes a mere month before J. Lo’s moment at the Grammys.

All of these women had their fair share of clout, and the events the dress had been worn to were no less significant than the Grammys, so why had Versace and Halliwell gone so unnoticed? Neither of them had accessorized much, either. In contrast to Lopez, though, Halliwell’s neckline is less open, and most of the pictures of her wearing it have that area covered by her long, blonde hair anyway. In Donatella’s version, the slit of the skirt is also left quite open, creating a sort of double-V shape.

J. Lo, however, seems to take on almost a mythical effect in the dress, the transparency of the fabric revealing just her legs posed at an angle not unlike that of Botticelli’s Venus, the neckline of the dress always threatening to gape into malfunction (though as she reassures us in her interview, it was very firmly taped down), toeing the line of suggestion just enough to titillate. 

Perhaps what the dress really reveals is the way fashion allows art to penetrate life; indeed, to conjoin life and art in such a way that few other art forms are capable of, rooting deeply in our collective cultural consciousness, elevating what might otherwise be dull or mundane and even reshaping our technology.

In the meantime, though, I’m still waiting for my dress.     

Ramya Yandava is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at ry86@cornell.edu. Ramya’s Rambles runs alternate Thursdays this semester.