If a space ambassador from another planet were to appear today, demanding to have the 1990s explained to them in one hour or less, that spaceperson could do worse than to watch the premiere installment of MTV’s Fashionably Loud. Because holy Clinton era, is that show a remarkable time capsule.
MTV’s annual-ish event featured hot performers of the day paired with hot designers of the day for runway shows featuring easily identifiable (ie. “super”) models. It was as intensely piffly, as it was important to impressionable American audiences that had never actually seen a live runway show. It also defines pretty clearly the music industry’s most ostentatious and greedy (and lucrative) era, though luckily smart clothing and appearances by a genuinely appealing cast of characters (Brandy! Milla Jovovich! RuPaul!) make the whole thing watchable.
Shot at New York Fashion Week in November of 1995 and aired the following February, Fashionably Loud was hosted by Chris Isaak, best known to MTV viewers as that guy who made out on the beach with supermodel Helena Christensen in that one video. That video is awesome, so let’s watch it before continuing:
The featured correspondents were Cindy Crawford, who had only just announced her departure after six seasons from MTV’s House of Style, and Milla Jovovich, herself a talented musician:
Todd Oldham, Anna Sui, and Marc Jacobs–the most New York-y of all designers–were paired with Coolio, Elastica, and Filter for ten-minute run-throughs of their Spring ’96 collections. Brandy and Deborah Harry showed up as models. Ad Rock and RuPaul were in the audience. And the cameras rarely held still long enough for viewers to actually really look at the clothes.
Sure, the event was kind of dumb. CLUBBY TRENDY BEATNIK GENIUS CYBERGIRL A-LINE DECONSTRUCTED, said the catwalk, as if viewers at home might need help thinking of keywords to describe what they were seeing, while the bands were placed before an identical backdrop that said METAL POWER CHORD GRUNGE JAM SOLO RIFFARPEGGIO SURF GUITAR.
Writing for New York magazine, Michael Musto said that the event “ingeniously throws rock and fashion together the way someone might toss marshmallow sauce onto a hamburger.” And he is… not incorrect. The Elastica/Sui pairing is great, but then Elastica were no punks nicked off the streets of London. Singer Justine Frischmann, daughter of a multi-millionaire engineering consultant, was already a music industry veteran by the time she formed her quartet, and the band’s penchant for wearing all-black everything was of course a carefully considered move. (Sui, incidentally, designed the red vinyl cop uniforms for the band’s futuristic, Spike Jonze-directed “Car Song” video.)
In the audience, Milla walked around asking everyone what they thought about music and fashion, or fashion and music, or fashion in music, as though the pairing was some sort of brand-new concept. “How do you feel about the way fashion has taken control over the media today,” she breathlessly asked Guy Oseary, Madonna’s manager. “It’s all about Elastica,” he replied. “I’m here to see my Jewish girl Justine!”
“It should be more about Jews in rock,” agreed his friend.
The other pairings are maybe not so inspired. Though footage of the Coolio/Oldham pairing doesn’t seem to exist anywhere on the Internet, I can’t really fathom how matching the LA-based “Gangsta’s Paradise” rapper with someone as overwhelmingly fey as Todd Oldham possibly made sense to anyone. That segment, in particular, reeked of desperation, according to a review in the Chicago Tribune.
And then there’s Filter. Oh, Filter. Before their segment, Cindy Crawford asked the band backstage whether they thought that fashion and music were related, and their response—no, basically–leads one to wonder why they even showed up. Singer Robert Patrick showed off his t-shirt to the cameras backstage but during the performance covered it up with a sling, emblazoned in Sharpie with the words I MET CINDY AND ALL I GOT WAS A SLING. On the other hand, Marc Jacobs’ Spring ’96 collection was inspired, in the designer’s own words, by boredom with the fashion hype cycle. So, there’s that.
A really ridiculous teenager, in an interview with Jovovich, gave his thoughts on the show: “Coolio was all good and the girlies were all good and… some of the clothes were all good.” Actually, the boy was celebrated nineteen-year old fashion photographer Davide Sorrenti, who would die less than a year after the show’s broadcast from heroin-related causes.
“The whole thing makes me sick,” Ad-Rock told Jovovich about the Fashionably Loud concept, perhaps sincerely, although honestly who knows. (’90s MTV shows were often riddled with apathy about MTV, from surly Eddie Vedder to Fiona Apple’s indignant “This is bullshit” speech.)
Anna Sui, in a thirty-second interview with Jovovich, perhaps described the spectacle best:
“I mean this is the real thing, I mean these are the people that love fashion and they love rock and roll , so I mean the combination of the two is ideal for you and I, so, like, we get to live the experience. That’s great.”