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alek wek

Photographer David LaChapelle shoots model Alek Wek for French 'Vogue.'
Photo: MTV

Season: 9 Episode: 63
Title: The Year in Fashion
Original Airdate: 12/16/97
Appearances: Alek Wek, David LaChapelle, Tyra Banks, Cindy Crawford

MODELS, THE NEXT GENERATION: ALEK WEK

Alek Wek was a huge deal when she arrived on the scene because this Sudanese model broke the mold. She was bald, with a round face, slightly squinty eyes and beautiful skin that was so black she appeared to glow. Alek’s claim to fame was her inclusion in Tina Turner’s “GoldenEye” video for the James Bond movie of the same name. Ms. Turner wears this incredible skin-tight white satin dress with a high slit; Alek lounges on a chaise, skin gleaming as she fondles a giant jewel.

We’re on set with Alek and the incomparable photographer David LaChapelle. Alek is wearing a fuchsia formal gown in this tidy little neighborhood in Queens, and the bright sun and pedestrian backdrop creates a dreamy feeling with this beautiful, statuesque model who’s incongruous to everything around her. Alek has this easy, loping walk and looks great on the runway, but where she gets really exciting is in dramatic editorials. David calls her a “monumental beauty”; I don’t want to sound fetishistic, but she does have a look so striking that you either love her or hate her. She is definitely a part of the New Wave of models, and looks so unique that it makes total sense that she continues to work today. She appeared as a judge on America’s Next Top Model.

+ WATCH ALEK WEK

MODELS, THE NEXT GENERATION: REBECCA AND TYRA TALK FASHION

rebecca romijn tyra banks

Rebecca Romijn and model Tyra Banks talk about the year in fashion in 1997.
Photo: MTV

New host Rebecca Romijn drives around L.A. in a convertible and talks style with Tyra Banks. They wear matching blue sweaters and discuss trends and what it’s like to shop for clothes. Tyra is obviously a media mogul now, and Rebecca has gone onto a successful acting career (a transition attempted by many and achieved by few), but it’s interesting that they cut unorthodox figures in the industry because they skew a little mainstream for hardcore fashion fans. They talk about how asymmetrical silhouettes and sheer clothes don’t work on girls with big boobs, and they talk about how relieved they are that glamour has returned to upstage the waif. It's a good time in media since curvier, more commercially sexy models like Trya and Rebecca could get exposure on a new genre of magazine: The ’90s were the boom time for the “lad mag,” like Maxim, Stuff and FHM. Models had options outside women’s fashion magazines, and were no longer relegated to other extremes like Playboy, or to themed editions like Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue.

+ WATCH REBECCA ROMIJN AND TYRA BANKS

DEMYSTIFYING FASHION: RIP GIANNI VERSACE

gianni versace

Cindy Crawford tributes designer Gianni Versace after his death in 1997.
Photo: MTV

At the 1997 VMAs, we commemorated a great many untimely deaths: In the same year, we lost Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur and Princess Diana. In fashion, the death of Gianni Versace was devastating. The designer was at the peak of his career. He was showing 10 different collections annually and had just released his AW 1997 Couture collection, a triumphant culmination of the motifs and technique he had mastered over the previous eight years. He was a significant figure in marrying music and fashion, enlisting famous friends like Madonna and Elton John in print campaigns. He designed performance costumes for Elton John’s world tour, and was the first to invite celebrities to sit front row amongst the buyers, editors and other fashion-industry insiders at his shows.

Gianni’s muse and sister, Donatella Versace, didn’t skip a beat despite her tragic loss, designing for the house beginning in SS 1998; she has since grown the company into a global empire during a challenging economic climate. Gianni’s final collection is a marvel. It’s incredible because watching it now confirms just how brilliant, influential and prescient the designer was. This NY Times article by Amy M. Spindler charts the designer’s arc and breaks down how the Versace aesthetic evolved from garish “happy hooker” excess, and how time has transformed elements — like bondage, brash patterns and hardware — that had seemed lurid and lewd at the time into classic themes.

It’s definitely a more severe collection. There are solid color stories in black and gold. At first glance, it looks pared down, but it’s not. Instead of relying on creating the illusion of movement with the interplay of prints, the designer builds outward, and the topography is revelatory: graceful sculpted shoulders, stuffed tubular straps and heavy, fluid fabric draped and gathered into precise ripples. The models are goddesses. There is no flounce — just delicate mesh chain mail, stark leather panels, floor-skimming hems and the sumptuous heft of very expensive fabric.

It’s been fifteen years since Gianni passed, and it seems that Donatella has finally come to some peace. For AW 2012, the designer returned to her brother’s final collection, and used crosses and mesh in the new season as a tribute. She is also showing the couture collection at the Ritz Hotel in Paris for the first time since Gianni died.

The designer’s legacy lives on in popular culture: We recently saw pieces from his final collection in Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” music video, proof that Versace continues to inspire new generations of musicians.

+ WATCH THE GIANNI VERSACE TRIBUTE

+ CHECK OUT MORE PHOTOS FROM EPISODE 63

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Featured Comment

I love these two as a couple. What a festive way to celebrate two important events in their life. Mariah looks like a dream.

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