VELVET MAFIA

New York fashion snobs may be complaining that the whole Glam Rock thing is over-hyped, but when VH-1 broadcasts its fourth annual Fashion Awards across the country Tuesday, the Midwest should have its glitter socks blown off.
Drawing inspiration from the soon-to-be released movie "Velvet Goldmine," Friday night's awards show at Madison Square Garden in New York was loud, splashy and star studded.
"Rock 'n' roll is and will always be a common language for young people," pronounced Donatella Versace, who was all bound up in a black leather bondage dress. "Especially in our house."
That may be, but Versace certainly didn't have a monopoly on flash Friday night. Everybody went glam. Two months before the show, VH-1 sent clips from "Velvet Goldmine"--the way, way over-the-top story of a Glam Rock Hero--to 25 designers, and they responded with a parade of velvet, glitter, gold, marabou and feathers.
Karl Lagerfeld called from Milan the day before his Fendi show to ask how to proceed.
"Feather or fur?" the Kaiser wanted to know. When VH-1 picked the latter, Karl whipped up a 30-foot white fox stole which Erin O'Conner wrapped around and around and around herself for her runway strut.
But not all the Glam Rock references wereas newly minted. After the runway show, Iggy Pop pranced onstage in a beaded tanktop and silver trousers for a fabulous performance with Lenny Kravitz of the vintage hit, "Rebel, Rebel." "Hot tramp, I love you so," they sang, and the audience lapped it up.
Janet Jackson was another hit. She took a break from her "Velvet Rope" tour to perform "What About"--despite the initial queasiness of VH-1. Stars usually showcase a big top-10 crowd-pleaser for the show, but Janet opted for an edgy song about domestic violence, with choreography that portrayed wife-beating. Tough stuff for a fashion show, maybe, but the performance was one of the high points of the evening.
The freshest faces appeared on video, and none of them, save the show's host Ellen DeGeneres, looked older than five. The faux documentary, called "Model Maker," starred America's most famous lesbian recruiting on the playground--for supermodels in training. The gag could have fallen embarrassingly flat, but DeGeneres played a domineering modeling-school instructor with just the right touch.
"See what Tatiana did?" she demands of her four-year-old protegees. "She fell. Do that in Milan at the Prada show, and your career is over." On stage, DeGeneres proved to be just as funny, and was an inspired choice for the evening--although she never ever wore the dress it was rumored the program stylists were begging her to wear.
She did say, however, that she learned a few things about fashion earlier in the week. For instance: "Pink is the new gray, gray is the new black."
"I thought the new Black is Chris Rock," she added. Wrong. It turned out Rock was the new Jim Carrey. When Rock came on-stage to introduce Janet Jackson, he reprised Carey's big stunt from last year, walking out in a fig leaf--but one the size of an open newspaper. It hung practically to the ground.
At times, the rock spectacle could make the fashion prizes seem like an afterthought. And in many ways they are. Still, VH-1 awards are introducing to America--and the world--a whole new slew of fashion stars.
The very first category, Best New Designer, sounded like a spelling pop quiz from F.I.T. Veronique Branquinho beat out Josephus Thimister, Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga, Raf Simons and Olivier Theyskens.
Theyskens probably didn't mind, though. He got a bigger prize: the Madonna seal of approval, which he first received at the Oscars last April. Her first Theyskens outfit of the night--which she wore to perform "The Power of Goodbye"--was a black leather ballgown. Combined with her current black locks, the dress made her look eerily like Cher. Madonna had reportedly rehearsed the song a dozen times Friday afternoon, which made for a note-perfect but dull performance.
The Big M returned in a gold embroidered sari to receive the first annual Gianni Versace award from Donatella and Sting. And only minutes after that, there she was yet again, this time to accept the Most Fashionable Artist award, dressed in a yellow Theyskens stunner that could only be described as show-stopping.
"The best thing about winning this award is I get to wear this dress," she said. It wasn't exactly casual comfort. In fact, the huge skirt should have come with its own styling team, since Anne Heche--in Prada and a very strange Patricia Underwood hat--had to act as train-bearer when Madonna left the stage.
Of course Madonna carried it off like the Queen she is. She may have run the risk of looking ridiculous by doing three changes in half an hour, but then, that's why she deserves those awards in the first place. And we all know there is a blurry line between Fashion Victimhood and Fashion Sainthood.
If the show came up short, it was because there weren't more full-blown diva moments. Presenter Michael Stipe--despite his beaded fringe coat and black feather boa--didn't qualify. No one had the swagger or funny, off-the-cuff patter of Courtney Love and Bono last year. Tom Ford and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, though, shared the best-scripted repartee. She got to riff on the theme of a celebrity begging the designer for a discount.
"Is there any chance I could get a break on the price," she wheedled. "I'm a celebrity...I get photographed a lot...I'd be doing you a favor...What do you think?" A chilly look was all she got.
Other award winners included covergirl Carolyn Murphy. "After three years of being nominated, I was starting to feel like the Susan Lucci of the fashion world," the model said. Miuccia Prada had just the opposite problem. "What can I say?" asked Prada when she accepted for Menswear Designer of the Year. "I already won the award twice and this makes the third time. I am very flattered."
Alexander McQueen was odd but funny in his video-taped acceptance speech for Best Avant-Garde Designer, a new category this year. With a long rattail braid spiraling around his bald head and red contacts and eye make-up, he looked like the living dead. Or a Marilyn Manson fan. Which he most definitely is not.
"Can someone tell Marilyn Manson to get off my tit, please," he said to conclude his speech.
Cameron Diaz and Chris Rock won for Best Personal Style. "Feels good to represent," barked Rock. "I want to thank all the designers who have clothed me in the past year--Karl Keni, Phat Farm, a little Fubu...."
By the time Marc Jacobs won Womenswear Designer of the Year, the audience had started leaving the auditorium in droves. Many of them were headed to Moomba, where Sony chief Tommy Mottola hosted a dinner for Madonna, Janet Jackson, Anne and Ellen, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Naomi Campbell, Mick Jagger, Billy Corgan, Maxwell and 30 or so other glammy folks. If you weren't famous or fabulous, you weren't getting past the velvet rope. But then that's what Glam rock is all about.

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