Byline: Kevin West

“Why is it always about fashion?” a slightly peevish Kevin Bacon asked Claudia Cohen outside Radio City Music Hall. “Can’t we talk about something else?” Not likely. As he and Kyra Sedgwick made their way down the red carpet at Thursday night’s MTV Video Music Awards, every camera crew had the same question: “What are you wearing?” And Sedgwick and Bacon were obviously prepared to answer: She was in Ungaro; he was in Romeo Gigli.
“Dolce! Dolce! Dolce!” shouted Jada Pinkett out of frustration from hearing the same question so many times. Not that she hadn’t put some thought into her fashion choices. She and Will Smith continued their habit of color-coordinating. She wore a burgundy bustier and he was the man in black — with a claret Gucci shirt.
As the Oscars went years ago, so go the rest of the awards shows today. At MTV, it was fashion first, performances second and speeches a very distant third.
Naturally, there were the hits and there were the flops. Dolce & Gabbana — all the more visible thanks to dual store openings in New York — scored big. Madonna chose a long skirt and white shirt, topped by an austere evening coat from the fall ’97 collection. Pinkett’s leopard print chiffon skirt and fur-trimmed crocheted jacket were music industry dressing at its best — the right balance of cool and glamor. Gwyneth Paltrow and Winona Ryder, who skipped the awards, both looked sharp in Dolce for the Maverick Records party later that night.
Jewel was pretty, if a little lackluster, in a black Gucci casual pantsuit with a three-quarter length Helmut Lang coat. Red Gucci stilettos and pale blue glitter eye makeup gave it some dash. And Gwen Stefani of No Doubt — no slave to fashion’s mainstream — wore a vaguely Tibetan-looking Dries Van Noten ensemble and actually managed to pull it off.
The major dud of the night belonged to Mariah Carey. Her Vera Wang outfit paired a bandeau top with a skirt slit so high — on both sides — that it resembled a floor-length loincloth.
“I can’t turn around for a picture,” Carey said to photographers, “the breeze is rising.”
And then there were the Spice Girls and their six-inch-high platform sneakers. “We’re all individual,” boasted Ginger (the red-headed one). “We have our own sense of style.” All bad.
The men fared uniformly better. First among the well suited was Beck, in a three-button by Dries Van Noten. Not only did he pick his own suit from the designer’s catalog, he also picked the outfits for the rest of his band. Dermot Mulrooney — who incidentally plays cello and mandolin in a band called the Sweet and Low Orchestra — went for Gucci. Bruce Springsteen and the Wallflowers donned Armani for their performance together. Maxwell, who always boasts of handling his own clothes choices, seemed to ally himself with no designer, but embodied cool soul in wide trousers and open shirt.
Still, for all the crowds and fanfare at Radio City, the awards show itself played second fiddle to the parties. By the time the last envelope was opened, most of the stars had bolted for downtown.
At some point between midnight and dawn, they all wound up at Lemon, where Madonna reigned over the Maverick Records bash, with her brother, Christopher Ciccione, and Ingrid Casares at her side. Naomi Campbell, in candy pink Versace couture metal mesh, was perched on the back of one banquet, and Stephen Dorff draped himself across the next. Marc Jacobs and Anna Sui made an appearance. Jamiroquai popped and snapped through the crowd.
At times, though, the VIP inner sanctum was too packed to allow movement. Lisa Marie Presley looked physically pained as she moved through the throng — literally sandwiched between two bodyguards.
In the thick of it, Courtney Love and Edward Norton joined Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins around a little table. Claire Danes, in her usual Narciso Rodriguez, was roaming in the back; Leonardo di Caprio was roaming in the front. Winona Ryder sneered at the crowd crushing around her. Judging from the stars who weren’t at Radio City, the coolest thing to do was to ditch the awards show altogether.
“I’ll watch them some other time on TV,” explained Paltrow, who also hit the Sony party at Spy. “I didn’t go because I’m all about avoiding a press line.” Later, the partying Paltrow dashed out of the restaurant solo, stepped into Park Avenue South to hail a cab and zipped off to her next stop.
Although Love wasn’t at the awards and so her public didn’t see it, she had without doubt the oldest dress of the night: a vintage design by Mr. Blackwell.
“You know, the old guy from the Fifties who did the best-dressed list,” she explained. “He did a few cocktail dresses that were highly sought after, and I bought this one in Los Angeles.
“I’ve been collecting vintage Chanel and vintage Balenciaga since grunge, even though Chanel doesn’t really fit my figure.
“I have to wait a little while, but the next look I’m doing is the whole Tina Chow thing.”