VH1: PUTTIN’ ON THE GLITZ

Byline: Merle Ginsberg — with contributions from Sari Botton

NEW YORK — Last year, the CFDA Awards produced Princess Diana, but the first-ever VH1 Fashion and Music Awards, to be broadcast live over the cable channel this Sunday night at 9 p.m., can top that.
“We’ll have two princes,” claims John Sykes, president of VH1. “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince is performing, and Prince Pavlos of Greece is coming with his wife as a guest of Victor Alfaro.”
The cable channel is promising that the Seventh Regiment Armory, a site chosen because it’s already experienced the fashion set from 7th on Sale, will be literally chockablock with bold-faced names from music, fashion and movies.
If it delivers, VH1 could take the fashion awards franchise to a whole new stage — and certainly a new audience. “As soon as you bring television to the table,” says one major fashion designer, “it’s a whole different story. If the VH1 Awards are successful, the CFDA Award may go the way of the Coty Award.”
Still, both the CFDA and VH1 are preaching peace and harmony.
“It’s not a threat at all,” says Fern Mallis. “It contributes to the clout designers have achieved in the world, that they’ve become very much a part of celebrity life,” she says.
As for Sykes, he’s sounding fairly triumphant. “It’s the first really formal meeting of music and fashion on a stage,” he says, and the guest list is impressive. Of the designers, Karl Lagerfeld, Richard Tyler, Valentino, Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Isaac Mizrahi, Vera Wang, Patrick Cox, Betsey Johnson, Thierry Mugler, Cynthia Rowley, Josie Natori, Michael Kors, Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, Tommy Hilfiger and Victor Alfaro have RSVP’d, with Miuccia Prada and Helmut Lang, both nominees, as maybes.
Confirmed celebs include the former Prince, k.d. lang, Tina Turner, Elton John and Chrissie Hynde (who will perform musical numbers), Madonna, Steven Weber (who’s hosting), TLC, William Baldwin, Sting, plus plenty of supermodels and hot shots from stores, magazines and music.
In fact, VH1 has so many celebrities that when Ingrid Casares — who’s made a career out of being a friend of the hip and famous — offered to help with bookings, the network coolly turned her down, something that couldn’t have pleased the plugged-in Casares very much.
Apparently, she wasn’t the only demanding one. “One thing we’ve learned doing this show,” admits the show’s executive producer, Linda Corradina, “is that there are as many divas in the fashion business as there are in rock n’ roll!”
VH1 started planning the show about a year ago, but skepticism ran high about its credibility until the nominations were announced during fashion week, and musical artists were booked. This week, with every ticket gone and insiders still calling up begging to be seated near Karl or Elton or Gianni, VH1 knows it has a hit on its hands, at least among the fashion crowd.
Whether America, however, will take all these fast fashion folk to its bosom won’t be known until the overnights come in. On a normal Sunday night, VH1 attracts an audience of about one million, and the network is clearly hoping that the program will add not only glamour but ratings.
And then there’s the issue of revenue.
Though designers rarely advertise on television, VH1 will have a healthy slate of commercials, from clients like BMW, People magazine, Clairol, Wilson’s House of Leather, Hanes and Rembrandt toothpaste.
Sykes insists, however, that VH1 didn’t look to the nominees to advertise.
“We wouldn’t accept any fashion advertising on this show, to maintain credibility,” Sykes says. But he does concede that the program could represent an investment in the future. “It might convince designers they need to start advertising on cable television in the future,” he says. “It’s so much more reasonable than advertising on network television.” Rock and style seemed a good fit, especially to Sykes. “These two worlds worship each other. Look how rock music influenced fashion in the last 30 years! From Elvis putting on a gold lamA jacket to Jimi Hendrix wearing Nehru suits, fashion and music have become a natural marriage. But in the end, the show is about promoting fashion to the American public. We’re going to air it at least 10 times, and it will also air on VH-1 Europe. This can really help the fashion business; it can turn all these people into superstars. Our audience may not know who Miuccia Prada or Helmut Lang is right now, or even Jean Paul Gaultier — but they’ll tune in to watch The Pretenders, and then they’ll figure it out.”
A year ago, when Sykes began a complete overhaul of the network — often described as MTV’s older sister — VH1 began looking at its programming to see what areas it could build specials around to expand its audience. The two shows it found that had a consistent following for its adult demographic were “Flicks,” a movie show, and “FT: Fashion Television.”
“We couldn’t do yet another music awards show,” says Corradina. “And there are enough movie awards. It made sense to do fashion awards now. If we didn’t do it, E! Entertainment or Elsa Klensch would have done it. It’s a gamble, we know. Maybe everybody’s fed up with awards shows. But we put our own spin on it.”
Spin indeed. The first 10 minutes of the show will include 35 Thierry Mugler catsuited models (Mugler also designed the show’s set) going down a runway, leading into Previously Prince singing “Pussy Control.”
A second runway segment will feature 13 models (still being confirmed at press time, but promised to be “super”) wearing designs by Gaultier, Lagerfeld, Dolce & Gabbana, Mizrahi, Oldham, Calvin Klein and Vivienne Westwood, produced by Keeble, Cavaco and Duka.
Madonna will bestow the Fashion’s Future award, and nominees Victor Alfaro, Gucci’s Tom Ford, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Miuccia Prada will show four outfits each. VH1 admits they now have tallied up, with an outside research firm, the results, but that they haven’t revealed them to the winners. Still, at least two superstar designers, Gianni Versace and Karl Lagerfeld, are being given special awards, which has guaranteed their presence.
“I wouldn’t be going if I didn’t know I would get an award or not,” says Lagerfeld, who will receive his statue from the group TLC, which will be clad in Chanel. “I’m not some little stylist who should be sitting in the audience worrying. But I’m really going because I love those TLC girls. It’s a lifetime achievement award, but I hope my lifetime isn’t over — I still have a couple of collections to do.”
The other awards were arrived at a bit more democratically, with nine categories established by a “style council” of 24 leading magazine editors and stylists. The categories include Female and Male Models of the Year, Best Ad Campaign, Designer of the Year, Best Stylist for a Music Video, and Most Fashionable Musical Artist. There will also be a viewer’s choice award to the Most Fashionable Artist of 1995.
The nominees then were submitted to an expanded group of over 100 fashion insiders.
“The fact that we’ll first name the winners on the air creates more competition than the CFDA Awards,” says Corradina. “Everyone knows who will be getting those awards in advance. Given how hip our nominees turned out — with names like Helmut Lang, Prada, Alexander McQueen and John Galliano — means our style council really did their homework. I think they really nailed who’s important in fashion right now. After all, we want this to be a franchise and to keep doing it year after year.”
Sykes and Corradina both consulted with CFDA heads Fern Mallis and Stan Herman and found them, they say, extremely cooperative.
“They said they only wanted to help,” says Corradina. “We’re aiming at different goals. They want to promote the fashion industry and designers and raise money for the tent shows at 7th on Sixth. But we’re going to promote fashion to our 50 million viewers. Everybody knows celebrities help fashion more than anyone else.”
Given that the Fashion and Music Award shows are slated so close to the CFDA Awards, to be held this year on Feb. 12 — it’s hard not to compare the two, particularly since they are the only major awards given in fashion, and both events are so celebrity hungry. Obviously, as far as the designers are concerned, the more fashion awards, the merrier. Others aren’t so sure.
“It takes designers to a different level of celebrity to have a show as big as VH1’s,” says Isaac Mizrahi. “I hardly know if it will come off well, but in any case, it will be a lot of fun, and any kind of mass media attention to fashion can’t be bad. I need a lot of exposure; I’m about to launch a new line. And I’m all for going into fashion’s future.”
“Our industry has been too much of an inside thing for too long,” argues Marc Jacobs. “We’ve been so isolated from other things. Clothes have more impact when they’re seen outside the context of fashion alone. It’s more prestigious getting an award from outside the industry. Television is making fashion into entertainment. I think the VH1 Awards are fantastic for fashion.”
Tommy Hilfiger’s got his feet in both camps. He’s nominated in VH1’s category of Catwalk to Sidewalk (the designer whose clothes are most easily embraced by the man or woman on the street), and will also be the recipient of the CFDA Award for Men’s Wear Designer of the Year.
“They’re just different vehicles,” he says. “I don’t think anything could eclipse the CFDA Awards. They’re prestigious, and every designer always yearns for one. VH1’s awards are different — more contemporary, younger. “Why shouldn’t there be two award shows?” asks Lagerfeld, diplomatically. “Sure, we can do without them — but there are so many things we can live without. In America, these things work; in Europe, they are so pretentious and boring. We’ll see if VH1 can pull it off, and then, if they can produce a second one next year! It’s a healthy kind of craziness.”
Of course, both sides choose to play down the competition angle. VH1 is quick to point out they attended the CFDA Awards last year, that they’re friends with the organization, that they appreciate their support. And the CFDA says pretty much the same thing — at least for the record.
But Lagerfeld thinks the spirit of competition is nothing if not motivating and healthy for the two very different outlets.
“I have to turn out a better collection than my last every season, or I am not a success,” he sniffs. “If the CFDA can’t produce a better celebrity than Princess Di this year — if they do get better than last year or VH1 — perhaps they should stop!”

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