South Beach lived up to its reputation as party central during the MTV Video Music Awards. From Usher’s bash to P. Diddy’s round of parties, celebrities drank, ate, shopped and sweated through the weekend’s nonstop festivities.

This story first appeared in the September 2, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

It seemed appropriate Beyonce Knowles chose to wear HotPants designed by her mother, Tina, to walk the red carpet Sunday night at the Video Music Awards here because it was just so darn hot. Sweltering, in fact. One publicist passed out paper towels to Yellowcard so the band members could wipe their dripping brows before each interview. A makeup artist kept reapplying color to the face of Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, who, wearing an ensemble that included clamdiggers embossed with a poodle, a pink T-shirt that read “Chic-Pea” and a handkerchief knotted around her neck, might have stepped out of a South Beach production of “Grease.” Sean “P. Diddy” Combs walked around with a plastic battery-operated fan. And Michelle Branch seemed to have eschewed underwear all together, wearing obscenely low-rise white pants that tread dangerously close to plumber proportions.

“It’s hot,” said an exasperated Dave Navarro, who left his jacket in the car, had his shirt unbuttoned to the waist and looked quite comfortable in what appeared to be women’s jeans. “I think we’ve established that.”

Welcome to South Florida in August, where if it’s not 95 degrees in the shade, it’s pouring rain. Though the weather held up Sunday night, a different kind of hurricane hit the area: the celebrity entourage. There were parties nonstop all weekend to keep publicists, hangers-on, representatives of various corporate sponsors (from Saturn to Navan cognac) and the night crawlers of Miami happy, entertained and hopefully wanting to come back next year.

While the Republican National Convention was getting off the ground in New York, the VMAs had a distinctly Democratic twinge, partly because nearly everyone was invited. MTV had to fill an arena, after all. Even Ashlee and Jessica Simpson, who hosted a post-VMA party with TrimSpa at Privé, a club on Collins Avenue, invited the masses. The planners actually advertised the event by biplane above the water across South Beach. That’s not exactly a way to keep out unwanted guests.

What seemed to be missing, however, at least at the parties around town, was the energy and excitement of a coming together of the big celebs. There was no Madonna, no Britney Spears, no Janet Jackson, not even Lindsay Lohan or Mischa Barton, who seem to be turning up these days at any event with a carpet. Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow came to the awards show but made no other public appearances. Just the regulars — Naomi Campbell, Paris Hilton and Farrah Fawcett — hit party after party.

Still, what brand doesn’t rely on the power of a boldface name — make that any boldface name — to herald a new product? Consider that at least four cell-phone companies and two new digital gizmos vied for their attention. Cingular promoted the Nokia N-Gage QD, a video-game phone, at the Style Villa at the Sagamore (where Hilary Duff, Hilton and Fawcett stocked up on Kiehl’s products, grabbed sunglasses and looked at the latest Cole Haan G-Series line); Motorola sponsored Usher’s Post-VMA party at the Shore Club with four scantily clad models showing off the A630 (celebrities got the device back in June); Boost Mobile, an urban-oriented mobile plan, held a performance by Kanye West at Crobar that brought out Tony Hawk, Steve-O, Hulk Hogan and his 16-year-old daughter, Brooke, a singer with an album out this fall and a flair for dressing like a female wrestler; Virgin Mobile threw a party with Stuff Magazine and Missy Elliott on Star Island; Damon Dash showed off his new MP3 player, the Rocbox, to Lil’ Kim, R. Kelly and Mandy Moore (early confirmed celebrities were sent a package with a gift certificate for when the device comes out), and iRiver used the opportunity of a Blender/Pharrell Williams party at Nobu to introduce a portable media player to the likes of Boris Becker, the ubiquitous Simpson sisters, Gwen Stefani, Erika Christensen, Owen Wilson and Johnny Knoxville. It was definitely a free-for-all.

The same could be said of the looks that came down the red carpet, which, like the show itself, didn’t quite shock — or titillate — as in the past. But the glamour quotient might have been diminshed by the plastic flutes of champagne emblazoned with a Pepsi logo that many carried as they posed for photographs and chatted with camera crews.

“I don’t expose myself on the red carpet,” said Raven Simone, who showed up in a cream-colored pantsuit with a bustier of her own design. The TV star is, natch, planning a clothing line, for “you know, my thick girls, I call them,” she said.

Of course Lil’ Kim came in an outfit that accentuated her curves, this time by a “young Brazilian designer named Carlos Miele,” which she said took her a week to choose. Stefani looked stunning, as usual, in Louis Vuitton. Eva Mendes paired a demure Roberto Cavalli blouse with a Stella McCartney skirt. “I’m going to hear it from my mother: ‘Why don’t you wear something pretty,’” Mendes said, somewhat nonsensically. Perhaps the most surprising look of the evening was Duff’s, who showed up in Helmut Lang, though to go for a more punk look, she took a pair of scissors to it.

Jo Jo, a 13-year-old R&B pop artist, came outfitted in D&G, but America’s new gymnast sweetheart, little Carly Patterson, who is roughly her age, was decked out in a simple, nondesigner camouflage skirt. How’s that for American spirit? That no fashion house corralled Patterson into its stable may be the difference between sports and entertainment. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” said Patterson. “People have only seen me in a leotard.” She admitted she’s not yet a fashion person. “But I hope to be,” she chirped.

After the show, it seemed as if the entire crowd of the American Airlines Arena filled the Shore Club at Usher’s big bash. Women wearing bikinis and gold paint played with live panthers on chains; a circus performer cavorted around the pool, and what must have been a very, very expensive array of fireworks exploded around 1:15 a.m. on the beach. This couldn’t have pleased Miami’s geriatric population, but on this weekend, they were safely tucked away in their own apartments.

Getting to the VIP area that hid Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Sam Rockwell and the rest of the weekend’s usual suspects, was such an ordeal that one guest squealed, “Oh my God, is this another stop?” Alexandra and Vanessa Kerry, along with Cate Edwards, decided to skip any sort of red carpet or VIP treatment — they didn’t want to be photographed — and dipped into the hotel’s Red Room instead. (They appeared at the VMAs, but also held a Kerry fund-raiser at the nightclub Mansion, and Alexandra said she’d been photographed and interviewed for Ocean Drive.)

The Penthouse of the Raleigh was the after-hours destination, and at various points over the weekend attracted nearly every celebrity in town, from Bruce Willis to Marilyn Manson. Even Guy Oseary, who held his own post-VMA bash, retired to the hotel for some late-night hijinks after his party fizzled out. What has more currency anyway, a new cell phone or the experience of watching Hilton flirt with Christina Aguilera? (As the sun was coming up, the pair, with their entourages, retired to the hotel pool area to order some burgers and turkey clubs. They left a $12 tip on a $300 bill.)

By the end of the weekend, any Hilton or Aguilera sightings were de rigueur, which may mean that Miami is the new Los Angeles. All it took was to walk into Nobu on Monday night where, at separate tables, Hilton, Aguilera, Jaime Pressly and Jay-Z and Beyoncé all dined on miso cod and rock shrimp tempura. Not a single customer seemed to bat an eyelash. Even they had had enough of them. — Marshall Heyman

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