Remember when Gwyneth Paltrow turned up at the MTV Video Music Awards wearing a luxurious red velvet suit over an unbuttoned blue shirt, her blonde hair tucked behind her ears?
In the two decades since, the baby-pink Ralph Lauren gown she wore to accept her Oscar has attracted plenty of column inches. But it’s only recently that her red velvet suit has been treated to the same attention.
Gwyneth Paltrow pictured in her red velvet Gucci suit. Credit: Kevin.Mazur/INACTIVE/WireImage/Getty Images
A return to hedonism
Like many family businesses that became luxury behemoths, Gucci started life in the 1920s as a leather goods company. It initially sold saddles and equestrian accessories before turning its focus to luggage and, eventually, handbags. By the time Ford came on board, however, it was on the brink of financial ruin.
Former Bergdorf Goodman president Dawn Mello had been tasked with turning the brand’s fortunes around. But it was her Texas-born recruit who would go on to spearhead the label’s renaissance.
Initially asked to look after women’s ready-to-wear, Ford was made creative director in 1994 following Mello’s departure. With full control of the brand, he ushered in a new look for the heritage label: one that was slinky, sultry and unabashedly provocative.
Tom Ford is applauded as he walks down a runway in 2003. At the time, Ford was creative director of both Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. Credit: Michel Dufour/French Select/WireImage/Getty Images
To the fashion world, his tenure was a breath of fresh air.
“More than any other designer, Tom Ford will go down in history as the man responsible for dressing the final years of the 20th century,” British critic Susannah Frankel observed in the Independent newspaper in 1999. “The knowingly super-slick, super-sexy, hard-edged glamour the Gucci label has come to signify is perfect end-of-millennium fodder.”
Revisiting the suit
To celebrate Gucci’s 100th anniversary in April, the label’s current creative director, Alessandro Michele, even sent a near-perfect replica of the suit down the runway, though he replaced the original velvet scarf with a leather-and-silver body chain.
A model wears a revised version of Gwyneth Paltrow’s red velvet suit at the 2021 Gucci ‘Aria’ show. Credit: Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images for Gucci
It is tempting to try and diagnose the reasons behind revived interest in the era’s fashion — and the women who wore it. Perhaps it embodies what we now see as a time of innocence — a pre-9/11, largely pre-internet decade that seems distant from our own, but just close enough for it not to have slipped entirely into the realms of history.
Or maybe we are possessed by a nagging sense that design was more exciting or daring in the past, especially in the wake of a pandemic that has interfered with our understanding of both time and style. (Sharp tailoring and Ford’s “hard-edged glamour” are all the more appealing after a year wearing sweatpants.)
But regardless of the reasons, Paltrow’s suit demonstrates that anything in fashion can be revived and returned to the spotlight. After all, it was Ford who had plundered the ’70s to create something fresh for the ’90s in the first place.