It’s the “I don’t take less than $100 an hour” dress. A garment as hypnotic as it is hypersexual that enchants the viewer and portrays the duality of the character: Vivian Ward is a clever and dreamy young woman with very bad cards in life. Sheathed in this design made up of a small white top joined to a blue microskirt by a ring on the abdomen, Julia Roberts created the myth of beautiful womanthe woman who could not go unnoticed.
The dress was created by costume designer Marilyn Vance, who was nominated for a BAFTA Award for this work in 1990. When it came to dressing the adorable and stunning Vivian, Vance realized that if he wanted to turn Julia Roberts into a convincing prostitute she needed to accentuate her waist and emphasize her hips, but also something else. What Vivian wore the first time the viewer saw her appear on screen had to reinforce her impressive physique and at the same time serve as a shield so striking that it would hide behind her the true personality of this young woman in search of an opportunity. .
This is how Vance recalled the work of the Austrian-American designer Rudi Gernreich, known as the inventor of the thong and the monokini. A creator who rose to fame in the 1970s and became one of the most powerful forces in American fashion at the time (and probably modesty’s biggest enemy), who believed in celebrating nudity and liberating the bodies of women. Specifically, he came to mind a swimsuit with a metallic ring in the center that was very popular in those years (and that by the way other brands reiterate in the summer of 2023, from Zara and Oysho to Alexandra Miro or Cult Gaia). By creating a dress version of that suggestive swimsuit, with a skimpy stretch fabric in two color blocks, Vance achieved his goals of hypersexualizing Roberts and also bringing something else.
That Vance chose to be inspired by Gernreich to dress the prostitute who would conquer the heart of America is a detail with several layers of depth. Born in Austria in 1922, when he was just a child his father committed suicide. Gernreich grew up with his uncles, owners of a clothing store in Vienna, where he was able to learn the trade. In 1939, at the age of 16, he fled with his mother and his brother as Jewish refugees to Los Angeles, California. He owed his knowledge of anatomy to his first job there: he washed bodies in a morgue to prepare them for autopsy. His goal as a designer was always to liberate the body and break the limitations of clothing. He wanted to undo the taboos of nudity to celebrate the person, but without the sexualization that this entailed. He eliminated the rigid corset from bathing suits and in 1964 he went so far as to eliminate all the fabric that covered the chest, creating the first topless bathing suit which he called a “monokini”. That design was so scandalous at the time that Pope Paul VI forbade Catholics from wearing it. The stores that bet on selling it faced demonstrations and threats, and according to him published The New York Times, the mayor of Saint-Tropez declared that he would use helicopters to patrol the beaches: a young woman was detained after trying to swim with the design. Even with everything, she managed to sell 3,000 swimsuits, a modest figure but one that would make him famous worldwide. In the Met Museum in New York they keep one of these pieces: Gernreich’s paradox, they explain from the museum, is that the lower part of the topless suit is very conservative, with wide coverage and made of the same wool material that had been used for Victorian swimwear: “as a gesture akin to Conceptual Art, this suit fuses an avant-garde sensibility with a nod to tradition.” In the 1970s it was worn by his friend and muse, the model Peggy Moffitt. Twenty years later, Kate Moss wore it.
as described Vanity Fair On one occasion, with his blocky and geometric patterns, Gernreich “brought a bit of Bauhaus, Wiener Werkstätte and Op Art to fashion design, along with a social conscience – he is considered the godfather of LGBT rights” They weren’t afraid to get tangled up with great themes: from body awareness, to gender, identity or sexual politics. In an article published by SFashion in 2016, his legacy is presented as follows: “His particular imagery and the desire to revolutionize the times can be better understood by looking at his personal life: Gernreich was homosexual and founder of the Matachine Society, a clandestine gay association in the United States that would go on to become history as the first to defend the rights of the collective. Fashion was his best weapon to break with the established ”.
Later, Gernreich would create the first transparent bra (the so-called “No-Bra”) and even the “Pubikini”, which, as its adventurous name, exposed public hair, which he proposed to dye in combination with the color of the fabric. Gernreich was also the inventor of the thong, which he introduced in 1974 after Los Angeles banned nude beaches.
Gernreich’s swimsuits (who died in 1985) are still being sold today (for around 125 euros, they are available on the brand’s official website) and from their website they are proud that a century after his birth Rudi Gernreich’s pieces ” they still stop you in your tracks, they still turn heads, they still drench your eyes. They provoke discreetly, they astonish in silence”. what a piece of This expert in communicating and expressing ideas served to inspire the clothes of a prostitute is a demand of Vance for women’s liberation.
In fact, and perhaps precisely for this reason, three decades after the launch of beautiful woman (which 30 years later continues to give us style lessons) this dress inspired by a swimsuit so loaded with meaning is still considered a cult piece. In 2017, the Hunza G brand launched a version traced to the original, with all the details that identify it, from the wrinkled and elastic fabric to the blue and white colors or the central silver ring, and which continues to sell today (by the way, it is reduced to 164 .50 euros in Net-à-Porter). The redesign was a personal whim of the brand’s creative director, Georgiana Huddart, who always loved Vivian’s first look: “The dress is the epitome of fun,” she once told her. Vogue. “For a lot of women it’s a really nostalgic element and reminds you of the first time you saw Julia Roberts as Vivian in beautiful woman. It is quite rare to find a garment that is so recognizable [habiendo sido] designed more than 30 years ago, but also works in the context of today’s fashion”. Indeed, other fashion brands such as Victoria Beckham, Versace or Jacquemus have designed dresses that leave the abdomen exposed in recent years and stars such as Zendaya or Dua Lipa have dared with the trend. Huddart assured that this dress does not have a particular way to combine, that each woman looks totally different in it and that it is intended to make you feel good about yourself and your body, regardless of your size and shape. As indicated on the web, the garment does not wrinkle and must be washed by hand.
This dress is the one that best portrays Vivian’s situation before meeting Edward, probably the most iconic of all the wardrobe, and yet it was the brown polka dots of the polo match or the red of the opera that fashion firms have been reinterpreting for three decades. Probably the reason lies in the fact that such an explicit stretch dress, so recognizable and so loaded with connotations, has always meant something to the women who have worn it.