MILAN, Italy — When Jennifer Lopez walked the runway during Versace’s show at Milan Fashion Week on Friday, showing off an updated version of the infamous dress she wore to the Grammy Awards nearly two decades ago, the appearance nearly broke the internet.
Social media exploded with photos, videos and mentions of Lopez in the dress — a bright green jungle print dress made of silk chiffon with a revealing neckline and slit. Lopez walking in the Versace show had $9.4 million worth of media mentions and online engagement, according to Launchmetrics (a quarter of London Fashion Week, which was $36 million, according to Launchmetrics).
The hype was so enormous, it felt like the spectacle was perfectly planned sponsored content. And in a sense, it was.
In a blog post published on Saturday, Google’s Italy Marketing Director Vincenzo Riili wrote that the tech giant had “reunited” with Donatella Versace “to celebrate nearly two decades since this iconic moment in fashion (and Google) history.”
A spokesperson for Google said Versace approached the tech giant to collaborate on the fashion show. In an email to BoF, Donatella Versace said that the brand's partnership with Google had "no money involved. [It was] simply the willingness to celebrate an important milestone for both of us."
But the Versace show was a giant marketing coup for both the luxury brand and Google. The invitations were a flipbook that featured someone typing “what is Versace Spring 2020" into a Google search box. Google’s virtual reality painting app Tilt Brush “helped decorate the runway space with digital artwork inspired by the new print,” according to Riili’s post.
The tech giant’s voice-activated tool, Google Assistant, was also used in the show. A recording of Donatella Versace’s voice commanded Google to “show me images of the Versace jungle dress” and the set’s screens displayed photos from Google Images. The designer then said, “Okay Google, show me the real jungle dress” and Lopez appeared on the catwalk.
Today, it’s hard to create a buzzy moment during Fashion Week, given all the noise on social media. Yet Lopez’s Versace appearance created the perfect storm, and the marketing efforts checked all boxes. Lopez’s movie Hustlers is out now in theatres, and awards season is right around the corner. Songs like her 2000 hit single My Love Don’t Cost a Thing were played during the fashion show as well.
Versace also has a track record with using models to stir up nostalgia and score internet clout. In 2017, it reunited '90s supermodels Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Helena Christensen, and Carla Bruni on stage for its Spring/Summer 2018 collection that honoured Gianni Versace.
Google’s Fashion Week partnership with Versace put its branding and products front and centre in fashion, something the tech giant has been pursuing lately. Earlier this month, the Google-owned video platform YouTube debuted a landing page specifically for fashion content. Last year, Youtube formed a new division for fashion and beauty content and hired Derek Blasberg, who worked for Harper’s Bazaar, Style.com and other fashion publications for over a decade.
It was for sure the loudest moment we heard all Fashion Week, and it was a win all around for all the brands involved.
“It was for sure the loudest moment we heard all Fashion Week, and it was a win all around for all the brands involved,” said Joseph Katz, a fashion stylist and consultant for luxury brands.
Versace’s infamous jungle print dress was not an instant sensation when it debuted 20 years ago. The dress had previously been worn by Donatella Versace at the Met Gala in 1999, and Spice Girl Geri Halliwell wore it to the NRJ Music Awards in France in 2000. But it took the combination of Lopez and the higher-profile spotlight of the Grammys red carpet to make headlines.
“JLo and the dress went viral before that was even a thing on the internet,” said Katz. “It was so shocking because we had never seen anything so plunging and so sexy before, and she looked amazing in it.”
It was Lopez and the printed green dress that inspired Google to create its image search tool. In 2015, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt wrote in Project Syndicate that after the Grammys, the Versace item was Google’s “most popular search query we had ever seen.” But until that point, Google had only offered link and text results when users searched the web.
“We had no surefire way of getting users exactly what they wanted: JLo wearing that dress. Google Image Search was born,” he wrote.
Versace said she hopes the hype from the Milan presentation will prove to shoppers that the fashion house is able to constantly recreate itself.
This is a moment in which fashion is sort of under attack for being disposable. Well, this print is 20 years old.
"This is a moment in which fashion is sort of under attack for being disposable. Well, this print is 20 years old," Versace wrote in an email. "Fashion is something durable, it is not just part of our past, but can be reinterpreted and reimagined maintaining the same codes. What changed on Friday, for example, were the silhouettes, the materials, the techniques, but the print was the same."
Of course, it’s only a matter of time before the revamped version of the dress gets its fast fashion treatment. Fashion Nova has already debuted a copy of the dress, although the company is selling it as a Halloween costume. But the resurrection of the dress during Fashion Week could also mean shoppers will be searching for the dress, said fashion commentator Louise Roe.
“Think of the type of impact JLo had in 2000 when people could not stop Googling the dress, and how many more people now use the internet and want the real thing,” said Roe. “They created the perfect stunt.”