Elizabeth Hurley shocked the world in that Versace safety pin dress, and now Lady Gaga has brought it back. So…can ANYONE wear it
10:34 GMT, 9 October 2012
The last time someone asked me if I was 'actually going out in that dress', I was 17 and answerable to my mother.
This time, I am some years older — and it's not my mum voicing concerns, but a photographer.
And while my chosen outfit is arguably less revealing than some of the daring ones favoured by my younger self, I can see his point . . . because I am wearing That Dress, The Safety Pin Dress — the infamous number that overnight transformed Liz Hurley, then 29, from just another bit-part actress with a toff actor boyfriend into an A-list celebrity.
Elizabeth Hurley, left, and Lady Gaga, right, wearing the Versace dress
It was designed by the late Gianni Versace and Liz wore it to the premiere of the film Four Weddings And A Funeral with Hugh Grant in 1994.
Without it, she would never have become the high-profile, white-jeans-wearing, cricketer-dating yummy mummy who graces the gossip columns.
At the time, Liz said she had borrowed a sample because she couldn't afford to buy something new.
'That dress was a favour from Versace,' she said. 'His people told me they didn't have any evening wear, but there was one item left in their press office. So I tried it on and that was it.'
The reason it's shot back into the news nearly two decades after its debut is thanks to a modern style icon: Lady Gaga, 26, who wore it in Milan last week.
The Daily Mail's Claire Coleman wears a Bernshaw replica of the Versace safety pin dress, also made in 1994
She loves to shock, but in comparison to her infamous meat dress made of raw beef, this number barely raises an eyebrow.
The dress, thought to be a size 10 and the very same one worn by Liz all those years ago, was loaned to Lady Gaga from the Versace archives by Donatella, Gianni's heir.
These days, when red carpet stars are considered demure if a dress just about covers their thighs, it's hard to explain just how big an impact Hurley's safety-pin dress made.
Not only did it mark the moment when the red carpet became more influential than the catwalk, it also showed how the right dress can make a career.
Until then, red carpet dresses were pretty dull. Yes, they were long and black, but they didn't have a neckline that made it obvious the wearer wasn't wearing a bra, not to mention thigh-high slashes, lots of exposed flesh and body-hugging fabric that suggested she wasn't wearing anything else under it either.
After her red carpet appearance, Hurley was catapulted onto the world stage and became the face of Estee Lauder, won a role in an Austin Powers film and launched her own swimwear line.
The frock didn't fare badly either. As well as featuring in Harrods' black dress exhibition (a copy was on sale in the store in 2007 for 10,690), it came top of a poll of the greatest red carpet dresses.
There's more to it than meets the eye. Liz explained: 'Unlike many designers, Versace designs clothes to celebrate the female form rather than eliminate it.'
And while I didn’t get to wear the original, I can see her point. My version was also created in 1994, but by Bernshaw, a London label renowned for producing overnight copies of famous dresses.
Director Alex Bernstein recalls: 'The minute people saw the pictures of Liz in that dress in the news-papers, our phones lit up. From House of Fraser to independent boutiques, everyone wanted it.'
Their re-creation sold for 150. My dress is the only surviving one in the company’s archives.
The safety pin dress was created before the cult of size zero and demands curves: a voluptuous bosom and full hips. This may explain why, weeks after her weight gain made headlines around the world, Lady Gaga chose to wear it.
Elizabeth Hurley wore the Versace safety pin dress in 1994 to the London premiere of Four Weddings And A Funeral, with her boyfriend Hugh Grant
Because strange as it sounds, this dress, that conceals and reveals, is something of a comfort blanket.
into it, I had imagined I'd feel semi-naked. After all, the only things
protecting me from displaying huge expanses of flesh are a handful of
over-sized safety pins.
surprisingly, I don't feel nearly as exposed as I had anticipated
because for all that's missing there's actually a lot of fabric.
heavy stretch jersey corsets the body, pulling you in where you need
it. This dress does an admirable job of holding in and hiding my tummy,
while cunningly distracting the eye with flashes of flesh elsewhere.
The most risque aspect of it is the decolletage. The built-in cups don't exactly offer the support of a bra, and it's this that makes me feel most self-conscious. Other than that, this is one slinky hot mama of a dress and I feel pretty good in it.
Lady Gaga loves to shock, but in comparison to the meat dress she wore in 2010, right, the safety pinned Versace dress, left, barely raised an eyebrow
But during a trip from the photo studio to the loos on the other side of the building, I get a taster of what it might be like to wear this dress out on the town.
I passed one man who practically had to scoop his eyeballs out of my cleavage, and a couple of girls who convulsed into giggles, muttering the words: 'Russian prostitute.'
Hearing something like that rather gives a girl pause for thought. I was hoping to convey 'fab and foxy', not 'touting for business'.
And realistically, where could you wear a dress like this It's too OTT for a night out, and even at black-tie events most gowns tend to be distinctly more conservative.
But this dress has made me realise that with good fabric, cut well, maybe we could all get away with something more daring than we think. Yes, the side slash and plunging neckline are too much, but tone it down and flashing a bit of leg could be sexy and sophisticated.
That said, to be honest, the only place this particular dress would be at home is on the red carpet.
And with no premiere invitations cluttering my mantelpiece, I'm not, as my mum will undoubtedly be relieved to hear, going out in That Dress after all.