Elizabeth Hurley was a total unknown when she asked Versace if she might be able to borrow a dress for the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994. As the girlfriend of the film’s leading man, Hugh Grant, she’d been told fashion brands would be amenable to the idea - but until that point, she’d been rebuffed.
It was a different story at Versace: the head of womenswear agreed to loan her a gown - a black, slashed, punk-inspired creation with oversized gold safety pins holding it together - as a favour, and when Hurley walked down the red carpet, fashion history was made.
The Versace ‘safety pin dress’ has been credited with making Hurley an instant celebrity, so it comes as little surprise that she has maintained a close relationship with the brand ever since. And she was sitting front row on Sunday night for one of the most star-studded events of Milan Fashion Week, when Donatella Versace and Fendi artistic director Kim Jones showcased the results of their radical ‘Fendace’ role-swap, in which each created a capsule collection for the other’s label.
With Amber Valletta, Naomi Campbell, Gigi Hadid and Kate and Lila Moss among the many familiar names on the catwalk, this show was rich in fashion moments, but it could be argued that none were quite as fabulous as Hurley’s, who, at 56, proved that she’s still just as capable of stealing the limelight in a body-con dress as she was at 29.
The dress in question was not a safety-pin design, although the safety-pin is now a Versace signature and features regularly in the label’s collections. In the Versace spring/summer 2022 show, safety-pin dresses dominated in a collection made up of post-pandemic party-ready looks, while Jones created his own riff on the dress (modeled by Kristen McMenamy, also 56) for Sunday’s show.
Perhaps Donatella was hoping to use Hurley’s unique power to elevate a key element of the ‘Fendace’ collection instead: Hurley’s dress featured Jones’s mash-up of the Versace Greek Key print and the Fendi monogram, a brand new runway look that was modelled in the show by Paloma Elsesser.
Inspired by Versace’s mid-to-late Nineties archive - the era during which the late Gianni Versace was at the label’s helm, and of course when Hurley first shot to fame - the dress had a high neckline and a cleavage-exposing keyhole cutout, realised in an iridescent fabric that highlights every curve.
It’s not one for the wallflowers, that’s for sure, but Hurley is no wallflower. Why should she be? She looks phenomenal. At 56, an age when many women lose confidence in their appearance, Hurley is showing us that there’s an alternative approach, and it has nothing to do with fading into the background.
It’s true, not everyone has her figure, or, indeed, Elsesser’s hourglass silhouette, but that shouldn’t be a barrier to embracing bold colour and print in one’s day-to-day life. A woman in her fifties knows herself better than ever, and if Hurley can teach us anything, it’s that mid-life style should be a celebration of what has gone before and what is to come - not an apology for having deigned to get older.
As my colleague Lisa Armstrong wrote earlier this year, there’s been a cultural shift. It’s now an aspirational goal to be growing older ‘just disgracefully enough’, and whether you yourself would wear Hurley’s dress or not, she should be applauded for proving there’s no age ceiling when it comes to creating a compelling fashion moment.