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Naomi Campbell for Chanel SS94
Naomi Campbell for Chanel SS94via

The most high-voltage fashion shows of the 1990s

After Tom Ford has us reminiscing about his seminal AW95 Gucci collection, we revisit five of the decade’s other stand-out runway moments

Could anyone have predicted the full-blown Gucci mania that would ensue when Amber Valletta took her first steps onto Tom Ford’s AW95 runway, close cut velvet trousers paired with a suggestively unbuttoned silk shirt? Proof of fashion’s knack for reinvention, the show sent the brand skyrocketing from struggling fashion house to byword for sex appeal and seductive glamour, causing sales to soar by 90%. “The next day you could not get into the showroom. It was absolute hysteria,” the designer revealed this week. But Ford wasn’t the only one to make headlines with his uncompromising designs – we resist five of the decade’s theatrical standout shows.


In 1992, two years after she debuted his infamous cone bra, Madonna joined Jean Paul Gaultier on the runway at a special Hollywood charity fashion show. But the real surprise came when she threw aside the smart blazer she was wearing to reveal her bare chest, freeing the nipple before #freethenipple was even a thing. The crowd, unsurprisingly, went wild, as did the press. Not one to shy away from a controversial statement, Madonna was promoting both her album Erotica and book Sex at the time. 


Gianni Versace knew how to turn a brand into a superpower – the key was in the supermodels. For his AW91 collection, the Italian designer invited Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington to take to the catwalk, strutting their stuff in bold primary colours while lipsyncing to George Michael’s “Freedom”. Sexy and show-stealing, the press went into a frenzy over the amount of money the women had supposedly been paid – estimates ranging from £25,000 to £50,000. Of course, it wasn’t his only smash hit show of the 90s – another favourite, dubbed Miss S&M, saw models in leather corsets and high fashion bondage gear. 


Chanel SS94 had all the style tropes of the 90s and then some. Bucket hats, oversized hair clips and rainbow extensions, even string CC branded bikinis. Models ranged from the voluptuous supers like Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell to androdgynous, shaven-headed girls in boxy shorts, wifebeater vests and Chanel branded suspenders. The future first lady of France Carla Bruni even took to the runway with blue hair extensions and a sports bra. Critics were divided over the collection’s sex appeal, with skirts “shorter than short”, a comment Lagerfeld brushed off – “We don’t talk about sleeve length, so why should we talk about hem length?” he said backstage.


Only John Galliano could send an haute couture parachute down an impossibly long water-bed style runway. Often referred to as the Matrix collection, his AW99 Couture show was a seminal spectacle for the designer, where models paraded in everything from split leather skirts and army berets to acid yellow silks, and outrageous taxidermy milinery. One model even carried a shotgun, while the final troupe had their skin spray painted into tanned stripes. The truly stunning procession of looks blended the historical Galliano loved so much with an uncompromisingly modern new vision, and yes, it was rounded off with an enormous pink parachute. If Instagram had existed, it would have been broken.


Thierry Mugler’s AW95 show was a theatrical extravaganza, now well worthy of its place in fashion folklore. All the supermodels were in attendance, alongside other muses of all ages – including Jerry Hall and Hitchcock favourite Tippi Hedren. Space-age cyborg women encased in armour flashed bare breasts and behinds, while James Brown provided the live soundtrack and Eva Herzegovina appeared as Marilyn Monroe, like a bird of paradise in red feathers. It spoke to the decadence of 90s fashion, an era of big budgets and even bigger imaginations.