I want to first start by thanking the Roberto Cavalli archive for trusting me with this piece and by thanking Kris Fe for believing in Pechuga’s mission which is to teach and share fashion. Please note the views expressed in this article are solely my own.
On This Day in Fashion...
I started yesterday’s Roberto Cavalli unveiling video with the question, “what were you doing in 2002 ?”, for a reason. In 2002 I was 13 going on 14 escaping middle school in Los Angeles to go to high school on the West Side. Freshman year was going to start anew, I was going to get a girlfriend and everything was going to be great.
It was around this time that Christina Aguilera released “Dirrty” and everyone lost their shit. So this is what had been hiding in that genie’s bottle this whole time? Wow. Who knew? However, I still think I was slightly more oblivious than others. I grew up in an extremely conservative household. I wasn’t allowed to watch or listen to music from the time that I was about 10 to 14 years old. How did I even know about Christina Aguilera? I had a portable radio player and I would sneakily listen to my “ungodly” music on it. When my mom would ask me what I was listening to I’d tell her they were church hymns. Now fast forward to the first year of high school.
To Our Lady Xtina We Pray
The Dirrty Years
Two thousand two was the year my world exploded with pop culture and I was a sponge that soaked it all up. However, there was one event that stood out from the rest, the music video to Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” featuring Redman, I was blown away, the song was epic, the imagery- I didn’t even know people were allowed to dance like that. I swore I was in love with Xtina, she was going to be the girl that I would tell others I had a crush on and everyone would believe me then that I was straight.
Come to find out I was really just extremely gay and mistook loving Xtina to actually wanting to look like her, particularly at that time whe she introduced us to her alter ego. The “Dirrty” music video, which was directed by David LaChappelle and released on September 30, 2002, had it all: assless chaps, gyrating shower orgies, and….Redman? There was no in between you either loved the video or you hated it. Fans were shocked, Time called the video a gathering at an “intergalactic hooker convention” and Entertainment Weekly called Aguilera “desperate and shrill".
Transforming into Xtina really changed the course of Aguilera’s musical career. The impact trickled down, however. Amidst the backlash that the video received, the American artist would scoff and point out that she was the one in control in the music video and that critics weren’t comfortable when the male gaze was flipped. A bare-naked girl in a music video with a voice? The world wasn’t ready for it but Aguilera didn’t care.
But while the singer was taking control of her own image, empowering herself and other women at the same time, I just sat in the corner and thought, “Damn. I think I’m gay.” There was no denying the influence that Xtina had on culture at the time, she proved to have vocal range to be taken seriously as a singer but it was her smashing the image of the sweet girl-next-door that took everyone aback.
Now I’m not saying that Xtina’s “Dirrty” music video made me gay (lol) but it did open up my eyes to a world I didn’t know existed or was acceptable (do you see where I’m going here?). Being told your whole life you have to act or look a certain way is tiring. On that level I related to the alter ego that Aguilera had created. But what if it wasn’t an alter ego? What if that was her way of breaking free? As a closeted gay kid I felt the need to do the same. I needed to embrace my inner Xtina.
This outfit alone was a cry for help
VH1 Best of 2002 Awards
It was the month of December when the VH1 Best of 2002 Awards celebrated the year’s wildest moments in entertainment. It was an anything goes event and Aguilera was set to perform but not before she showed up in that red Roberto Cavalli number. Xtina shocked people yet again. The ice blond hair on top of the jet back extensions, the tan, and the whittled waist (could she breathe?). She deserved an award for that dress alone.
Xtina, VH1 Best of 2002, Dec. 4, 2002
The dress was part of the Roberto Cavalli Spring / Summer 2003 collection that had debuted about a week and a half before the release of the “Dirrty” music video. It was seen on the runway on Danish beauty, Louise Pedersen. The piece which is made of red leather panels, cinches at the back with mile long laces, and has a Victorian-like busk in the center went perfectly with Aguilera’s new image, she may as well have worn it in the music video. Cavalli would later declare Aguilera his muse and in 2007 he designed all 10 costumes for the singer's “Back to Basics” tour.
“You’re gonna die when you see this.”
Kris is full of surprises, she’ll come to me with the most fascinating requests and that's when we bond over our love for fashion and art history. When she told me she had styled Madison Beer in the archival dress that Aguilera wore in 2002 I flipped. To my knowledge the dress hadn’t been worn since then. Beer would go on to perform in the same Cavalli dress Xtina wore to a Vevo LIFT performance in December 2020. Iconic all around.
Madison Beer in Roberto Cavalli, Vevo LIFT, SS03 styled by Kris Fe; Dec. 2020
About two weeks ago I invited Kris to my studio. While we were discussing our upcoming projects this red Cavalli dress came up in conversation (casually). I asked her where the piece was exactly and she told me. I flipped out again.
“You mean to tell me this masterpiece lives in the same city that I do?!”
It was at that time that I popped the question.
“Kris, do you think that the Cavalli archives would let me study and document the dress?”
To my surprise the request was approved. Four days later and the dress was hanging in my studio and the wheels in my mind were spinning.
I could stare at this angle all day
The dress looked like it could have been painted onto the form. It has a hand-painted tattoo motif (a trend that the 2000’s did not shy away from), it exudes femininity with the lace up detailing in the back, but it looks almost surgical like with the interlacing panels (that look like bandages) and its imposing metal busk in the center.
Undoing and redoing the laces took about half an hour
The series of events that led this dress to land in our studio were most definitely random but it made sense that we’d be the ones handling such a rare piece. It was that realization that prompted me to ask the team where they were in 2002. For someone who's obsessed with vintage I rarely like talking about the past, especially when it's too personal, but this was a rare instance wherein I sought insight from my team. My tailor told me he had just arrived to the United States at the age of 15, my assistant told me he had just turned two. Two different generations of queer Latino men in the same room with two vastly different experiences coming together in 2021 for the love of Cavalli, Xtina, and corsets.
We then proceeded to blast “Dirrty” in the office.
It does not get any gayer than that.
Thank you for reading and until next time!