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And the Fashion Award Goes to . . . Cher?

May 14, 1999|ROBIN GIVHAN | WASHINGTON POST

Cher has been transformed from the antithesis of fashion to its epitome.

Rather than being portrayed in the history books as one of the world's foremost fashion victims, time has turned her into a fashion visionary. Influential designers have evoked her name as a source of inspiration and guidance in striking just the right note of contemporary wretched excess. Cher's trademark hairstyle--center-parted, stick-straight mane--has become one of the few nostalgic dos to make the leap from the runway to Hollywood and onto city streets.

Aficionados of the Academy Awards long for the glory days when Cher would liven up the ceremonies with a particularly disastrous Bob Mackie ensemble involving garish beadwork, scandalous transparency and excessive fringe. Indeed, folks have become fed up with the stranglehold that restraint, sophisticated stylists and the relentlessly tasteful Giorgio Armani have had on the Oscars.

And so, as is the way in the fickle fashion industry, what was once dismissed as tacky has been transformed and elevated to the level of ironic cool. Cher's Native American showgirl sexpot persona now seems to epitomize the fashion industry's rush to celebrate ethnicity, adornment and sex appeal. The glorification of a gaudy Cher also runs parallel to the rising allure of Las Vegas--where camp taste knows no bounds.

In June, when the Council of Fashion Designers of America presents its annual awards, Cher will be honored for her influence on fashion. The decision to present Cher with this garment industry Oscar came "out of a groundswell," says council President Stan Herman. She "represents a lot of what fashion did this year. Her award came from the gut of the board."

In hindsight, it seems Cher's many fashion faux pas have not been subtle accessorizing mistakes, but gross miscalculations due to her overly exuberant championing of fashion. If Cher is to be reprimanded for her sense of style, it is because she has been too willing to listen to and follow the whims of designers. It is only right that the industry should finally embrace its creation.

"I think she's been a fashion victim and I think she's learned a lot from that," Herman says. "That almost gave her her sense of style."

A host of designers have borrowed from her hodgepodge version of vampy bohemia. In the past year, Gucci's Tom Ford and designers Anna Sui, Dolce & Gabbana and others have allowed the Cher sensibility to seep into their work.

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