why i can’t stop looking at photos from early 2000s movie premieres
Twitter account Movie Premieres Unlimited explores evolving celebrity culture through outfits from 90s and ’00s red carpets.
Ron Galella/Getty Images
A few weeks ago, as I was scrolling through twitter, I came across a series of photographs taken from the Sundance Film Festival premiere of The Butterfly Effect in 2004. Paris Hilton was there, dressed in a baby-blue jumper and corduroy pants, with a fluffy white, rhinestone-encrusted bag tucked under her arm. She was cosying up to her then-boyfriend, Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter, wearing an orange t-shirt and baggy denim jeans. Their blonde hair was matching, styled into pointy quiffs. Ashton Kutcher was there too, wearing a giant cowboy hat. The red carpet, if you could call it that, looked like they were on a construction site, or as one twitter user suggested, in a giant freezer. The photos were awkward, slightly unsettling, certainly not glamorous. And I couldn’t look away.
The photographs were from twitter account Movies Premiere Unlimited, which religiously chronicles movie premiere red carpet shots, predominantly from the 90s to early 00s. Run by a self-described ‘Hollywood historian’ the account has garnered over 60,000 followers over the past month. The account is a glorious goldmine of sartorial nostalgia; a never-ending stream of of boob-tubes, double-denim, tiny sunglasses, satin and lots and lots of see-through tops. But I was sucked in by its cataloging of unforgiving, strange photographs of celebrities, every one of their imperfections accentuated by the haunting glow of bad camera lighting.
Movies Premiere Unlimited is one of countless social media accounts digitally archiving the intersection of fashion and popular culture from the 90s and 00s. Instagram account Nineties Anxiety, is a mixture of paparazzi shots of Princess Diana in athleisure, vampy Thierry Mugler runway shots and screencaps of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliette. What Fran Wore collates and identifies the designers behind the maximalist, multi-coloured looks worn by Fran Drescher on sitcom The Nanny. Every Outfit on Sex and the City, does, as the name suggests, while accompanied by incisive, sometimes brutal, commentary that puts Carrie Bradshaw to shame.
This preoccupation with the 90s and noughties is nothing new. Nostalgia for this era has become one of the defining characteristics of contemporary fashion. Both high fashion and chain stores are littered with chokers, PVC, velvet and thinly-strapped bodycon dresses. Celine’s recent collection of jet-black jackets and tiny skirts could be plucked straight from the Basketball Diaries premiere, where almost everyone was seemingly dressed in a uniform of leather. Teen pop star Billie Eilish’s wardrobe of oversized apparel, graphic tees, platform sneakers, and tracksuits would have fit right in on the red carpet.
But maybe more importantly, Movies Premiere Unlimited chronicles the Hollywood red carpet before the relatively new advent of the celebrity stylist. It’s obvious looking at the slightly askew looks that many celebrities were left to their own devices — for better and for worse. Take Jean Claude Van Damme, wearing a burnt-orange blazer two sizes too big at the premiere of the Last Action Hero; Or Lindsay Lohan wearing wearing way too much fake tan. Or the multitude of badly cropped white t-shirts with toilet-humour slogans (My favourite? Agnes Bruckner wearing shirt emblazoned with “These are real!” across her chest at the premiere of Mean Girls).
Many male celebrities wore casual, careless attire like bucket hats, baggy pants and oversized sweaters, looking like bratty teenagers that had just come from the mall. Quentin Tarantino’s showed up to the premiere of Beavis and Butthead Do America wearing gym shorts and converse sneakers.
Sophia Coppola, speaking to W last year, said that Hollywood red carpets, had become a “bummer”. “...Stars are done up in a glamorously generic uniform—a look so professionally executed that real women could never come close to achieving it for a formal event in their lives” she said. She has a point — many female celebrities are now often dressed in snoozy, safe, and perfect evening gowns that strip them of their own individuality.
It’s a shame, because there is so much joy in the wacky, risky looks celebrities used to pull. I can’t get over Patricia and Rosanna Arquette at the premiere of True Romance in 1994. Patricia wore Champagne-coloured gown that’s high neck and billowing sleeves made it look both retro and like a glamorous spacesuit. Rosanna, on the other hand, wore a dusty pink velour tracksuit, her tummy exposed, with a giant gold cross around her neck. Nicole Kidman’s matching cherry-red skirt and backless top was the perfect mood for the premiere of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.
A lot of the pleasure in viewing the images collated on Movie Premiere Unlimited is bearing witness to an era where celebrities didn’t have such immense, tight control over their image. Their foreheads were shiny, not face-tuned to oblivion. Nor were they so beholden to specific brands or endorsement deals. Their fashion choices — dubious or not — felt authentic, and not like a guileless cash grab. There is also, obviously, a sense of satisfaction seeing celebrities looking sweaty, unkempt or in ill-fitting outfits. It delivers the same gratification we experience when we see them papped picking up dog poop, or in dirty sweatpants — a reminder that the usual flawlessness they emit is all smoke and mirrors anyway. Or as the old, US Weekly adage goes: Stars — they’re just like us!