I have one thing in common with Jennifer Lopez, and that’s good enough for me: she is now 51, which means we are back being the same age, as I am just a few weeks older. So I thought I’d get back to writing, and where better place to start than with the Bronx’s finest export. How can I describe my adoration for the young woman who became infamous as J-Lo?
Picture the scene. It’s the late 1990’s. Everyone is wearing brown bootcut flares and wanting them to be Tom Ford for Gucci, but having to make do with Kookai. That super-skinny washed-out look was still knocking about. A new century was on its way, but we were filled with doom and gloom about the world’s computer systems dying. They didn’t by the way.
Up until this point, whatever fashion was in, it was generally displayed on tiny, tiny models. Whether they were cutting edge (Kate Moss) or more commercial (Claudia Schiffer) they still had teeny hips. I have never had tiny hips except, maybe, when I was nine. As the decade headed towards a new millennium, the atmosphere around the globe changed apace. Tom Ford (yes, him again) had started a fashion revolution by bringing colour, and tailoring, laced with a bit of logo excess, to Gucci. Donatella made Versace even more red-hot, in honour of her late brother. We were all bored of beige, and ready for some high-octane opulence.
On the catwalk, models like Gisele Bundchen were absolutely taking over. She was dubbed ‘The New Body’ and yes she had some curves, but still, those tiny hips again. Along came Ms. Lopez, and she literally changed my opinion of myself, and it wasn’t just me: there was an avalanche of applause. Back in my own days as an international model, I once went on a casting for an underskirt packet photo, in Bolton, and the interviewer remarked, “You’ll not get far with them hips in this game, love, but they’ll come in handy for knocking out kids.” He would have turned away Jennifer for that job, too, although being a faceless model for the Co-op probably wasn’t her idea of career goals.
Lopez, of course, is now known for her extraordinary looks, but suddenly, and out of the blue, it really felt fine to have a few curves. (To all of my tiny-hipped buddies, I’m not having a go. You get to wear outfits I can only dream off. And hot pants!) I remember once being called ‘Wide Load’ and it stuck with me, but now it felt like a USP. Bums were now big, if you catch my drift.
When it came to fashion, she started off tentatively, hiding that Bronx-defined glamour as she hit the Hollywood red carpet. Her debut in ‘Selena’ was magical and in ‘Out Of Sight’ she was more than a match for George Clooney. But it was when she started releasing music that she started really expressing her own style. After seeing the ‘If You Have My Love’ video I immediately went out and bought a cut off white sweater and wide-legged linen trousers. I found out the t-bar sandals she was wearing were from Gina London, and I tried to get a pair. They were sold out. The J-Lo effect was in full force.
Jennifer absolutely reflected the dreams and ambitions of so many young women. Even I went a bit logo nuts, and while the word ‘bling’ is cringe now, I did emulate Ms. Lopez when it came to a night out. I do remember a pair of boot-cut Roberto Cavalli jeans that were an array of colours and sequins, and I felt like an OTT mermaid in them. Teamed with a tiny turquoise Dolce and Gabanna vest, there I was, stood in the Mosquito nightclub in my home city, thinking that while love didn’t cost a thing (allegedly) wanting to look like the world’s latest sensation was never going to be cheap. The jeans are in a zip locked bag and faded now, but they lit up in the dark back then, and started many a conversation.
Over the last two decades, Jennifer Lopez has built a stunning career. I can remember her being No. 1 on the Billboard charts and No. 1 in the ‘movie’ charts simultaneously. Obviously, as Jennifer became famous at 30, she really had worked her way up from being a ‘Fly Girl’ dancer for MTV, then onto being a choreographer for Janet Jackson, to being the star of her own show. Since then she’s sold millions of albums, starred in several hit films, and launched her own fashion and perfume empire, as well as getting married four times and having her twins, Max and Emme. She is multi-talented and an absolute warrior worker. She was never going to be either Barbra Streisand or Meryl Streep, but she took her talent and ambition and tapped into a zeitgeist. Where opportunities have been limited, even for her, she’s executive produced her own TV drama and movies. Not bad for a girl who used to jump the 6 train to auditions.
Her fashion reputation is quite simple: Jennifer does not do understated. She still rocks that ‘homegirl’ look even though it would look ridiculous on me. When it comes to daywear she’s either fly-fabulous or full-on Hollywood legend. The designers she plumps for are all about glamour, whether it’s Valentino or Versace, and she adores colour and form-fitting looks. Of course, she became famous for that green dress by Donatella and helped to create Google Search in the process, but that was just the beginning.
As someone who felt I was growing up alongside her, she also made a few mistakes along the way. Whether it was an iffy dress, a bad hair day or a poor choice in the partner department, she is the type of gal who dusts herself off and gets on with it. Her energy is almost hypnotic at times. While I’m sitting her moaning about my knees, she’s got pads on hers, sliding across the stage, rehearsing her Las Vegas show.
Personally, I love her best when she just plumps for elegance: hair in a topknot, diamond jewellery as big as ‘rocks’ and to-die-for chiffon couture. It’s a look that never falters for her. She switches it up for events like the Grammys or the MTV Awards, but when traditional tinseltown calls, she can take on the best of them. There aren’t many superstars today who could hold their own against Rita Hayworth, but Jennifer Lopez would sit easily in an all-time roll call. (Rita is my ultimate everything, by the way!)
I’m not sure if Jen ever eats cake, but today feels the perfect time to raise a slice. I know my chances of meeting her are slim-to-nothing, but if I ever did I’d thank her for inspiring me, for making hips a thing, and tell her we have all forgiven her for Gigli.
I shall watch on with interest how she works being in her fifties. I appreciate the fact that she hasn’t turned to lots of procedures, as there is absolutely no need. She’s as beautiful now as she was the first time I saw her on MTV. Jennifer has so much more to achieve, and I’m hoping the ‘Legends’ spot at Glastonbury has her name written all over it. I think she’s hoping for an Oscar one day. Will she get there?
When that moment arrives, I am definitely going to go for that J-Lo vibe once more. The only question is: where are my Cavallis, and will I be able to get them on?
*I wanted to dedicate this piece to two friends who keep me fashionably youthful.
To Faye Ravenscroft (half my age) thanks for telling me to buy the jeans. You were right.
To Maya (a third of my age) thanks for keeping me ‘current’ whilst listening to me witter on about fashion history, and always letting me know who the ‘New Kate Bush’ is.
About the author: Nancy Buckland Kirk is a writer with a keen interest in fashion and beauty and a career which has spanned modelling, teaching and spreading the word about leading beauty brands. You may also enjoy: Nancy Buckland Kirk on why, in the world of fashion and beyond, change is not just going to come, it needs to come