Valentino Reimagines Björk's Infamous Swan Dress. Who's Laughing Now?

Valentino versus Bjork (photo: Getty Images/IMAXtree)
Remember Björk's swan dress she wore to the Oscars in 2001? Who could forget it? The controversial gown designed by Marjan Pejoski remained fixed at the top of awards season worst-dressed lists. That was until this week, when hallowed designer Valentino sent his own version of the swan dress down the runway at Paris Fashion Week's spring 2014 haute couture show. The dress, made out of tulle and hand-sewn feathers, received a virtual standing ovation from Maison Valentino's Twitter and Instagram followers, and enough praise from fashion bloggers to make up for critics' lambasting of the original dress in 2001. 

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There are admittedly many differences between the Pejoski dress the Icelandic songstress wore to the Academy Awards and Valentino's new, subtler creation. Björk's dress featured a full white skirt to resemble the body of a swan, and had a giant cartoonish swan head gazing out from her bust. Critics and comedians were particularly harsh. According to Richard Crouse's book "Reel Winners: Movie Award Trivia," Nathan Lane said, "The sad part is Björk's swan dress was still alive at rehearsal," while resident fashion cop Joan Rivers said, "The girl should be put into an asylum."Björk's response: "It's just a dress."

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At the time, Pejoski didn't mind the harsh critiques of his design. "Why a swan dress? Why not? I hate limits," the London-based designer told People."[Björk] doesn't care about what others say. ...If my work either charms you or makes you want to puke I achieved something." Mission accomplished. The dress  became an iconic fashion joke in the months and years following its 2001 Oscar debut.  Ellen DeGeneres wore a mock version of it to the Emmys later that year. Actor Kevin James wore an incarnation to the People's Choice Awards in 2002. Someone even bothered to dress a pug in a four-legged version. 

Valentino shared an up-close look at their swan dress on InstagramRe-creating such a ridiculed dress is an incredibly risky move for Valentino, and with all the uncanny similarities it seems unlikely that it's a coincidence. But the fashion house has a smart interpretation. For starters, it's crafted out of a more sophisticated flesh-toned tulle, and the swan serves as more of an accent than the focus of the dress. The head of the swan is also much smaller, lacking a bright orange beak, and positioned delicately at the nape of the neck. The elegant ballerinas of "Swan Lake" instantly come to mind.

While editors and fashion writers don't frequently criticize big name designers like Valentino, it seems many are positively smitten with this unusual creation. (Note the very different response from critics now, compared with the original outrage in 2001.)

Fashionista: "It's about time someone took another crack at the iconic and all-important 'swan dress'… we just weren't expecting it to be Valentino."

Lucky: "It's pretty awesome that Valentino interpreted such a big fashion 'don't' into something, well, cool."

Fashionologie:
"Luckily for Valentino creative directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and [Pierpaolo Piccioli, this version was far more tasteful."

Harper's Bazaar: "Valentino takes our breath away with another stunning couture collection."

Total Beauty: "Yes, yes, yes! The Björk swan dress is back, as remade by Valentino! We love!"

ELLE: "It looks like Björk and Marjan Pejoski are having the last laugh."

Will this updated swan dress make its own splash during awards season? In the words of Racked, "Please, famous people, let's make the red carpet interesting."

For more on Björk's infamous swan dress and other red carpet disasters, check out the video below.

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