The Legacy of MTV’s House of Style

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House of Style first debuted 30 years ago in May 1989 on MTV, and it arrived at a time when supermodel mania was reaching fever pitch. Cindy Crawford was in front of the lens, of course, but in her first-ever host role, bringing both modeling and the fashion world to the masses. Except for maybe CNN’s Style with Elsa Klensch, there was no other show like House of Style at the time: it was down-to-earth, ahead-of-the-curve, comedic, and following fashion off-duty. One reviewer of the show remarked that it was, “silly, superficial and wonderful.”

“I can’t believe it was 30 years ago,” Crawford tells CR. “When I look back at all the old shows, I remember how much fun we had. There were no rules and our goal was to present fashion in a fun and accessible way. It was groundbreaking television at the time because up until House of Style, the way fashion was presented on TV was very journalistic and the phrase ‘behind-the-scenes’ didn’t even really exist.”

After all, who else could have gained access to an intimate moment with Naomi Campbell as she was applying pimple cream with a cotton swab in front of her hotel room’s bathroom mirror? “I’ve got zits so I’m going to put my spots cream on and I don’t care. Everybody has zits,” Campbell says in the segment. It’s a far cry from the glamorous runway and magazine editorial shoots where her fans would normally catch her. And yet, the supermodel still looks radiant as ever—sans makeup and dressed in a tie-dye T-shirt that currently happens to be on-trend again.

Other candid moments happened during New York Fashion Week in April 1994: Niki Taylor subbed as a host for Crawford at the tents in Bryant Park where the shows used to take place. At one point, Jon Stewart interrupts Linda Evangelista and Kate Moss as the two supermodels were trying to pop open a bottle of champagne to fete their last runway show of the season. Later in the same episode, Tatjana Patitz discusses how stressful the week can be hopping from one show to the next, and how she travels only with duffel bags since she’s had her higher-end luggage stolen. While she’s at the tents prepping for the runway, she speaks openly about the frenetic pace of fashion week and how, “you find yourself doing things you never usually do like having champagne in the middle of the day.” Later she asks, “Is there any more champagne?”

Though only a monthly series, House of Style managed to capture the zeitgeist of fashion’s most bold-faced names who either work today or remain iconic in the industry. Besides the era-defining ’90s supermodels like Campbell, Crawford, Patitz, Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Helena Christensen, other memorable figures appeared on the show like fashion designers Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier, Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Betsey Johnson and Anna Sui. During its inaugural episode, Crawford wore her own Azzedine Alaïa dress and jacket since there was no wardrobe, no stylist, and hardly any hair and makeup team.

MTV producer Alisa Marie Bellettini spoke about choosing Crawford for House of Style in the book I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution: “Her manager said no. Her modeling agency said no. I asked them to have her call me. When she did, I said, ‘Would you like to do a show about fashion? I don’t have any money to pay you.’ She immediately said yes. The whole first year, she worked for free.” And the rest is fashion history.

House of Style also bridged music with fashion and vice versa as both inspired each other, especially when it came to rap and hip hop. In one episode, Crawford visits actor Will Smith on the set of his show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and good times ensue, especially when the two try on jackets and hats from Smith’s wardrobe. In another installment, the camera follows Naughty by Nature to shops in Newark, New Jersey, where the trio gives tips on how to get their signature streetwear look: relaxed, athletic Adidas sportswear, oversize denim, and comfortable, utility footwear. Even back then, the group supported local artists, businesses, and their community despite being international music stars.

In a similar vein, House of Style wasn’t high-fashion all the time. The show covered smaller brands with huge appeal. Sonic Youth’s bassist Kim Gordon and her business partner Daisy von Furth designed a streetwear line called X-Girl, and House of Style was there for the launch in 1993. Film director Sofia Coppola and her then husband Spike Jonze produced a street-based fashion show held in SoHo down the street from Marc Jacobs’ flagship store. Chloë Sevigny walked the runway and the crowd included The Beastie Boys, Linda Evangelista, Thurston Moore, and Francis Ford Coppola. X-Girl produced colorful, ’90s trend apparel with ringer neck T-shirts and loose A-line dresses with a laid-back look.

While there have been attempts to revive House of Style after Crawford left—with different versions starring Bar Refaeli, Chanel Iman, and Iggy Azalea—the original series will forever stay in the hearts of the generation who grew up glued to their TVs for anything fashion related. Today, House of Style still inspires those who take inspiration from retro clothing as the ’90s have returned in full force on the catwalk and in pop culture.

Fashion designer John Varvatos once said of the show, “To certain people, especially in the Midwest, [House of Style] was their bible–it was their guidepost to fashion. There really wasn’t anything like it.”

He was right.

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