Decades after Givenchy and Dior’s demure designs, Gianni Versace deconstructed the little black dress and put it back together with thick, oversized gold-painted safety pins. Much in the way that Hepburn made Givenchy’s design iconic, Elizabeth Hurley sensationalized Versace’s dress by wearing it to the 1994 premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral alongside her then-boyfriend, Hugh Grant. The dress, featuring a plunging neckline and a thigh-high slit, appeared as if it was being held together only by gold hardware—a provocative look that has since been emulated by everyone from Angelina Jolie to Lady Gaga.
The most recent LBD (as it is known colloquially) on display at MoMA brings the evolution of the fashion staple full circle. The Little Black (Death) Dress—commissioned by the museum specifically for the show—is designed “to carry one from this world to the next, a garment literally created for the grave,” explains its creator, Pia Interlandi.
Interlandi works with the terminally ill to design garments that they will be buried in, typically using white and cream fabrics. When MoMA first approached her to contribute a design to the little black dress series, “The first thing that I thought was, ‘Oh! I don’t usually design with black,’” she says. “But in tracking back the evolution of it, I went further back, I went back to Victorian mourning because black is so much associated with death.”