Pop and style stars are set to rock the red carpet at next week’s MTV Video Music Awards, but truly, no fashion do or don’t that Olivia Rodrigo, Doja Cat, Måneskin, Ice Spice, or any other attending superstar might wear this year could top one of the most scandalous outfits in VMAs history: Rose McGowan’s see-through chainmail dress, which she donned for the awards 25 years ago.
In 2020, the author, activist and former actress told Yahoo Entertainment that she always hated the paparazzi-crazed red carpet experience. “You have these big men, a hundred of them yelling at the top of their voice trying to get you to look at them, but your body doesn’t understand why it’s being screamed at and aggressed on. … I’m like, ‘I feel like I’m being shot with guns right now,’” she said. But when McGowan attended the 1998 VMAs with her boyfriend at the time, Marilyn Manson, she decided to make a bold red carpet statement anyway. However, most people had no idea about the real, serious statement she was making by showing all that skin. (Editor’s note: This interview took place before allegations of Manson’s sexual misconduct came to light.)
“It was my first big public appearance after being sexually assaulted,” said McGowan, who has long alleged that Harvey Weinstein raped her in 1997, a year before her big VMAs fashion moment. “I just felt like, ‘Oh, Hollywood, would you want a body just that you can use and throw away? Then I’ve got one for you!’ It was like at the end of Gladiator when he comes out and he’s like, ‘Are you not entertained?’ And if you look at me, I did it with power. I didn’t do it with my hand on my hip to be sexy. … Most of the women that are dressed like that on the red carpet, it’s a calculated, sexy move to turn people on. Mine was like, ‘I’m gonna f*** with your brain. I’m going to blow your brain up.’ And nobody had done it.”
McGowan said that Manson himself was one of the many people who didn’t understand the intention behind the mind-blowing garment. “[The Weinstein assault] happened before I went out with him. … I didn’t tell him because what happened,” she recalled. “I did tell him later — well, he found out because he would ask my friend, ‘What’s wrong with this girl? She wakes up screaming at night and soaking wet in the bed and the sheets are wet. She does it every night, like two or three times a night.’ I would have terrible nightmares, PTSD stuff. So, we had to talk about it then.”
Manson and McGowan were together for about three years and engaged for two, and while McGowan said he was “nasty, nasty, nasty” to her after their relationship ended (“That’s just male ego bullshit with access to a microphone; it was not cool”), she came to realize that her time spent escaping into his rock ‘n’ roll world was “very instrumental in healing for me at that point, because I wanted to be young and free, and I felt so old. I had just been like working, it felt like, for so long and I’ve done like five movies in a row, and then the bad thing happened. And after that, I just wanted to run away with the circus and just feel free and have fun. And also because people are like sending him death threats all the time and all that — it was more about me protecting him. I could focus on him, instead of dealing with my own stuff.”
Looking back, McGowan expressed mixed feelings about her shocking VMAs fashion moment, though she never necessarily regretted it. “It was kind of hard. I hadn’t really ever dealt with global media shaming. But it prepared me for later on it happening to me a whole bunch. It was also like, ‘Sorry you’re square and I’m not — bummer!” she chuckled.
“I’m like, ‘Why did I do that?’ I’ve had to look at that. You know, when you do stuff sometimes on instinct and in a mood, like when a mood overtakes you, you analyze what it was that brought you to that mood or that choice. So, I’ve certainly had a lot of time to analyze and I’m looking at the timeline. But I completely understand why I did what I did.”
Rose McGowan is making music herself these days, releasing the experimental, meditative debut album Planet 9 during the lockdown of 2020. Check out her full Yahoo Entertainment interview below about that album, her career, her retreat from Hollywood and her activism. The 2023 MTV Video Music Awards will take place Tuesday, Sept. 12 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
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