Editor’s Note: Delving into the archives of pop culture history, “Remember When?” is a new series offering a nostalgic look at the celebrity outfits that defined their eras.
Remember when Björk showed up at the 2001 Oscars with a faux swan draped around her neck?
It was, perhaps, one of the strangest outfits ever seen on a celebrity red carpet. And to make the moment even more surreal, the Icelandic music queen then proceeded to “lay” six eggs – giant ostrich eggs, to be precise – to the bemusement of onlookers and waiting cameras.
It is precisely this outlandishness that made the look so iconic. The dress not only secured Björk’s place as one of the entertainment business’ most memorable personalities, it proved that even terrible dresses can make fashion history (more on that later).
When Björk first appeared on the red carpet that night, her avian look ruffled quite a few feathers. One after the other, Björk topped worst-dressed lists – not just for the Academy Awards but for the year as a whole.
The man behind the bird was Macedonian designer Marjan Pejoski, who had dressed Björk in a pink princess-style dress at the Cannes Film Festival the year prior. The swan gown had originally appeared in his Autumn-Winter 2001 show, and had reportedly been conceived as “a sculpture” using a mix of fabrics including suede, woolen felt and real goose and swan feathers.
Pejoski had no idea Björk would wear it at the Oscars, only finding out the following morning, according to Vogue. Criticisms didn’t seem to bother him: “Not everybody understands my style,” he told the magazine in 2001. “But I don’t care about bad publicity. If you are an artist you don’t expect everyone to love what you do. And anyway, I love that there has been such an issue.”
For Björk, the extravagant look helped build a persona to match her avant-garde music. But the swan dress was neither the first nor last weird outfit she rocked.
In the 1990s there had been a turtleneck with impossibly long sleeves, a shiny green wrap paired with hiking boots and mini buns (Björk’s signature hairdo for much the decade) and the traditional Japanese geta sandals and tabi socks she wore to U2 gig.
Post-swan, some of her more eccentric outfits included a voluminous marabou skirt, which she accessorized with a face full of crystals; an enormous pom-pom headdress worn during her Volta Tour; and, at Spain’s Sónar music festival in 2017, a head-to-toe bodysuit and hat with pleated ridged fabric, filled with strings of tiny pearls, that frayed out at the sleeves and ankles.
The list could go on. But the point is: Björk has always subverted red carpet fashion tradition in the name of individuality.
This is exactly why, almost two decades on, we all still remember the swan dress. It might have raised eyebrows at the time, but the gown has since been honored by the Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, who have both showcased the original in high-profile fashion exhibitions (a 2015 Björk retrospective and 2019’s “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” respectively).
Pop culture continues to reference the dress too, cementing its iconic status through parody. Ellen DeGeneres emulated the look at the Primetime Emmy Awards in 2001, and Kevin James followed suit at the People’s Choice Awards the next year. At the 2006 Oscars, host Jon Stewart took a stab at the dress: “Björk couldn’t be here tonight… She was trying on her Oscar dress and Dick Cheney shot her,” he said in his opening monologue, a reference to an infamous hunting incident.
Films, music videos and even an episode of the cult animated comedy Archer have paid homage to it.
But perhaps the highest recognition of all came from the fashion world itself when, in 2014, Valentino designers Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri reinterpreted the eccentric frock for their spring couture collection.
As for Björk, she simply seemed bewildered by our obsession with the swan.
“C’mon, you don’t bring eggs unless you want to take the p*ss, right?” she later told the UK’s Sunday Times,. “I was actually amazed at how many people thought I was serious. I didn’t mean to cause a riot.”