The real story behind Rose McGowan’s ‘naked’ 1998 VMAs dress

Maja Hanson may not be a household name, but her work has earned a place in Hollywood fashion history.

Back in 1998, Rose McGowan attended the VMAs on the arm of then-boyfriend Marilyn Manson, wearing a barely-there beaded dress from Hanson’s label, Maja, that’s since become one of the most iconic awards-show looks of all time, despite being largely uncredited by press over the past 22 years.

According to the designer, the revealing frock — which McGowan says she was “slut-shamed” for wearing — single-handedly started the red carpet “naked” dress trend. “Those kinds of looks were happening on the runway at the time, but I think she was the person who took it from the runway to the red carpet,” Hanson, 49, told Page Six Style exclusively.

“I don’t remember anyone doing it before her. Other people have worn similar things since then, but she was the first to really have that ‘wow’ moment.”

Marilyn Manson and Rose McGowan in Maja at the 1998 VMAs.WireImage

Hanson says the “Scream” star hand-picked the dress herself during a visit to her NYC studio with Manson, who was being fitted for his custom fur-trimmed leopard look for the VMAs.

“While we were fitting him, she was having a look at the clothes,” the designer recalled. “We had this storage closet in the back of the studio where we archived pieces from past collections, and remember her going in, trying it on, coming back out and asking if she could borrow it. We were like, ‘Yes, of course!’”

Hanson and her business partner at the time, Seana Gordon, didn’t realize that McGowan would go on to wear the dress to the VMAs, but the piece was clearly deserving of a red-carpet moment.

Originally modeled on Maja’s Spring 1997 runway by Jaime King (who went by James at the time), it was crafted from a single rectangular swatch of iridescent beaded mesh in front and hand-strung strands of the same glass beads in back, and took several days to make.

“We called it the ‘Chain Dress,’ but it wasn’t actually made from chains,” Hanson said with a laugh.

Adding to the jaw-dropping effect, McGowan wore nothing beneath the dress except for a tiny leopard-print thong that perfectly matched Manson’s suit. “Rose really made it her own,” Hanson said. “It was such a bold statement to wear that out in the sunlight.”

James King on Maja Hanson’s Spring 1997 runway.Maja Hanson

Years later, the #MeToo leader — who was among the first women to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault — would reveal that the nearly-nude look was intended as a political statement, as the VMAs marked her first red carpet appearance following her alleged rape in 1997. But at the time, Hanson said she didn’t realize her design would become part of such a powerful story.

“I had no idea,” the South Florida native told us. “We had a lot of bare, revealing looks in the collection at the time; that was something I was known for. I was always interested in spreading a message of empowerment — not necessarily anything political, but showing women in a position of strength, and [sharing the message that] your body is yours to show however you want.”

Had social media existed at the time, McGowan’s look would have surely gone viral — but even without Twitter and Instagram as a gauge, Hanson remembers the praise flooding in from her fellow fashion insiders, stylists and editors post-VMAs. “We were just so happy. We thought she looked amazing,” she said.

Maja HansonMaja Hanson

McGowan wasn’t the only star to make a splash in Maja; by the time Hanson shuttered her brand in 2001, she’d also created looks for the likes of Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Lil’ Kim and provided pieces for “Sex and the City.”

“Pat [Field, the HBO hit’s costume designer] gave me my first break,” Hanson shared. “My first clothing order came from her, and the runway show in the second episode of the series is actually my runway show.”

After leaving fashion design behind, Hanson followed in the footsteps of her father, sculptor Duane Hanson, working in Jeff Koons’ studio and teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design, her alma mater. But to this day, the now Boston-based mom of four says McGowan’s dress will always hold a special place in her heart.

“I’m really proud of it,” she told us. “I think Rose is amazing, and I’m honored to be associated with what she represents. As a woman, I’m proud to be part of her story.”

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