The Met Gala has played host to countless fashion moments, but few have been as bold as Lil’ Kim’s turn on the museum stairs back in 1999. A power pink combination of a fur coat, bra top, and hot pants, her Versace look instantly made a splash and is remembered as one of the events all-time best, a thrilling interpretation of the year’s “Rock Style” theme. It stood in stark contrast to the ballgowns and throwback glitz chosen by other attendees. But more than that, it helped to kickstart the trend for fearless and body-conscious style on the Met Gala red carpet. Long before Lady Gaga made her grand entrance in a silver leotard or Madonna freed the nipple in transparent Givenchy, hip-hop’s queen bee broke boundaries. In the 21 years since, Kim has worn countless provocative outfits. Even still, this is one she remembers with particular fondness. “It’s so different now than it was then,” she shares on the phone from her New Jersey home. “The Met was almost like a secret society, not everyone got invited. It was this upscale, elite society event.”
As a guest of Versace, Kim was charged with embodying the vibrant, sexy feel of the brand’s collections. As a longtime client, she was already a favorite of Donatella and her team. “Donatella is my girl. We’ve loved each other from the moment we first saw each other,” says Kim. “At the Met, you’re a designer’s muse [and] she loved the fact that I have fun in her clothes. Versace was one of my favorite designers. She knew that and would always create things tailor-made just for me.” True to form, the designer created the Met look from scratch, anchoring it with a luxe collector’s piece. “The mink coat was an original you won’t find it anywhere,” says Kim. “I’ve never seen it in stores.”
The outerwear was one-of-a-kind, while the pastel python boots came directly from the runway, which presented a unique challenge. “Mind you, I wear a size 4 1/2 or 5 in shoe, but they didn’t make the shoes she wanted me to wear that small,” explains Kim. “The only ones available were the ones on the runway for the models! Those were a size eight, but they were beautiful, and I loved them.” Though they discussed changing the styling to sandals or a classic stiletto, Kim knew Versace’s instincts were right. “I told her I don’t care because I knew she wanted me to wear them,” she says. “She just smiled and said ‘That’s my Kimmy’”
As anyone who has seen the “Crush on You” video can attest, Kim is skilled at pulling off a monochromatic look. To carry the Versace concept head to toe, she opted for matching streaked extensions. “My hairstylists and makeup artists would always get a sneak peek of my outfits,” she says. “At that time, a woman named Dionne was doing my hair, and she was like family. She’d come to my house and sometimes stay overnight until she finished because she wanted everything perfect. She decided that we should do more than one color to coordinate with the outfit; light pink, baby pink, and a few strands a blonde. She always nailed it.”
Hair done, nails done, and donning a stunning Versace fit, Kim entered the gala on cloud nine—even in too-big shoes. “You really couldn’t tell in pictures,” she says. “Everyone was just raving about it.” Only one person seemed to notice the footwear gaffe: R&B superstar Bobby Brown. “I walked through the doors of the Met Gala. The first two people I see are Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown. They were sitting at this big table, and we were so happy to see each other,” she says. “Bobby goes to Whitney and says, ‘Your girl looks fly but what’s up with her feet? I know she ain’t that little with big ass feet.”
Critiques aside, the look has gone down in history, becoming a favorite among Met fashion enthusiasts. Eventful as the night was, it isn’t the rapper’s favorite Met memory. After taking part in the gala several times over, what she recalls most are the times spent with close friend and fellow fashion provocateur, Marc Jacobs. “I love every time I go with Marc, hands down,” she says. “Marc is so young and fun. He and Char [Defrancesco] are my husbands. We would be out laughing at stuff that wasn’t even part of the event, just kids having a good time.” What’s more, their 2005 trip to the event turned into a milestone style moment of its own. “That dress and that picture ended up in the museum,” she says of the rosette-studded red velvet gown Jacobs designed for her on the fly. “That was the reward for our night being so glamorous, memorable, and fun.