Jennifer Lopez is one of the most famous entertainers in the world. She’s a singer, dancer, actress and fashion icon. Everything she’s seen in seems to look fantastic on her, and she’s noted for pushing boundaries with her outfits. But when Lopez performed on American Idol in 2015 wearing a fabulous white dress, no-one knew what was about to happen next. It was to be another iconic fashion moment from Lopez.
Jennifer Lopez’s style evolution over the years has been a thing of beauty. When she sprang onto the scene in the early ’90s, she rocked an edgy look – all crop tops and animal prints. That changed as she moved on to classy, daring dresses.
Even though J-Lo’s career had a few ups and downs, her fashion sense didn’t. When she became one half of the celebrity super-couple Bennifer – the other half was Ben Affleck – the movies that they made together were considered huge flops. But in 2003, which was the year that the infamously bad Gigli came out, Lopez also launched the successful fashion label Sweetface.
And her work in the fashion industry made her plenty of money. Thanks to her clothing and fragrance lines, in 2004 she reportedly became one of the richest people aged below 40 in the entire world. But Lopez’s career as an entertainer was starting to flag. Her high-profile relationship with Affleck and her equally public split from him had hit her hard. Then, in 2010 she was offered a judging post on American Idol.
It was somewhat of a risk for J-Lo. The American Idol ratings were slipping, and if the show tanked it might have taken her down with it. But, industry insiders claimed, she was desperate. “She’s tried a couple comebacks. They really haven’t worked for her,” Variety editor Stuart Levine told CNN that year. “She’s not the celebrity she was 15 years ago.”
And no-one was sure if American Idol would work as a comeback, either. J-Lo would at least walk away with a large paycheck, as she was being paid a reported $12 million to appear on the show. Lopez would be starring alongside Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, and it was hoped that the two newcomers would spell better ratings. But would everything go as planned?
Thankfully, it did. And how! The year after Lopez signed onto American Idol, she suddenly got all her old mojo back. She appeared on magazine covers and in lists of the most beautiful people alive again. She also pulled in more money than anyone had expected – at least $52 million according to Forbes. Enough to keep her in stylish dresses for a very long time to come.
She began appearing in movies again, too. From 2010 to 2015 Lopez showed up in a whole bunch of films, in fact, including What to Expect When You’re Expecting, two Ice Age sequels and the animated children’s comedy Home. For the latter, she was also contracted to provide one of the tracks on the movie’s soundtrack. This was the song “Feel the Light.”
To help promote both the song and the film it was attached to, DreamWorks released a lyrics video featuring a studio performance from Lopez interspersed with footage from the film. Lopez would also perform the track on American Idol on March 19, 2015, just a couple of weeks before the movie itself hit theaters.
But when Lopez took to the stage on American Idol, it wasn’t the song that took everyone’s breath away. Instead, it was the dress that she was wearing while she sang it. She had on a stunning white gown that fanned out across the whole floor. It would have been impressive enough on its own, but it transpired that the dress also had another purpose.
In addition to being a dress, it turned out that it was also a movie projection screen. As Lopez sang, footage from the movie Home was projected across the waves of the dress. And many of the millions of people watching the show, along with plenty of others who later saw the performance on the internet, were awestruck by the innovative visuals.
So how was the dress created? Well, it took lots of planning and hard work. Designers Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn were J-Lo’s two key collaborators. “It’s an idea that we’ve had for a very long time, that we were just waiting for the right time to execute it,” Haenn told Hollywood Life a few days after the American Idol episode aired.
“The white dress on its own was an idea that Jennifer had for a performance,” she went on. “But then when we were working on the creatives for the Home music video, we talked about using the dress as a canvas to project stuff onto it, and incorporate the movie into her dress, which is something I’ve never seen before. It felt really special.”
Zangardi talked to The Hollywood Reporter about how the outfit had come into being. “The gown is actually a dress with a 20-foot radius skirt attached to it,” he explained. “The look was inspired from an old vintage reference that we’ve been holding on to for a long time, waiting for the right moment.”
The fabric for the dress had been sourced from LA company International Silks & Woolens and put together in two different pieces – the top and the long skirt. Then, the designers had to show it to J-Lo. “It wasn’t until she stepped in and we took her picture in it and showed her how she looked in it that we got the ‘wow’ reaction!” Haenn told The Hollywood Reporter.
“We were hoping to be able to make a dress that was stunning on its own but also simple enough to allow the animation and projection to be as functional as possible,” she added. And that was also a tricky thing to get right. The Home footage had to be carefully designed to match up to the skirt.
“We needed a giant canvas to convey such an uplifting sentiment aesthetically,” Zangardi said, referring to the song. Since “Feel the Light” is a piece of music from a children’s movie, it’s upbeat and heartwarming. “Cue the sizable skirt!” Zangardi continued. “We wanted this to be spectacular yet elegant.” Well, they certainly succeeded in that.
J-Lo’s return to the mainstream was more or less capped off by her incredible performance that evening. Her career had suffered some setbacks, but her work on American Idol had put it completely back on track. At the end of 2015 Forbes released a list of the highest-paid women in music – and Lopez ranked at number seven. She had reportedly earned almost $30 million over the previous 12 months.
And Zangardi and Haenn remained at Lopez’s side to ensure that her outfits continued to dazzle the public. “With Jennifer, it’s like a fashion show all year round,” Zangardi told InStyle magazine in June 2017. “She’s a musician, an actress and involved in so many different things… we have a lot of opportunities to experiment.”
Who knows what exciting fashion experiments Lopez may try next? Well, one thing seems certain – she’ll have a lot more red carpet events to attend in the future. Lopez has several new movies coming up, plus her TV series Shades of Blue and her All I Have concert show in Las Vegas. It’s definitely good to have her back!