Paloma Elsesser on Her Aaliyah-Inspired Roberto Cavalli Dress


Whether she’s being snapped by a street style photographer or walking for the likes of Alexander McQueen and Fendi, there are few models today with as inimitable a sense of style both on and off the runway as Paloma Elsesser. Her eye for fashion is underpinned by a deep knowledge of its history, which was on full display this weekend with the tiger print Roberto Cavalli dress she posted to Instagram.

It wasn’t just the eye-catching yellow and black stripes or the fuzzy trim running all the way up its asymmetric, thigh-high hemline that got fashion sleuths excited. It was also where they’d seen the look before: on the late R&B legend Aaliyah at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2000. It turned out Elsesser and her stylist Eric McNeil had tracked down the same dress, from Cavalli’s fall 2000 runway collection, to wear for the wedding of her friends Tiffany Lighty and Nick Katz on Saturday.

“I’ve always been obsessed with this look,” Elsesser tells Vogue of her outfit choice. “It spoke to an era of cool regality that made the ’90s so iconic, and Aaliyah is the image of this moment that will always be sacred to me.” With the wedding adhering to strict COVID-19 protocols, Elsesser felt the intimate occasion was the right time to pull out all the style stops. “I was so excited to celebrate their love, and when I told Eric about the occasion we knew we wanted to take it there,” she adds. “I sent him the picture of Aaliyah and he literally said, ‘Say less.’ The dress was there in two days.”

It also speaks to Elsesser’s very personal attachment to Aaliyah, both for her music and her ever-influential approach to fashion. “Aaliyah has always been a style icon of mine, from an oversized denim suit and boots to a yellow silk zebra print dress,” Elsesser continues. “She is the reference, she is the blueprint.” It was this sentimental edge that made for a flawless tribute to one of Elsesser’s heroes. In the words of Gigi Hadid, who took to Elsesser’s comments section to praise the look: “Perfect!”

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