Hemlines & One-liners

Joan Rivers’ whiplash wit has been the subject of many tributes, but the Queen of Zing herself might put in a well-tailored word for how much she genuinely loved fashion. Her red carpet specials weren’t just a platform for a mid-career comeback, they were a means of fusing two passions: laughter and looking good.

As an executive producer and writer at E! during the ‘90s, I was always surprised that the same Joan who could so handily diss Oscar-winning actresses would become almost reverent in the presence of certain designers — Carolina Herrera in particular as I recall. She connected, I think, with both their keen sense of craft AND their fierce entrepreneurialism. Joan, after all, was nothing if not a go-getter.

Of course, designers with their own sharp sense of humor were particular favorites of the show, including Vera Wang and Betsey Johnson. Their personalities made every shoot a party. And the hard-to-match mix of ribald fun and earnest analysis elevated the looks the world saw on Hollywood’s brightest stars.

As reflected in her red carpet commentary, Joan genuinely believed it was important to make the most of what you have. And not just for celebrities. The roots of E!’s popular “Fashion Emergency” series go back to the “Help Me, Joan!” one-hour special wherein the baroness of barbs and her team of experts assisted regular folks in finding the right look.

Maybe what was really behind Joan’s sincere fascination with fashion was the almost magical ability it affords to try-on and shed identities. The comic herself was brilliant at fresh starts.

Billy Warden, co-founder of GBW Strategies, was a writer/producer at E! Entertainment Networks, 1994-2000.

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