Twenty-five years ago, a friend of mine invited me to the London premiere of a low-budget movie he had produced that was generating a bit of buzz. The film, Four Weddings and a Funeral, starred Andie MacDowell and Hugh Grant. At the after-party, which took place at a crumbling building in Piccadilly, a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, the excitement over the release was quickly eclipsed by the scandalous appearance of Grant’s girlfriend, a little-known actress who had shown up in a black stretch-silk Versace dress so revealing that it only just managed to conceal her impressive breasts. It was slit to her upper thigh, and—most memorably—held together by large gold safety pins. Elizabeth Hurley had arrived on the scene.

HBZ040119_180
Hurley at the London premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral, 1994
Tim Rooke/REX/Shutterstock

“I was so unprepared for what happened that night,” recalls Hurley, who at 53 looks almost unchanged. “I urgently needed to find a dress to wear for Hugh’s premiere, and in those days I had no idea about fashion.” Hurley was given the number of a PR agency that had offered to lend her something. “I remember going to an office where they literally fished a dress out of a white plastic bag,” she says. “I took it home and did my own hair and makeup, fighting Hugh for the mirror, which wasn’t even full-length, in our tiny one-bedroom flat. It was all very unglamorous compared to how things get done these days.”

“I was so unprepared for what happened that night.”

It was hardly an auspicious start for the moment that would propel Hurley into the global media spotlight. At a time when red-carpet dressing was dominated by the elegant restraint of designers like Giorgio Armani, in the flash of a camera bulb Liz Hurley single-handedly showed a whole other purpose for getting glam: red carpet as career move. “Gianni made that dress for a woman who is sure of herself and who isn’t afraid to break the rules,” Donatella Versace says of her late brother. “Liz embodied all of this in an extraordinary way.”

Afterward Hurley’s life changed rapidly. She acknowledges her debt to that dress, both for the doors it opened—within a year she became the face of Estée Lauder (she currently serves as the global ambassador for the brand’s breast cancer campaign)—and for the friendship it began with the Versaces.

HBZ040119_181
Photograph by Damon Baker; Versace gown and sandals

And now the infamous dress that started it all has been reimagined by Versace, and Liz is back in it (enviably, she claims the original dress would also still fit). “I don’t exercise, but I am very active,” she says (as demonstrated by the Instagram photos of Hurley wearing her namesake swimwear line). “But just because it still fits doesn’t mean I would wear it today—it wouldn’t be appropriate!” The new version is “more demure,” she adds. This time around, her breasts are safely tucked behind fabric that crosses over her bosom rather than below it. There is a long sleeve on one side, and the safety pins hold together a discreet slash that runs across her toned stomach.

“Gianni made that dress for a woman who is sure of herself and who isn’t afraid to break the rules.”

So how did it feel to reconnect with that life-altering moment? “Like a time revisited with affection,” she replies. “Back then I didn’t think too deeply about anything. I followed my jobs with a Samsonite suitcase, shoot to shoot, movie to movie.” These days, she enjoys the blissful domesticity of gardening on her estate in Herefordshire (“I love getting muddy and hacking down things with my chain saw!”) and relaxing with friends like Elton John and Valentino Garavani. In recent years, she has continued to titillate audiences, starring as the sexy and morally questionable Queen Helena of England on E!’s drama The Royals. “I had a great time working on that show,” she says. “I got to kiss a lot of young men in their 20s!” As for future roles, she notes, “I’m hoping to break with the femme fatale casting and play a lesbian in my next film.” Roles or not, one thing is for sure: Hurley still knows how to get tongues wagging.


GET THE LATEST ISSUE OF BAZAAR

This article originally appears in the April 2019 issue of Harper's Bazaar, available on newsstands March 26.


Hair: Serena Radaelli; Makeup: Francesca Tolot for Ofra Cosmetics; production: Kennedy Carter for Oui Productions.