Editor’s Note: Delving into the archives of pop culture history, “Remember When?” is a CNN Style series offering a nostalgic look at the celebrity outfits that defined their eras.
(CNN) — The 1990s gave birth to many fictional style icons whose wardrobes inspire generation after generation. There’s “Clueless” fashion plates Cher Horowitz and Dionne Davenport, “Sex and the City”‘s Carrie Bradshaw, and “Friends”’s Rachel Green, to name a few. Still, not many have had the cultural impact of “The Nanny” herself, Fran Fine.
With her leopard print mini dresses, neon skirt suits and rainbow vests, Fran (played by the incomparable Fran Drescher) was a colorful and feminine respite from the muted grunge fashions popular at the time the sitcom premiered in November 1993.
During its six-season run, the flashy girl from Flushing won viewers’ hearts worldwide; 30 years later, her fanbase has only grown. Over the years, fan accounts like What Fran Wore and the Fran Fine Fashion Database have documented all of the character’s roughly 700 outfits. TikTok fashion lovers — many of whom had not been born when the show aired — frequently recreate her most iconic looks today, resulting in the hashtag #franfinefashion reaching over 35 million views. In other words, Fran Fine is quintessentially retro and always of the moment.
As the show’s inaugural costume designer, Brenda Cooper was largely responsible for Fran’s signature style. She worked on “The Nanny” for the first four seasons, and in 1995 won an Emmy for her work on the show. (Costume designers Shawn Holly Cookson and Terry Gordon later took over after she left to have children.)
Cooper dressed Drescher in designer wares from Versace, Todd Oldham, Dolce and Gabbana, Bob Mackie, and Anna Sui, among others.But it was the Italian label Moschino that provided many of Fran’s most kitschy and whimsical looks, such as her watermelon polka dot jacket (from the premiere episode), a pink newsprint pantsuit (season 1, episode 17), and dress whose skirt resembled piano keys (season 4, episode 23). “The thing that we loved about Moschino that seemed so perfect for this series is that it had pizzazz, but it also had humor,” recalled Drescher in a 2020 video for Vogue. “That was Brenda Cooper’s genius. We created a look that… was something that people responded to very favorably.”
Among all of Fran’s most memorable looks, one specific piece by Moschino stands out: a red heart-shaped purse. Featured in an episode from the show’s third season, in which Fran goes on a date with a mobster, the bag was paired with a black Hervé Leger mini dress, an outfit that might be considered plain compared to her typical, more colorful looks. It may have only appeared the one time, but the bag has been seared into the memories of Fran fans ever since.
“I was always looking for something that had style, something that had wit, and something that had a sense of humor,” Cooper told CNN. “I was walking through Neiman Marcus to the second floor, and I looked to my right and was like, O-M-G, that is perfect. She’s on a date, and she’s holding a heart purse — again, there’s the wit.”
Moschino first released the bag in 1995, for about “$300 or $400,” Cooper recalled. The same bag can NOW be found on reseller sites for upwards of $6,000. (Cooper still has the original used in the scene.) Jennie Walker, an LA-based stylist and luxury vintage reseller who owns an extensive vintage Moschino collection, said the bag’s inflated price is in large part due to its cameo on the show. “There is such a frenzy around ‘The Nanny,’ and people who are fans of the show,” Walker told CNN. “All those (people) are specifically looking for that bag.”
Nowadays, it’s easy to find bags reminiscent of Moschino’s famed design, with Kate Spade, Alaïa, Coach, Gucci, and Vivienne Westwood having made their own takes, as well as a slew of fast-fashion knockoffs.
Cooper says that when she first envisaged Fran’s aesthetic, it didn’t reflect early ‘90s fashion trends. “Hunting for all of that color was a task,” she recalled. “But I had a vision.”
To make things trickier, Cooper didn’t have much of a budget to work with, but now says this proved a blessing in disguise since it helped her land on Fran’s sartorial uniform: a black pencil skirt cut “as short as possible,” paired with a turtleneck, black opaque tights, and suede heels. This versatile canvas allowed Fran to re-wear the same basics over numerous episodes, styling and accessorizing them with bright blazers, colorful coats, and standout pieces.
“There was a formula to it… it was turning something sophisticated into (something) sassy,” she added. In 2022, she wrote a book called “The Silhouette Solution: Using What You Have to Get the Look You Want,” inspired by the formula she used on the show.
When designing for contemporary characters, costume designers often try to make their characters’ wardrobes look (and feel) timeless. Cooper accomplished that with “The Nanny,” proving there is a way to create an enduringly stylish wardrobe for “the lady in red when everybody else is wearing tan.”
Though Fran wore a lot of designer clothing, her outfits are easy to replicate, no matter the budget. It’s no wonder that after all these years, fans of “The Nanny” and fashionable TikTokers continue to cosplay as Fran in swarms.
And what better way to show love for a globally cherished character than a heart bag?
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