November 09, 1998 12:00 PM

While preparing to host the fourth annual VH1 Fashion Awards, Ellen DeGeneres learned her lessons well. “The new pocket is the pouch,” she told her Oct. 23 audience. “The new color is pink. Pink is the new A gray, which was the new black.” But that wasn’t news to the seriously stylish crowd of about 5,000 gathered at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Madonna, who walked off with Most Fashionable Artist honors, performed one song but changed clothes three times, once into a voluminous yellow Olivier Theyskens gown that made her look more like Glinda the Good Witch than a pop-music goddess. After also accepting the first annual Versace award from the late designer’s sister Donatella and singer-songwriter Sting—both wearing Versace—Madonna declared, “Gianni, more than anybody, understood the importance of being stylish.”

Comedian Chris Rock, on the other hand, proved that if pink is the new gray, he is the new nude (last year it was Jim Carrey, who showed up wearing a fig leaf). Said Rock, who was clad in an elephant-ear-sized piece of greenery: “I’d like to thank my designer—God!” And he still walked off with the Best Personal Style-Male award, beating out Ben Stiller, Nicholas Cage, Vince Vaughn and The Practice’s Dylan McDermott. Dashing in gray Prada, McDermott took the loss in stride. “I heard [I didn’t win], but I’m here anyway,” he said, adding, “I can’t wait to see the Smashing Pumpkins! I’m a big fan.”

In fact a groupie Zeitgeist permeated the entire show (it aired on Oct. 27). For actress Salma Hayek (in taupe Badgley Mischka) the evening’s high point was “Madonna‘s performance,” she said. “I love her!” As for supermodel Tyra Banks (who teamed up with rocker Chris Isaak to present the Male Model of the Year award to Scott Barnhill) the highlight was seeing Janet Jackson perform. “I love her abs,” said Banks. “No matter what I did, I couldn’t get abs like that.”

Some two hours later the guests headed downtown for risotto and spinach pastries and the post-show party at Chelsea Piers. But not before DeGeneres had the last word. After proclaiming a rousing performance by the Brian Setzer Orchestra, uniformly clad in Ray Brown’s lime green suits, “fantastic,” the comedian dead-panned, “but how embarrassing—they all wore the same thing.”

Christina Cheakalos

Mary Green, Sue Miller and Sabrina McFarland in New York City

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