It’s the Oscars this Sunday night, when the red carpet plays host to the finest gowns and suits on the globe. Stephanie Smith reports on fashion’s starring role.
‘Who are you wearing?” Like it or not, this has become a familiar question to pose on the red carpet, especially in Hollywood and especially at the Oscars.
Not every star or starlet likes to be asked, and every year one or two look a little cross at the question – “Look at my work, not my dress” – but increasingly, the question of “who” one is wearing is accepted as part of the business.
And big business it is too, massive, huge, enormous. The publicity and brand awareness generated by a photo of a beautiful high profile actress wearing a designer gown is impossible to quantify. It can launch a relatively unknown designer’s career into a new super-league, as when Kate Winslet wore a red one-shoulder Ben de Lisi gown in 2002.
With the dreaded “worst-dressed” lists in mind, many actresses like to wear a trusted, tried and tested designer. Versace has been the most worn at the Oscars since 1997, with Angelina Jolie, Hilary Swank and Catherine Zeta Jones among the champions of the Italian fashion house. The top five is completed by Valentino, Christian Dior, Vera Wang and Chanel.
The designers themselves are in no doubt about the importance of the red carpet to their business – a more important showcase, many now believe, than the catwalks of Paris, Milan and New York. In the past, celebrity stylists went to the international fashion shows to select the best dresses for their A-list clients, but more recently, the trend is for actresses to step onto the Oscars’ red carpet in couture or ready-to-wear gowns that have not yet been debuted on any catwalk. The red carpet is the new runway, and this collaboration between designer, stylist and A-lister means that the best dresses can be snapped up first, with no danger of picking the same one as someone else on the big night.
Male stars too are increasingly being asked “who are you wearing?”, reflecting the boosted marketing muscle that fashion houses are beginning to put behind their men’s collections.
Men especially like to stick to big names and what they know. At last month’s Golden Globes, Armani was the red carpet winner, with 15 men choosing it, including Leonardo DiCaprio, while nine wore Prada, five wore Gucci, five wore Burberry (including Kevin Spacey) and four wore Tom Ford (including Bradley Cooper).
Last year, the Oscars paid homage to fashion, the red carpet dressed with original costume sketches, including ones from Bonnie and Clyde, Gone With the Wind and Roman Holiday, emphasising how costume design has influenced style. Film and fashion have always worked hand in hard.
This year, we will see fashion’s new stars and trends on the red carpet before we see them anywhere else. And the Oscar for most influentional dress goes to? We’ll just have to wait and see.