“She wore what?”
From the fashion commentary on the red carpet to the supermarket checkout, the 2014 Oscars fashion script will be no different at the 86th Academy Awards this weekend.
But what we can learn from the red carpet parade: how does the interplay work between the major fashion houses, celebrity worship and global media? And has it always been this way?
In 2009 I was asked by a major high-circulation newspaper to provide commentary on the good, the bad and the ugly outfits at the Oscars. A ritual of judgement that fuels negative commentary and by virtue sells more media both electronic and print.
In my considered response, I wrote only positive critiques and distinctly remember writing that the favoured trend of the day was wearing a grin and that reflected happiness is the best fashion accessory that can be worn.
My commentary did not run in the press. It was no doubt not worthy of generating newspaper sales because I didn’t abide by the cat-fight antics inherent in this ceremony.
The armchair critique of Oscars fashion is part of broader cultural trend equally fuelled by the plethora of reality TV shows where we all can be expert on food, romance, health and renovations. This has been an entrenched custom in fashion for a number of years where the best and worst dressed lists appear across the globe with glossy magazines, daily newspaper editions and fashion blogs all competing to capture our attention.
If we revisit 1950s Hollywood, the Oscars ceremony was a very different and a decidedly tame affair.
Historically the stars of a film would be most likely dressed by the wardrobe supervisor at the film studio such as the iconic Adrian at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) or the legendary and most popular costume designer in Hollywood during this time Edith Head, who started at Paramount Studios and then moved to Universal.
The alternate option was to purchase a preferred gown from a local dressmaker or store.
It did however start to change as described by New York based fashion commentator and creative director of luxury department store Barney’s, Simon Doonan, who titled his blog page on January 14 this year Frockophany! and stated:
In the late ’80s, […] fashion and celebrity began to flirt with each other. By the ’90s the two copulated … and the red-carpet designer devil-baby was born. The fashionification of Hollywood began in earnest.
What Doonan refers to is the massive marketing cogs that moved into motion, whereby major fashion houses with obscene marketing dollars to invest started offering the Hollywood glitterati dresses gratis.
Doonan writes in this same article:
Why would designers fling free gowns at the only people on Earth who actually need them, and can afford them?
The reason is that every media outlet around the globe has access to information about which Hollywood celebrity wore what. Charlize wore Dior Haute Couture, Angelina wore Elie Saab, Cate wore Armani Privé and Nicole wore L’Wren Scott – depending on which red carpet event you are channelling at the time.
Selling Hollywood allure
The outfits adorning the stars are often straight from the catwalk and not even released for retail sale at the time of the ceremony. Seeing them worn gives the public the impression that the star validates this look and you too should aspire to have something this desirable, this fabulous.
It is a marketing tool to attract those who can afford them to aspire to look just like Charlize, Angelina, Cate and Nicole.
For most of us these exquisitely produced outfits could only be worn in our dreams but the label name spreads across the globe so as to evoke a desire to align to the glamour, prestige and luxury of our favoured actors. It is a blatant attempt to sell more lipsticks, handbags and perfumes to give the world entrée to Hollywood allure.