Magazine article Variety

Redefining Red-Carpet Glamour

Magazine article Variety

Redefining Red-Carpet Glamour

Article excerpt

The complaint that the red carpet is too safe, too boring, held hostage by the dated trappings of old Hollywood is as commonplace at Oscar time as Meryl Streep.

Taste may be subjective, but the staid glamour of awards-show style, the Oscars in particular, is widely accepted as fact within the fashion industry, acknowledged implicitly or explicitly even by working members of the red carpet's complicated economy.

"I think that old Hollywood is the very archetype of glamour, which is very difficult to replace," says Giorgio Armani, a designer who practically invented the concept of celebrity dressing. "To repeat that cliché is like reproducing an image that everyone can understand and still manages to make people dream. Personally, I try to change and innovate, because I think it is the right thing to do, but I always keep in mind that this is what people like."

Put more bluntly, "It's lacking in originality, innovation, fashion-forwardness-all of those words have been lacking for over a decade. You always come away disappointed, except for one or two people," bemoans André Leon Talley, who's critiqued the red carpet extensively for Vogue and been on the receiving end of its vitriol, condemned in the press for styling Jennifer Hudson in a metallic python bolero over her brown jersey Oscar de la Renta dress in 2007. "I still stand by the look," he says.

You know things have stalled when, nearly 30 years later, Cher's 1986 Bob Mackie midriff and headdress getup still ranks atop the list of fondest Oscar fashion moments.

Granted, Cher is the rare bird willing to show up, abs bare, head festooned with feathers (and do it while knocking on 40). To expect the average nominee to rise to her level of fashion audacity would be unreasonable. In fact, nowadays within the red-carpet gauntlet driven by fashion-related questions-who are you wearing? And the suddenly polemic, who did your manicure?-proposing an ensemble more challenging than an hourglass or column gown topped with big jewels and bigger hair is increasingly too much to ask.

The ruling logic is that actresses fear the fangs of the ever-growing critical public and official critics. With the advent of social media, literally millions fancy themselves members of the fashion police, whether they're on the company dime or their couch. The more vicious and cutting the quips, the more traction.

"It's a tough world because of the intense interest in it," says Elizabeth Stewart, a Hollywood stylist whose clients include Cate Blanchett and Jessica Chastain, both of whom are presenting at this year's ceremony. "So many Web sites and forums cover it, you're basically appealing to the lowest common denominator. What's the quote? 'You can only please some of the people all the time.'" Stewart notes that any time she puts a client in a column gown, it is always incredibly popular.

Where there is such a confluence of fame and money, there is also politics. "You're talking about an Oscar nominee," says Joe Zee, editor in chief of Yahoo Style, who covers the red carpet for Extra. "An Oscar nominee is calling favors. They have agents and publicists and managers around them who need the public to love them because they're the ones who are going to fill the seats in the theaters. If everybody loves you, you get more roles," Then a slight backpedal. …

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