Stylebook Snapshot: The big business behind red carpet fashion
Who wears what on the red carpet is more complicated than you might think
February 22, 2015 12:00 AM
Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press
When Halle Berry wore Elie Saab in 2002, the designer's stock soared.
Hayden Panettiere made a big fashion statement at the 2014 Golden Globe Awards -- not so much because of what she was wearing but because of how she got it. Celebs typically borrow red carpet gowns from the designers themselves, but Panettiere, 24, reportedly bought her black-and-white Tom Ford number off-the-rack, which many consider a fashion faux pas.
Naomi Watts in Tom Ford at the 2014 Golden Globes. She was the "official" representative of the designer, wearing a loaned gown.
By Sara Bauknecht / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For many, tonight’s Academy Awards show and other ceremonies this season have less to do with accolades and everything to do with who wears what to accept their honor or the news of their defeat.
Critics on the red carpet and at home on the couch gush over celebs’ sense of style, as if they plucked their gown or tux straight from their closets or snagged it on a shopping spree along Madison Avenue or Rodeo Drive.
Oh, there’s so much more to red carpet fashion than that.
What stars wear — and how they wear it — are strategically calculated decisions that not only can affect public opinion of celebrities but also of the brands they dress in.
“You might say that awards season is as important, if not even more important, to fashion brands as it is to the entertainment companies that are honored in these ceremonies like the Oscars,” says Howard Hogan, an attorney and partner in Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, based in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Hogan is co-author of “Fashion Law and Business: Brands and Retailers,” a book that explores the legal landscape of fashion including the red carpet. Award show nights are among some of the most stressful for designers, he says, as they wait in anticipation to see if their garments will grace the carpet and if celebs will wear them well.
“A favorable review for an Oscar gown can be make or break for the designers who outfit the stars,” Mr. Hogan says, citing as an example how Lebanese designer Elie Saab skyrocketed to fame after dressing Halle Berry when she won the Academy Award for best actress in 2002.
To ease this angst and to have a greater hand in how their brands are represented on the red carpet, it’s not uncommon for designers to have exclusive agreements with celebrities, requiring them to wear and represent the brand at high-profile events like awards shows. And if they don’t?
“We’re seeing more and more lawsuits against celebrities who are alleged to have acted inconsistently to the brands who pay them,” Mr. Hogan says.
These types of contracts also can limit others from wearing a certain designer to an event. Take “Nashville” star Hayden Panettiere. Last year she bought a black and white Tom Ford dress for the Golden Globes. The brand did not “officially” dress her – choosing Naomi Watts instead as its single representative for that shows. In the end, the designer sent Ms. Panettiere roses and thanked her for her support, but the incident highlighted the complexity of red carpet fashion and how rare it is these days for stars to buy their own gowns for such occasions.
Designers have had relationships with celebrities for decades, dating to the silent film era when Mary Pickford was reported to have special designs made for public appearances, Mr. Hogan says. Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor had connections with Givenchy and Dior, respectively. These kinds of relationships have continued to evolve.
“Years ago, you really dealt with the celebrity themselves,” famed furrier and designer to the stars Dennis Basso told The Daily Front Row last year. “The celebrity isn’t really picking. She’s picking from a selection that’s already narrowed down for her.”
And these fashion choices, business and the law will likely only continue to become more entangled. In the future, an increased use of contracts to “take even more of the spontaneity out of people’s fashion choices” is expected, Mr. Hogan says. The Federal Trade Commission also is interested in policing how consumer companies use endorsements as a result of this (in other words, trying to make sure people realize when celebs are wearing certain brands because they’re paid in order to prevent deception). Plus, questions continue to swirl surrounding how to stop fast fashion knock-offs of styles seen on the red carpet.
“This is now a big business,” Mr. Hogan says.
For more from Post-Gazette style editor Sara Bauknecht, visit the PG’s fashion blog Stylebook at post-gazette.com/stylebook. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @SaraB_PG or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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