RED CARPET SPECIAL
The stakes are high, the lights are bright and the fashion is jaw- dropping. This, friends, is celebrity style’s Super Bowl weekend
As if winter, spring, summer and fall were not enough, we now have awards season. And it can occasion its very own brand of affective disorder, the primary symptom of which might be the feverish interest in who wore what on the red carpet, perhaps accompanied by a particular sort of queasiness that may come with watching hours of coverage on the E! channel.
And yet, already engorged on the gorgeousness of the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards, we hunger for the glamour of the Oscars and can’t wait until February 26 to get our fi x.
While I’m making it sound all rather pathological, there is giddy delight to be had from “screwy, ballyhooey Hollywood,” the capital of make-believe. And today’s bubbleheaded excitement is not that much different from the kind portrayed in the 1954 version of A Star Is Born.
The movie opens with a gala movie premiere. There are the klieg lights, a mob-like crowd looking on, and a commentator going gaga over what the starlet has on her back: “She’s wearing a black sheath. Isn’t it divine? And a white fox. And the diamonds in the hair. Did you ever?”
The red carpet has a history stretching back to ancient Greece, but in modern times it has become synonymous with Hollywood, cradle of celebrity and hoopla. Coverage of what movie stars wore was often just enthusiastic gush. In the mid-1990s, Joan Rivers changed that. Generally regarded as the mother of red carpet coverage as we know it, she pioneered a kind of brash candour that has devolved into the gawk-and-scoff cynicism that is a specialty of E! Channel’s Fashion Police. This is especially the case with constable Margaret Cho who is often jaw-droppingly crude. Commenting on a Giambattista Valli gown worn by Jennifer Lopez at the Golden Globes last year, Cho focused on its long, voluminous train, remarking that she herself could never wear it, since she farts so much she’d end up hang-gliding.
A more positive, even progressive aspect of current red carpet coverage is the attention paid to what the men are wearing. In general, guys on the red carpet provide some of the coolest fashion sightings. At this year’s Golden Globes alone, it would be hard to argue with the fit and fi nesse represented by Donald Glover in Gucci, Brad Pitt in Tom Ford or Rami Malek (who appears in the Dior Homme campaign for Spring 2017) in a Dior Homme suit with vest that has emerged on the red carpet as the latest in modish evening attire.
That’s another playful pleasure of fashion as spectator sport: tracking trends. Checked off so far this awards season: plunging necklines ( Emma Stone in Valentino), bare shoulders (Kerry Washington in Cavalli), shine (Michelle Williams in Louis Vuitton), transparency (Claire Foy in Valentino) and white ( Natalie Portman in Dior).
At the same time, there is always the kick of laying eyes on something distinctive. Of course, too distinctive may get you mocked. See the brilliant Marjan Pejoski swan that Björk wore in 2001. More recently, Nicole Kidman’s Gucci parrots at the SAG Awards incited squawking.
Ironically, while red carpet fashion serves to foster designer awareness, that is not to say that even the most hawk-eyed observer is going to be able to tell who designed what just from looking. Many (most?) gowns are not instantly recognizable as the work of any particular talent. Would we ever know without the help of Giuliana Rancic reporting live or without countless media outlets on countless websites spreading the word?
Perhaps it’s simply just pious self-justification to think it, but the red carpet does offer the plain, no-name pleasure of watching people— any people—strut their stuff. To boil it down to this simple satisfaction is to not think about all the power, money, and contrivance that make Hollywood a factory of dreams. But, ignoring the machinery, you may readily fall for the magic.
Mooning over the gussied up gods and goddesses of Hollywood may be a respite from meaner realities, but it should not be a replacement for them. Accepting a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild in late January, Lily Tomlin slyly sampled Henry David Thoreau, the 19th-century philosopher and champion of the simple life. Standing before an audience dolled up in their latest glad rags, she cautioned, “Beware of any enterprise that requires new clothing.”