IS THE RED CAR­PET OVER?

The Time’s Up move­ment changed not only how we see women in Hol­ly­wood but how we talk about fash­ion

InStyle (USA) - - Directory - BY ERIC WIL­SON

Eric Wil­son on the fu­ture of Hol­ly­wood style in a woke world

On the sub­ject of men whose past be­hav­ior war­rants re­ex­am­in­ing in this new era of ac­count­abil­ity in Hol­ly­wood, there’s one who may be due for a reck­on­ing of a dif­fer­ent sort. That would be the man known pro­fes­sion­ally as Mr. Black­well. For nearly 50 years, un­til his death in 2008, Richard Black­well—a for­mer evening­wear de­signer and one­time ac­tor who be­came fa­mous as an acer­bic critic of fash­ion— pub­lished a satiric worst-dressed list that skew­ered women in harsh terms. He called Bar­bra Streisand “a mas­cu­line Bride of Franken­stein” and once said Meryl Streep looked like “a gypsy aban­doned by a car­a­van,” to give you some idea of in­sults that, at the time, were treated as harm­less dish. “I merely said out loud what oth­ers were whis­per­ing,” Mr. Black­well said, ar­gu­ing that it wasn’t his in­ten­tion to hurt any­one’s feel­ings, just “to put down the cloth­ing they’re wear­ing.”

But in many ways Mr. Black­well and his col­or­ful quips were pre­cur­sors to a cul­ture of red-car­pet cat­ti­ness that flour­ished over the decades. From the late Joan Rivers and the­fash­ion Po­lice to gim­micks like the Mani Cam and Glam­bot, the pageantry of awards sea­son has turned into a form of blood sport. For years there have been protests and plenty of push­back against the in­her­ent sex­ism of judg­ing women ( but rarely men) for their looks, yet very lit­tle has changed. Un­til now.

Red-car­pet com­men­tary, par­tic­u­larly on tele­vi­sion, has be­come markedly more re­spect­ful, both in tone and con­tent, in the months since ex­plo­sive al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment led to the for­ma­tion shortly there­after of the Time’s Up ini­tia­tive, which seeks to fight sys­temic abuses in Hol­ly­wood and be­yond. The mag­nif­i­cent scale of this move­ment was ren­dered in a dra­mat­i­cally visual way at the Golden Globes, where al­most ev­ery guest wore black as a state­ment of sol­i­dar­ity, and—for at least one night—it was con­sid­ered poor taste for the me­dia to ask who made the dresses. The ac­tion was so suc­cess­ful that now many peo­ple are won­der­ing whether there will be a per­ma­nent shift to­ward the view of those who have de­manded sub­stan­tial cov­er­age of women, us­ing #Askher­more as a ral­ly­ing cry on so­cial me­dia. It hardly seems a co­in­ci­dence that the E! net­work broad­cast its fi­nal episode of Fash­ion Po­lice in Novem­ber with a trib­ute to Rivers, whose acid tongue could find no wor­thy suc­ces­sor.

A more gen­teel dis­cus­sion of gowns and jew­els may seem a small vic­tory con­sid­er­ing the broader bat­tle ahead, and be­side the point to the hun­dreds of ac­tors, pro­duc­ers, and other ex­ec­u­tives who cre­ated Time’s Up. “This is not about chang­ing red-car­pet eti­quette,” Eva Lon­go­ria says. “The change we want is gen­der equal­ity across all in­dus­tries.” But many de­sign­ers and jew­el­ers have mixed feel­ings about what may be the death knell of their fa­vorite ques­tion: Who are you wear­ing?

“We are all won­der­ing how to con­tinue the cause with­out hurt­ing a fash­ion de­signer,” says the stylist El­iz­a­beth Saltz­man, whose clients in­clude Gwyneth Pal­trow and Saoirse Ronan. Saltz­man, who lives in Lon­don, says she was de­lighted when or­ga­niz­ers of the British Acad­emy Film Awards in Fe­bru­ary an­nounced they would also en­cour­age an all-black dress code to show sup­port for Time’s Up, and she wel­comed the op­por­tu­nity to pro­mote equal­ity. But she also noted that de­sign­ers rely on the pub­lic­ity of the awards shows to jus­tify the ex­pense of pro­duc­ing lav­ish gowns. And it is hu­man na­ture for view­ers to re­act to them, whether pos­i­tively or neg­a­tively.

“Fash­ion should have a voice,” she says. “Fash­ion is a busi­ness. Fash­ion is money. Fash­ion pro­vides jobs. I al­ways say we are so lucky that we get to use our voices and that I’m not in a prison be­ing told I can only wear this one thing.”

Tom Ford, in an in­ter­view with­wwd, was more blunt: “If I give you a free dress and some­one asks who it is, you need to say who it is. Oth­er­wise, why am I giv­ing you a free dress?”

Over the past 20 years, the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of talk­ing about fash­ion on the car­pet seems to have swung like a pen­du­lum, with world events in­volv­ing ter­ror­ism, war, and the eco­nomic crash of 2008 push­ing the con­ver­sa­tion away from de­signer dresses. But, even­tu­ally, the urge to revel in the su­per­fi­cial re­asserts it­self, as in 2010, for ex­am­ple, when­the New York Times pub­lished an ar­ti­cle tweak­ing Ryan Seacrest with the head­line “Hey, Ryan, Talk to the Dress.” In fact, the E! net­work’s for­mat for­live from the Red Car­pet has of­ten changed with the times.

“We’re al­ways cog­nizant of what is hap­pen­ing in the world, and we’re aware that the cli­mate is chang­ing,” says Jen­nifer Neal, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of live events at E!

In Jan­uary the Golden Globes re­quired a unique ap­proach from its hosts, Seacrest and Gi­u­liana Ran­cic, who en­cour­aged con­ver­sa­tions about the is­sues by ask­ing celebri­ties why they were wear­ing black. Go­ing for­ward, Neal says, the pri­or­i­ties will be to cel­e­brate the stars for their ac­com­plish­ments and to high­light their pas­sions, projects, and causes. But the au­di­ence, the ma­jor­ity of whom are women, is di­verse and not nec­es­sar­ily look­ing to E! for just one thing.

“Fash­ion is an im­por­tant part of the balanced sto­ries we tell our view­ers,” Neal says. Dresses re­mained mostly of­flim­its at the SAG Awards, on Jan­uary 21. But at the Gram­mys, on Jan­uary 28, Ran­cic dipped a toe back into the style wa­ters.

For on-air tal­ents, find­ing the right mix of style and sub­stance is not so easy, and they are of­ten cri­tiqued for their per­for­mances just as harshly as the stars and their dresses. “There is a new level of try­ing to be su­per-re­spect­ful,” says Brad­goreski, the stylist and fre­quent red-car­pet per­son­al­ity. “If­fash­ion Po­lice were on right now, it would be a tricky world to nav­i­gate, be­cause it’s not re­ally the time for that. Peo­ple are still try­ing to carry on the tra­di­tions of best- and worstdress­ed lists, but they’re also ac­knowl­edg­ing that there is a greater move­ment hap­pen­ing at the same time. I think this mo­ment will go down in his­tory.”

In some ways, though, women have been us­ing fash­ion as a form of protest at the Os­cars since the be­gin­ning. In 1935 Claudette Col­bert was try­ing to flee Los An­ge­les when she was sum­moned to the cer­e­mony to col­lect her best ac­tress prize and showed up still wear­ing her Travis Ban­ton trav­el­ing suit. The fol­low­ing year Bette Davis wore a plain cos­tume from her role in­house­wife. Cher’s fa­mous Bob Mackie dress and Mo­hawk from 1986 were a de­lib­er­ate re­but­tal to a memo sent to nom­i­nees and pre­sen­ters by Nolan Miller, the Os­cars’ fash­ion con­sul­tant, urg­ing them to “look like a movie star.”

“As you can see,” Cher said from the stage, “I did re­ceive my Acad­emy book­let on how to dress like a se­ri­ous ac­tress.”

“Women have al­ways been at the mercy of stu­dio moguls in Hol­ly­wood,” says Bron­wyn Cos­grave, the au­thor of­made for Each Other: Fash­ion and the Acad­emy Awards. “The Os­cars were viewed as this male club­house where all these fat cats got to­gether, smoked cigars, and cel­e­brated their box-of­fice tak­ings. The women who were nom­i­nated had no in­ten­tion of so­cial­iz­ing with them. Luise Rainer told me she was off with her boyfriend hav­ing a va­ca­tion when she won, so she turned up in her house­dress.”

In more re­cent times many ac­tresses have forged al­liances with lux­ury brands as a lu­cra­tive source of in­come, some of them in­volv­ing mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar con­tracts. While crit­ics sniff at the prac­tice, such deals can far ex­ceed what ac­tresses make for a film role, es­pe­cially com­pared with their male co-stars. “They can then pick and choose their roles more care­fully,” Cos­grave says. “They can do that in­die movie that will up their cred or do a Broad­way show and not worry about their bank bal­ance.” But Cos­grave also feels that style has suf­fered as a re­sult, with too few ac­tresses able to take chances or ex­press more per­son­al­ity.

The cri­tique-free zone of the Globes, she says, was a breath of fresh air, but no one re­ally be­lieves the si­lence will last for­ever.

“Things are go­ing to make you happy, in­spired, or even ex­cited,” Saltz­man says, “but what I want to see as a stylist is for each per­son to speak up and be them­selves.” n

“If Fash­ion Po­lice were on right now, it would be a tricky world to nav­i­gate …” —BRAD GORESKI

OS­CAR EFF YOUS

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