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LOS ANGELES — From Sharon Stone to Ginnifer Goodwin, the 40-person table beneath the stone colonnade at the Chateau Marmont here was filled with Champagne-drinking stars.
It appeared to be business as usual for Dior Beauty, back to host its sixth annual Oscar week dinner on Tuesday night.
With the worldwide economy in turmoil, glamour lives in the run-up to Hollywood’s annual Academy Awards extravaganza on Sunday night, but brands are finding ways to save a buck: staging a cocktail party instead of a dinner, flying in fewer staffers or cutting back on or eliminating gift suites.
Some New York-based jewelers, including Kwiat, have not returned with Oscar week suites. Others, such as Verdura, are bringing select pieces for one-on-one stylist appointments. Harry Winston and Chopard, which have stores on Rodeo Drive, are simply working out of their boutiques.
Even at Dior Beauty, where Oscar week marketing has been a significant piece of the events budget, cuts have been made. The Chateau Marmont dinner was identical to last year’s, but the company will eliminate its presence at the Independent Spirit Awards talent lounge, the day before the Oscars, for the first time in five years. It also trimmed the staff that comes to Los Angeles.
“Having a presence in L.A. during Oscar week remains important for our brand image, but just like with everything else, we need to adapt and adjust,” said Dianne Vavra, Dior Beauty spokeswoman.
In terms of what to expect on the red carpet, a general consensus is forming that the emphasis on glamour will be about the same as ever.
“It’s still the Oscars,” said Elizabeth Stewart, a Hollywood stylist who works with Calista Flockhart and Kristin Davis. “It may be a little more toned down, but the few awards shows so far have generally been business as usual.”
Jennifer Lopez said the question of what looks appropriate is slightly ridiculous because nothing people wear to events is anything more than public relations for the designers.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with playing dress up right now,” she said. “Who wouldn’t want to wear borrowed dresses and borrowed jewelry? And anyway, I think you can get criticized if you’re wearing borrowed dresses now because it’s borrowed, and I think you can get criticized for it if it’s not because you bought it during the current economy. So I say do what makes you happy and wear what you want because the only thing that really matters is if your mother calls you up the next day and says, ‘What were you wearing?’”
Almost every major fashion house (Oscar, Donna, Ralph, Chanel, Gucci, Versace, Dior, Armani among them) is cooking up a gown in hopes that a stylist and her celebrity client will choose it. There are many approaches to the game. Some houses, such as Armani, Prada, Versace and Dior have staffers based in Beverly Hills who work year-round on VIP dressing. Others, such as Ralph Lauren and Oscar de la Renta, have sent New York-based staffers to Los Angeles to facilitate fittings in years past. Several of those brands aren’t in town this year because of New York Fashion Week. Still others, including Donna Karan, Vera Wang, Caroline Herrera and Narciso Rodriguez, work with stylists and celebrities when they are in New York.
“I’m the stylist who takes a dress right off the runway and on the plane with me back to L.A.,” said Rachel Zoe. “You do what you need to do.”
The calendar for the week seems to be as full as ever. It includes marquee events such as Variety’s pre-Oscar party and Vanity Fair’s post-Oscar blowout. The VF event went on hiatus last year because of the Writers Guild strike. It had been at the now-closed Morton’s, but this year will be at the smaller Sunset Tower hotel restaurant.
At the Chateau Marmont, the trend is to reduce quantity, not quality. In the past, major studios have thrown 1,000-person parties, but those have been replaced by events for 300, such as Paramount’s pre-Golden Globe party last month. And financier and socialite Nicolas Berggruen downsized his Oscar week gala Wednesday night to about 600 guests from 800.
“Everything is smaller, said event planner Lara Shriftman, a guest at Berggruen’s party. “Everyone is budget-conscious, and when you are trying to save, you invite fewer people, make the party shorter and don’t serve dinner. People also don’t spend what they used to on flowers and invitations and more people are entertaining at home.”
The Oscars show, which producers hope will at least match last year’s record low viewership of 32 million, generates $130 million for the local economy (plus ancillary publicity and sales that companies worldwide get from Oscar-related placement). That is no small number in a state that is in financial crisis with a $42 billion budget deficit.
“The Academy Awards is a signature event for Los Angeles that creates jobs and has a big overall impact on our economy,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. While he underscored that parties may be fewer or more low key, he stressed, “They haven’t reached the point [of shuttering Oscar Week] and they never will.”
Jimmy Choo co-founder Tamara Mellon has been operating an Oscar week suite since 1999. The brand is opening the suite later than usual, but Jimmy Choo has maintained its presence not only during Oscar week but also at the Golden Globes and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards, as well as for the Cannes Film Festival in May. Mellon will again host an Oscar lunch on Friday for 100 people.
“The Academy Awards act as the biggest global red-carpet platform for luxury brands and has offered [us] a huge awareness opportunity,” she said.
Nadja Swarovski who heads her family company’s fashion division, is another 10-year Oscar week veteran who has partnered with Jimmy Choo in past seasons to create custom Oscar accessories.
“Nonetheless…we are sensitive to the climate,” she said.
Swarovski was the host at a cocktail party for 250 people on the rooftop of the Thompson Beverly Hills hotel Wednesday night, which was a more intimate gathering — cocktails only, no dinner — than in previous years, when she had taken over the Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills for a runway fashion presentation and 500-person-plus event.
“The Oscar season…provides an opportunity to highlight how crystal remains an affordable luxury for women in spite of the economic climate,” Swarovski said.
But simply giving things away is not as economical, so while swag suites still abound — there are no fewer than 10 offering everything from diamond facials to eyelash extensions — the booty has considerably dropped in value.
“This year, as everyone’s marketing budgets are tightening up, I suspect the gifting will be more focused on A-list actresses, and still those will be small discreet modest things,” said Sally Morrison, president of the Diamond Information Center. “If someone fabulous comes through the door they will get something, but it’s much less of anyone coming through the door and leaving with a little bag of stuff.”
The center used to have a multiday suite for stylists and press but this year is sticking with a 50-person dinner hosted by Julianne Moore as its sole marketing event.
“I’m not sure if the gifting will be missed in terms of overall marketing results,” Morrison said. “I don’t know what the return on investment is vis-à-vis a suite, but it’s not immediate and at a time when dollars are under pressure it’s a relatively easy thing to give up.”
Of course, it’s all relative.
Montblanc hopes to make a splash by launching a new initiative with longtime charity partner UNICEF on Friday night at a 250-person seated dinner on the Paramount Studios lot .
“It’s an intimate private dinner with a more modest atmosphere, not a big party or show,” said Ingrid Rooson, the company’s director of cultural affairs. “We have the feeling celebrities like to sit down to dinner surrounded by people they know.”