Memorable red-carpet fashion moments like Reese Witherspoon gathering fashion accolades in canary Nina Ricci, Keira Knightley commanding attention in aubergine Vera Wang and Gwyneth Paltrow giving pink a new lease of life in Ralph Lauren might be just that this coming season: memories.
With the stalemated writer's strike in Hollywood, fashion and fine jewelry houses face the distinct possibility of not being able to add to their celebrity scrapbook with the awards season fast approaching.
There is a question whether striking writers will be allowed to, or will want to, participate in the Golden Globes or Academy Awards shows. If writers boycott the two biggest events on the awards season, actors sympathetic to their cause could likely follow their lead and refuse to cross the picket line. Hollywood insiders are already predicting that this could be a red carpet-less season, at least where the Globes and Oscars — the two most high-profile events on the calendar — are concerned.
Brands hungry to get their gowns on the red carpet might want to start thinking about ways to recoup some of the lost marketing value if this becomes a reality. After all, a tasteful gown or bauble on the right actress can result in millions of dollars worth of media coverage globally. And it wouldn't just impact upscale designers and media outlets. Lower-tier dress firms that rely on red-carpet trends to inform their collections for the year would find themselves having to scramble for other sources of inspiration.
Time isn't exactly on fashion's side. The Globes are scheduled for Jan. 13, while the Oscars are slated to take place on Feb. 24.
The Writers Guild told WWD it will be picketing the Golden Globes and some familiar with the situation have said they expect actors will refuse to cross the picket lines for the ceremony.
"The Writers Guild is deeply appreciative of the solidarity received from the Screen Actors Guild in particular and other unions, as well, throughout this process," said Guild communications director Neal Sacharow.
This could play out in several different ways: The shows could go on unscripted with hosts and presenters writing their own material. If there are picketers, actors could choose to skip the red carpet and still attend the show or they could choose to walk a red carpet in more subdued attire, not unlike their choices for the post-9/11 Emmys. While this could come at a huge loss for designers who rely on the glitz of the event for coverage, not all photo opportunities would be lost. Photographers are likely to still be allowed inside the awards venues and post-parties.Fashion and Hollywood insiders agreed that the loss of awards shows and the accompanying red carpets as promotional platforms would be a big blow to fashion. Red-carpet no-shows could be trouble for the networks, too. With the reservoirs of scripted shows dwindling, boycotts by actors or ceremony cancellations mean that the expected spike in ratings that typically accompanies awards show broadcasts can't be counted on.
There's no denying that the red carpet has become as significant to some companies as the runways of Paris, Milan and New York. The Oscars, for instance, are watched by close to 40 million viewers in the U.S. alone. The TV coverage comes with red-carpet features on the designer gowns, and photos of the winners, best-dressed and worst-dressed appear in thousands of newspapers the next morning, and continue to run in tabloids and glossy magazine spreads for months to come.
A designer's reputation can be made — or broken — with a single dress, and stars can single-handedly create trends with a right wardrobe choice. Uma Thurman's custom-made Prada gown in 1995, for instance, firmly cemented the brand — then still something of an insider label — as a global fashion force, while Julia Roberts made vintage acceptable when she donned her black-and-white Valentino gown in 2001.
"The media has made it so much more about fashion," Donna Karan said. "It really brings eveningwear and glamour to a heightened awareness...and goes straight to the consumer."
In this celebrity age, consumers look to Hollywood to guide them with their fashion choices. Without stars on the red carpet, shoppers may be less enticed by fashion as a whole.
Dolce & Gabbana's Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce, veterans of red-carpet dressing, aren't too perturbed by the prospect of cancellations.
"Nowadays, there are a lot of international red carpets that are very well spread throughout the whole year," Dolce said. "For this reason, if, for example, the Oscars were to be canceled, we would not be worried that much from a business point of view."
Gabbana added, "The Venice Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival have both acquired an international breadth and always catch the attention of the media worldwide, not to mention the various premieres which take place in New York, London or Tokyo."
Roberto Cavalli said the impact would be far greater on the movie industry than the fashion business.
"It's true that Oscars bring us a lot of work, but personally I've always taken it as pure fun," he said. "Without any doubt, getting stuff on the red carpet propels a brand in the realm of dreams. However, to be honest, it's the ego, the designer's own vanity that really gets flattered by being featured on the red carpet and that is not easy to quantify."
Giambattista Valli said that the possibility of the Golden Globes and Oscars being canceled "would mean burning a part of a dream."
He added that having one's creations seen on a celebrity is "the strongest image vehicle out there," provided it's worn by the right person.
Few fashion houses have considered contingency plans to make up for the loss of media coverage. Alberta Ferretti said she would consider it respectful to the writer's issue to not to consider any other promotional event around Hollywood.
More than anything, the Oscars and Golden Globes help reinforce fashion trends with consumers, said Michael Ruff, sales manager for Cachet, a New York-based eveningwear company that makes copies of what celebrities wear on the red carpet. "It definitely does give us direction — in terms of colors, short or long. And what celebrities wear gets implanted in people's minds."
While canceled award shows would affect Cachet's business, the company expects media coverage of other celebrity-studded events and parties to compensate. The extent to which celebrity magazines and newspapers describe celebrities' attire at such affairs helps Cachet's business "tremendously," Ruff said. "People feed off that immensely."
Jeweler Neil Lane pointed to the recent spate of red-carpet events as evidence that Hollywood goes on despite the writers' work stoppage. In the last several weeks, Neil Lane pieces sparkled on Jennifer Garner at the premiere of "Juno" and on Jennifer Hudson at Condé Nast's Movies Rock soiree. "We are almost doing three a week," he said, referring to red-carpet events.
Stylists — key ingredients to the red-carpet fashion race — aren't worried that their jobs are in jeopardy because there is still a slew of other events in Hollywood, plus press junkets and movie premieres, for which actresses need to be dressed."Frankly, I think they shouldn't have [the awards]," said stylist Jessica Paster. "In the beginning, [the awards] used to be a dinner where the statuettes were up on the stage and people would come get them. Now, it's a show for ratings. It's no longer about great acting or the script. So it would be nice and maybe shake it up a little if we just had a beautiful dinner."
While Paster doesn't deny that she's made a nice living off of the world's obsessions with red carpets, she also feels her efforts have become overshadowed by A-list actresses with designer deals.
Stylist Tara Swennen, who dresses Sarah Michelle Gellar, Rebecca Gayheart, Nicollette Sheridan, Sarah Chalke and Lauren Graham, said, "Awards season is one of my biggest times of the year, it's like the Hollywood prom, so I will be a disappointed if there are no red carpets because it means that all of our preparations will have been a waste. But there will still be events to get dressed up for."
Graydon Carter, editor in chief of Vanity Fair, which hosts one of the most coveted parties of the season on Oscar night, said, "We're going ahead as planned, although we have made provisions for a shorter-than-usual ceremony. Since it's all hypothetical at the moment, it's difficult to comment further."
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for its part, isn't worried about red-carpet fallout.
"At the end of the day the Academy Awards take place for the purpose of honoring outstanding film achievement," said a spokeswoman for the Academy Awards. "We've shown fairly recently that you can have a very successful awards show without a red carpet. We canceled the red carpet the week our armed forces invaded Iraq. So from the industry standpoint, it's not a deal-breaker."
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