Where once the path to the courthouse was viewed as the ultimate walk of shame, for a certain set it's now quickly becoming the ne plus ultra venue to make a statement in style. Not to mention a way for brands to get some free publicity.
Blame such celebs as the ubiquitous Paris Hilton and her on-again, off-again friend Nicole Richie, as well as Naomi Campbell and Foxy Brown, for giving the trend du jour its credence. And it's bound to get a further jolt this week when wayward waif Lindsay Lohan is expected to do her perp walk. Perhaps she'll take some cues from her felonious friends. After Hilton and Richie were charged with separate DUI incidents, the partners in crime have orchestrated their perp walks to fashion perfection. Richie channeled Audrey Hepburn with a little black Moschino dress, while Hilton, in an unexpected move for a woman whose greatest claim to fame involved no fabrics at all, wore a sartorial gray blazer over a vest and a white shirt with slim-cut pants. And in a case of never passing up a public relations opportunity, the clothes were believed to be from Hilton's own apparel line.
Then there was Campbell, who, when ordered to do community service after striking a former maid with a cell phone, showed up each day in head-turning designer garb (although she was also being photographed for a fashion spread in the June issue of W magazine, WWD's sister publication). All three chose to accessorize their looks with oversize sunglasses, which added to the mystique and further fueled the paparazzi frenzy. The only thing missing, really, was the red carpet.
"What I wear walking into my community service has no connection to what I'm going to do when I get inside," Campbell told W. "This is how I dress, and this is how I carry myself. What do they expect me to do — walk in looking all drib and drab? I've never looked drib and drab in my life."
Nor, really, did any of Campbell's bad girl peers when hitting the town.
"The first thing that comes to mind is John Waters, whose hypothesis, which he injected into his earlier films, was that the more crimes you commit, the more beautiful you become," said Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York. "Both Paris and Nicole actually looked very chic. It reminded me of Christine Keeler in the Sixties — a bad girl in demure clothing trying to look circumspect. There's something very compelling and attractive about it."That said, even Doonan's appreciation for these women's new style came with a caveat.
"Let's be honest, they didn't exactly look like Mormons," he quipped. "They still look like bad girls, but bad girls in demure clothing, which is much better for their mystique."
Using fashion to sway public opinion and that of a judge or jury is nothing new. Winona Ryder was perhaps the first wayward celebrity to use fashion in crime (in her case, literally). In 2002, when she was charged with shoplifting at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, Ryder got almost as much ink for her wardrobe of dresses and jackets by Marc Jacobs as she did for her misdemeanor.
"It's sad that we even have to talk about this, but I think Winona set the bar [for courtroom attire] with the Marc Jacobs trompe l'oeil dress," said Christos Garkinos, co-owner with Cameron Silver of Decadestwo, a Los Angeles consignment boutique, who maintained that Richie and Hilton dressed appropriately for their respective days in court. "Thank God the girls aren't going the way of Phil Spector with the crazy hair and all. They're using better judgment with their fashion."
Silver added: "Nicole has looked very tasteful. If the references you're getting are Jackie O and Sophia Loren, you're probably appropriate."
Other style arbiters in Los Angeles agreed Richie's Moschino dress was a hit.
"[Richie] might be going a little too designer for her fan base, but you don't go to court looking like you're going to Coachella," said Fraser Ross, owner of the Kitson stores, where Richie is a regular customer.
Stylist Philip Bloch lauded the pregnant Richie for looking "chic and elegant," but, "[the dress] didn't look bitchy and rich....I love that she chose a dress that wasn't showing the bump."
Stylist Jessica Pastor also lauded Richie's fashion choices, adding a traditional suit, à la Winona Ryder, would have come off as forced. "It's silly when you're not a suit person to wear a suit," she said. "It just looks like a costume....I call Nicole 'courtroom chic' and I call Paris Hilton 'courtroom Barbie.' I think Lindsay will probably do 'courtroom fabulous.'"Said Silver, "Dress as though you are going to a cotillion, and don't look like you're trying to create a photo op."
And in these days when brands constantly are vying for attention, it seems that even being on the wrong side of the law can be a publicity op. The day after Richie's appearance at L.A. County Superior Court, Moschino sent out a press release, notifying editors that Richie wore a black Moschino dress with high collar and tie in back from the label's current fall-winter collection.
"We have worked with Nicole Richie in the past, and have a relationship with her," said Lisa Lawrence, vice president of public relations for Moschino. "She has worn Moschino in the past, including the Vanity Fair Oscar party. We didn't hesitate. We saw this opportunity in a positive way. She is going into court to redeem herself. She wanted to get on with her life. She made a mistake, admitted to it and wants to pay the price. She is a changed person and we saw that as positive. And it actually looked really cute on her, too."
Lawrence conceded that product placement on a celebrity like Richie can have a major impact on sales, even as she is heading to the slammer.
"Girls love these celebrities and always try to emulate their look," she said. "We thought she looked grown-up, sophisticated and pretty in this dress. It makes her look better and gives us visibility."
Sam Shahid, partner in Shahid & Co., the New York ad agency, agreed that such endorsement can have a positive impact on a fashion brand, though there's a caveat.
"It's the casting," he said. "If they're ugly, like derelicts and bums, it can hurt the brand, but when they're young and beautiful, it helps," Shahid said. "When Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton are wearing something, it's a style. Martha Stewart looked great standing there at the court house with a Kelly bag, and it didn't hurt the sales of Kelly bags."
Marc Gobé, co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Desgrippes Gobé, said actresses make powerful statements through their clothing."Celebrities who are constantly followed by paparazzi have an instant connection with their audience through fashion. So from a personal branding perspective, what celebrities wear is a powerful statement about their emotions or state of mind, or a sign that they are reevaluating their lifestyle," said Gobé.
However, he doesn't believe an actress' choice of clothing to wear to a court appearance impacts a brand's image.
"Because celebrities are using a look to send a personal message, I don't believe it will necessarily reflect positively or negatively on the particular brand they have chosen to wear. In courtroom situations, celebrities are choosing colors like black to signal restraint and maturity.
"If people can't read your soul, they can understand your feelings and motives through the clothes you wear," added Gobé.
Doonan said the impact of celebrities' outfits cannot be underestimated.
"I am sure a lot of girls will have these images of Paris and Nicole going to their court dates in back of their minds when they go for job interviews, or meet their fiancé's parents for the first time, for instance," he said. "We have had several years of the porno chic trend where no amount of flesh exposure was enough. There is something compelling and mysterious about seeing Paris and Nicole dressing in demure fashions."
Diane von Furstenberg said, "These two girls usually dress well and so when time came to go to court, they picked something that they would think would be appropriate, [something] a bit subtle and proper. I feel they are through with their bad girls image, and I think that those experiences will turn them to good girls, which is what I am sure they really are."
Not everyone believes Paris' and Nicole's wayward personalities have changed along with their wardrobe choices, though. The New York Post's Page Six, for one, speculated last week that Hilton's new look is "nothing but a big, phony act," masterminded by "spin doctor Michael Sitrick and his crisis management team, Sitrick & Company."
"These girls don't go to the bathroom without consulting their stylist," said David Wolfe, creative director of The Doneger Group. "Every court appearance is choreographed."Wolfe is convinced their fashion picks will be so influential in seasons to come, he has even gone so far as adding a segment called "Criminal Chic" in his fall 2008 trend presentations. After all, look at the saturation media coverage Hilton's jail saga received across newspapers, celebrity weeklies and television. "My feeling is that they care more about their image in the media than they do about their sentencing, guilty or innocent," Wolfe said. "They must be weighing media coverage versus time behind bars. And in the end, media coverage is always more important to them."
Tuleh's Bryan Bradley concurred it's all just a matter of appearances. "If you're guilty, you try and look innocent," Bradley said, and, referencing cult fashion movie "Lipstick" with Mariel Hemingway, added, "When she [Hemingway] first got to court, her lawyer, [played by] Anne Bancroft, leaned into her and said, 'Button your blouse.' The point was you don't want to look like a slut. The last bastion of formality is when you have to go to court and meet your prosecutor. If that's what it takes to get people to dress up, let's all go to court."
The next installment of the trend will come on Friday, when Lohan is scheduled to make her first court appearance.
"Lindsay should take a good look at Nicole in particular," Doonan said. "Be different, and don't wear a tunic with leggings underneath. She needs to seem changed and chastened by the experience."
And there's at least one place that should easily lend her the clothes.
"Lindsay Lohan should be wearing Jill Stuart to court because she's a company spokeswoman," Kitson's Ross said. "That's the only [appropriate] thing for her to wear."
Ron Curtis, president of Jill Stuart, which features Lohan in the company's advertising, observed, "Lindsay is a great lady. She's smart, beautiful and sexy and has been great for our brand, in addition to having incredible talent.
"Jill and I believe in rehabilitation and we believe she is going to make it through with flying colors. I'm sure a lot of us remember our teens and 20s as a confusing time and I think it's pathetic that people and the press prey on the misfortune of these young people so blatantly."Femmes Fatale
Life isn't a fairy tale, but the world seems to be chock full of wicked queens and plotting princesses. Bad girls are so popular, several of Hollywood's biggest names have played them on-screen. For performers from Katharine Hepburn to Catherine Zeta-Jones, convict chic has quickly become its own genre. But the real McCoys reign supreme. Not to be caught unawares, these dastardly divas have historically put their best foot forward after having put their foot in their mouth. Actress Lana Turner, involved in the murder of her ex-lover, Johnny Stompanato, defended herself in 1958 with all the glamour of Hollywood's golden era. Christine Keeler kicked off the Profumo Affair after sleeping with a Soviet attaché during her tryst with British government minister John Profumo. At the height of the scandal in 1963, her Jackie O public appearances gave her the cache to sit for photographer Lewis Morley in the iconic Arne Jacobsen chair photo. An impresario of the oldest profession, Heidi Fleiss favored dark pantsuits with strong shoulders for courtroom photo ops. No doubt conceived to assure her high-profile clients of her legitimacy, the look didn't prevent her conviction in 1995 of running a Los Angeles prostitution ring. In 2005, a grand jury decided rap artist Kimberly Jones' lil' white lies weren't so small after all. In uncharacteristically conservative attire, Lil' Kim was sentenced to one year and a day for perjury. It's a good thing she had a fairy godmother — namely BET — to orchestrate her comeback.
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