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LOS ANGELES — The Academy Awards will roll out more than the red carpet on Sunday.
Hollywood’s biggest night is turning to technology, social media and new formats for the 82nd annual Oscars to entice a bigger audience and generate more attention.
A year after turmoil in the worldwide economy resulted in slightly lower key partying and fewer gift suites, the frenzy is building as top fashion and jewelry brands jockey to dress A-list actresses and capture the buzz and publicity that can help boost sales.
Rachel Zoe, who is dressing presenters Cameron Diaz and Demi Moore, is among the stylists who plan to work until the 11th hour — and she is skipping the runway shows in Paris to do it.
“In an ideal scenario I would love to have things locked a week in advance, but normally the best gowns arrive in the last couple of days, and my job is to show the clients everything,” she said. “I found some great options in New York and Milan. It’s a nightmare that I am missing Paris, but for Oscars I often use couture.”
In the lead up to the extravaganza at the Kodak Theatre here, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is going high-tech for the red carpet as “Avatar” director James Cameron has pioneered use of 3-D. The Academy has unveiled its first mobile device application for the iPhone and iPod Touch. This gives users access to movie trailers and content, and encourages viewer interaction by allowing users to share their predictions on winners with friends via Facebook and Twitter and compare notes as the real-time results come in.
In addition, Oscar.com on Wednesday launched the Internet series “Oscars’ Designer Challenge: Behind the Dress,” which chronicles the competition among nine up-and-coming international designers — Fernanda Carneiro, Elda De La Rose, Ivy Higa, Phong Hong, Rania Salibi, Oday Shakar, Ari Sheuhmelian, Oliver Tolentino and Kelsy Zimba — to dress the person who will hand the statuettes to the celebrity presenters. The public voted online for the winning dress, which will be revealed on Sunday.
“The red carpet has become the biggest fashion show on Earth,” said Oscar fashion coordinator Patty Fox. “Now we’re giving the public a voice by letting them take part in the night.”
Fashion designers have long understood the build-up to the red carpet can be almost as great of a promotion as the photo op itself.
Fewer designers from New York and Europe have come to Hollywood to fit actresses and attend parties because of economic uncertainty. But even those who dress stars from afar with the help of Los Angeles-based teams, such as Giorgio Armani, said the Oscars show is integral to their branding efforts.
“From red-carpet reportage to historic box office receipts, there is such a positive flow of news coming out of the entertainment world today that I feel there is a tremendous focus on Hollywood as a spiritual life raft,” Armani said. “To me, awards season is a tonic…reminding us that, recession or not, life is full of ups and downs. Hollywood is an ‘up’ for me.”
The show, which will air live at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on ABC, will be broadcast to 200 countries with an estimated population of 1 billion. Last year’s 36.9 million U.S. viewers represented a 13 percent increase compared with the record low in 2007 but still marked the third-lowest turnout in Oscars history. The largest audience was 55 million in 1998, the year of the megahit “Titanic.”
To draw more viewers, the Academy expanded the Best Picture category to 10 from five; hired two hosts, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, co-stars of the 2009 hit “It’s Complicated,” and, in a departure from last year’s strategy, announced as presenters familiar names and new stars, including Barbra Streisand, Charlize Theron, Tina Fey, Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron, Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart and Tom Ford. The elaborate Best Song presentations will be eliminated and speeches shortened even further to help speed the pace.
Producers hope to build on the interest generated by Best Picture nominees such as “Avatar,” the highest-grossing movie of all time, as well box office hits such as “Up,” “The Blind Side” and “Inglourious Basterds.”
Advertising, estimated at $1.4 million to $1.5 million for a 30-second spot, is said to be almost sold out. Last year’s top spenders — Hyundai, Coca-Cola and J.C. Penney — have returned. But two big advertisers, L’Oréal and General Motors, are staying away for the second consecutive year.
The performance of other major television events this year bodes well for the Oscars. The Golden Globes and the Grammys improved their ratings, the Super Bowl was the most-watched TV program in history and NBC said the just-concluded Vancouver Olympics were the second-most-watched Winter Games.
“The build-up around the Oscars has been great; it’s happening over an arc and not a one-time hit, a strategy that certainly worked for the Super Bowl,” said Lynn Power, president of advertising agency ArnoldNYC. “The show has always had an air of mystique and glamour, but making it more accessible and engaging for consumers plays up the entertainment. It’s less talking at you and more talking with you. Networks have finally caught on that it’s how people want to watch shows.”
Zac Posen, who has dressed Gwyneth Paltrow and Felicity Huffman, among others, for previous Academy Awards, was in Beverly Hills last Saturday to launch his Z Spoke collection at Saks Fifth Avenue, and will return this weekend to attend the Night Before party sponsored by Target, for which he’s designing a collection, and to put final touches on dresses for Sunday.
“Dressing actors helps to build the DNA of the brand,” Posen said. “I’ve been able to represent diversity by dressing everyone from Oprah to Natalie Portman. And that brings huge international exposure.”
Meeting starlets such as Best Supporting Actress nominee Anna Kendrick, who attended a dinner in Posen’s honor on Saturday, helps spark “a collaborative process,” he said.
“I’ve had hardly anything but American Apparel on my body until this year, so it’s been a fun experience,” said Kendrick, who has chosen her gown — and is keeping it a secret — with stylist Jodi Leesley. “I feel like I am a dress-up doll sometimes.”
A Chanel spokeswoman said one Oscar presenter is due to have her final fitting for a Chanel dress this week, and the fashion house on Saturday will host a pre-Oscars dinner with producer and agent Charles Finch. Sigourney Weaver and Robin Wright are among the invited guests.
Stylist Jeanne Yang, who will be dressing presenters Robert Downey Jr. and Keanu Reeves, said she is set for Sunday. “Men are pretty definitive. They know it when they put the right suit on. With a dress, it’s more about the mood that day, but you don’t alter two suits for the Oscars.”
The dour mood that shadowed the Oscars last year, in the depths of the economic crisis, seems to have lifted, although the calendar is by no means flooded with events as in pre-recession years.
Major brands such as Dior and Swarovski continue to support Oscar programs. Dior cosponsored an exhibit of works by artist Kimberly Brooks called “The Stylist Project” on Monday and will hold its annual 40-person Dior Beauty dinner tonight.
Swarovski, in addition to sponsoring last week’s Costume Designer Guild awards and winners luncheon, held a cocktail party Tuesday at the company’s Century City store and is working one-on-one with stylists by appointment in its showroom. Swarovski also has made a two-ton crystal curtain for Sunday’s show, as well as embellishing several set pieces and costumes.
Harry Winston and new chief executive officer Frédéric de Narp tonight will host a cocktail party at the jeweler’s Rodeo Drive boutique, and Chopard will again sponsor the Elton John AIDS Foundation Oscar party after the show on Sunday.
Stuart Weitzman is one of the few brands hosting its own Oscar gift suite, but companies that took a break last year, including H. Stern and Kwiat, have not returned.
Vanity Fair, which downsized its post-Oscar party last year to the Sunset Tower, is sticking with the same venue this year, and studio parties are also taking place in smaller locations, including Sony Pictures Classics at Il Cielo restaurant and The Weinstein Co. at Soho House, West Hollywood.
“It’s great to see people throwing parties again,” event planner Bryan Rabin said. “Not because they have to, but because they want to.”