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They’re buzz-catchers, but are they rainmakers?

When Halle Berry wore a peekaboo gown by Elie Saab, it immediately catapulted the little-known designer into the fashion lexicon. Similarly, Lupita Nyong’o’s red off-the-shoulder Ralph Lauren gown or Elizabeth Hurley’s safety-pin number by Versace set red-carpet watchers’ tongues wagging for months. But the question remains as to whether they actually translate into sales.

Designers bask in the spike in brand awareness, and retailers say there’s a definite correlation between a celebrity wearing a designer’s gown and a boost in sales. While the effect might not be immediate, stars photographed on the red carpet — images that are instantly transmitted worldwide — help boost sales of similar styles (if not necessarily the exact custom dress) as well as the designer’s other products, from accessories to fragrances and secondary lines. Hollywood events influence color, silhouette, jewelry, makeup, hairstyle and prom trends that resonate long after awards season has ended. Sometimes it even sparks a whole new category — Emma Stone’s Lanvin jumpsuit or Jennifer Aniston’s lariat, for example.

The payoff can be big, especially if the actor or actress wins. “If one of these celebrities wears the right thing at the right time, it can become an iconic moment. It’s hard to put a price tag on that,” said New York-based consultant Robert Burke.

Bottom line: Designers could never pay for the advertising that kind of global exposure generates.

Here’s where retailers and designers stand.

• Giorgio Armani: “The red-carpet effect exists, and I realized it since my first movie collaboration.” He was a pioneer in celebrity dressing for awards shows, establishing a Hollywood outpost during the season in 1989. “The cinema and the media in general have a strong impact on the public: People identify with celebrities, who influence their choices on what to wear. The [red-carpet-to-retail connection] stems from the aura associated with the star, with which the public identifies. Over the years, in fact, we have had several requests for dresses identical to those on the red carpet, which confirms that my job, even for the stars, is never a style exercise or an end in itself, but is based on a solid and real idea. After George Clooney’s wedding, for example, we registered an increase in requests for three-piece suits similar to the one he wore during the ceremony.”

• Naeem Khan: When Stacy Keibler wore Khan’s black halter gown to the 2013 Oscars, it became the designer’s number-one gown globally. He sold 30 pieces at $9,000 per and received nearly 40 inquiries. “The exposure is great, no matter what, and it often translates to sales.”

• Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director, Neiman Marcus: “The role of celebrity continues to be an important force in how women see themselves. The customer walks in with [a picture] and says, ‘I want this dress — do you have it in the store?’ ” As for men’s wear, “As soon as we saw white dinner jackets on the red carpet, they became very successful in our stores.”

• Francisco Costa, women’s creative director of Calvin Klein Collection: “The visibility is incredible, especially with the added immediacy and reach of social media.” When Jennifer Lawrence wore his custom red gown to the Academy Awards in 2011, the dress “received a lot of coverage and had a tremendous impact on sales. A dress that is featured on the right woman on the red carpet is often immediately requested in store.” As a result, Calvin Klein recently introduced a selection of its most successful red-carpet, celebrity-worn styles in its Madison Avenue store, with updated fabrics and colors.

• Donatella Versace: “Celebrities have always been part of the Versace life. I think it is a mutual attraction, something that draws us to each other. When I design for the red carpet, I always think about the power of the individual woman and her strength of character.”

• Zac Posen: “When a look is celebrated on the red carpet, it’s usually requested by retailers as a ‘classic.’ It becomes a staple in their buy. As a consequence, we see the demand for that particular style increase not only for the current season, but also for following ones.”

• Bibhu Mohapatra: “For a young brand like mine, it has strong meaning.” Glenn Close, Gwyneth Paltrow and Elisabeth Moss have worn his designs on the red carpet, and in a major coup for the Indian designer, First Lady Michelle Obama wore one of his dresses on a recent trip to India. “It’s almost like an ad campaign in a magazine. It stirs up visibility immediately and, later on, if you keep on dressing the right people, it does the brand good.”

• Colleen Sherin, vice president, fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue: Saks’ customers are inspired by red-carpet style, from a color to a neckline. The new Mrs. Clooney, Amal, set a trend wearing elbow-length gloves to the Golden Globes. Emma Stone’s sparkly Lanvin jumpsuit at the Globes is also providing options for black-tie dressing. “It doesn’t have to be a gown. It can be a jumpsuit or a pantsuit.” Among other influential looks for secondary lines: cocktail lengths, midlength or minidresses; accessories could mean more gloves, and jewelry worn in unexpected ways, like multiple rings or brooches in the hair.

• Brooke Jaffe, operating vice president and fashion director of women’s ready-to-wear, Bloomingdale’s: The jumpsuit, from the red carpet, has emerged as an alternative to gowns. “It was a runway trend that became big in contemporary, and now it’s become the new cocktail attire.” Bare shoulders have also emerged. “I loved Reese Witherspoon bringing back that one-shoulder look in her white Armani [at the SAG Awards].” She also cited earrings to complement the bare shoulder, lariats for plunging necklines and the color yellow — from Naomi Watts’ yellow Gucci dress.

• Elizabeth von der Goltz, senior vice president, general merchandise manager of fine apparel and designer sportswear, Bergdorf Goodman: Recent rtw trends from the red carpet include tulle insets, open cutouts on gowns and dresses, high slits in gowns, and interesting earrings such as ear cuffs and hand jewelry. She’s found “a few great designers from watching celebrity dressing,” who weren’t selling to retail accounts, only working with stylists, and are now sold at Bergdorf’s. Among them: Stephane Rolland, David Koma, Fausto Pugliese and Lorena Sarbu.

• Lori Hirshleifer Sills, owner, Hirshleifers in Manhasset, N.Y.: Customers often call for “the exact piece” they see on awards shows. “We get calls about jewelry from Loree Rodkin and Kimberly McDonald, and Edie Parker bags.”

• Elyse Walker, owner, Elyse Walker, Pacific Palisades, Calif.: Once a trend is spotted on the red carpet, stores often see a trickle-down effect over time. “It’s not necessarily immediate, but over the course of the next year, if so-and-so is wearing this plunging deep-V red dress, the customer is a little more confident in wearing the red dress.” Spring weddings trail awards season, and “the two actually work pretty well together.”

• Jaqui Lividini, founder, Lividini & Co. brand consultant: “You don’t get sales of that particular [red carpet] dress. You get sales of the knockoffs, and it influences style, and that’s where the business comes from.”


• Ron Frasch, operating partner at Castanea Partners and former president of Saks: “The play for the brands is the exposure and the credibility. It’s a big deal.” Citing Kate Hudson wearing the cutout Versace dress to the designer’s Paris couture show last month, “It was in every magazine and on every Web site. Even if Donatella made it [for stores], it’s really a custom product tailored to [Hudson’s] figure. But Versace’s name is out there in such an important way.”

• Allen Schwartz, creative director of ABS by Allen Schwartz: Schwartz once had a successful business knocking off red-carpet favorites but got out of it. “Eight to 10 years ago, it really meant a lot more. Today, it’s so fast-moving….every month is another awards show. It’s fun to watch, and happens quickly, so before it makes an impression, there’s something else. Also, there are more stars today. They’re coming from reality shows, TV and the movie business. You can’t track it all….It’s diluted today.”

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While it’s tough to account for every tube of orange lipstick or headband sold as a result of a star wearing it on the red carpet, Tribe Dynamics, a digital marketer for lifestyle brands, tracks overall earned media performance—the dollar value of social influence, based on number of impressions, engagement with the content, quality of the publisher and audience size—in traditional and new media.

Here, a few of the trends from the 2014 Oscars to catch fire, and what the power of the red carpet can mean.

Orange Lips
Angelina Jolie, Lupita Nyong’o and Amy Adams fashioned a peachy, orange lip last year, and following the awards show, earned media performance for the shade topped $477,500 between March and July.
Three Rouge Dior peachy lipsticks (Rendez-Vous, Plisse Soleil and Macadam) saw an average increase in sales of almost 70 percent, March vs. February 2014. According to Dior, these peach shades saw a significantly higher average increase than the rest of the Rouge Dior line, where the company saw an average increase of 40 percent in March vs. February.


Short Hair
The short haircuts sported by Charlize Theron and Jennifer Lawrence sent thousands of women to the nearest salon in search of a chop. The bobs’ overall earned media performance amounted to $4.7 million from March through July.

Inspired by Lupita Nyong’o’s Fred Leighton hair accessory worn on the red carpet, headbands generated some $3.2 million in earned media performance in the three months after the show.

Winged Eyeliner
Popularized by Olivia Wilde last year, cat’s eyeliner had consumers on the hunt for the perfect pencil. Winged eyeliner’s overall earned media performance surpassed $976,400 from the beginning of March to the end of July.

Berry Lips
Kerry Washington’s baby bump at last year’s Oscars wasn’t the only thing that had fans talking. Washington’s berry lips were also in the spotlight with an overall earned media performance of more than $163,400 from March through July.

Back necklaces
For last year’s Oscars, Jennifer Lawrence followed a style formula she started in 2013: a strapless Dior gown paired with a necklace worn down her back. It may not have been a new look for the star, but it was a successful one—at least in terms of immediate buzz. Earned media performance for back necklaces jumped from $1,600 in February to $10,500 in March.


—Jayme Cyk and Lauren McCarthy

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