Lady Gaga’s periwinkle presence at the Golden Globes was as memorable as her meat dress, only beautiful instead of bovine. It made for a brilliant expression of how a star of whom much is expected in the getting-dressed arena can live up to expectations while still exhibiting her maturation from audacious, wacky post-adolescent to audacious, uniquely elegant (when she feels like it) young woman. In a roomful of stars, Gaga proved the starriest.
The Globes’ news cycle may be several days in the rear-view mirror, but Gaga’s Periwinkle Power merits revisiting in light of the drama emanating from the upcoming Academy Awards, sprung from the Kevin Hart hosting debacle. According to a piece by Matt Donnelly in Variety on Wednesday, it looks likely that the Feb. 24 Oscars will go hostless for only the second time in its history. Given that huge vacancy and the furor surrounding it, the event is in apparent disarray.
Hollywood awards shows are a strange bird. The supposed point is to honor excellence, a hybrid of professional nobility and commercial savvy. Yet in the years since the first Oscars ceremony in 1929, a brief affair at which 12 were awarded, that initial dual intent has swung toward the latter, with the Oscars now Hollywood’s biggest, most far-reaching communal marketing effort. To that end, whatever its original honorific purpose and its more recent emergence as a platform for political and cultural statement-making, the Oscars are primarily entertainment. Or should be. Make that, must be. In that light, they need elements that are, well, entertaining.
In its current incarnation, the Academy Awards broadcast is a real-time, global event that typically runs between three and a half and four hours, the primary activity of which is a parade of people reading lists of names and movie titles, and then repeating from those lists the names and titles of the categories’ winners, who then take the stage to typically run off lists of more names of those people they feel compelled to thank, these days often mixed in with political commentary. The process provides some degree of suspense, though of a sort that doesn’t matter all that much to a good portion of the audience. And that’s it. That the Oscars have retained their mega luster (albeit, perhaps a little tarnished recently) over a 90-year span of ever-expanded reach and hype is remarkable. It has done so partly on the strength of the traditional entertainment elements it works in among the various awards — the host’s opening monologue and intermittent bits along with musical numbers. But mostly, it’s a testament to the worldwide fascination with the celebrities that audiences tune in to watch. And on this particular night, the fashion those celebrities choose to wear.
Thus, for years, the red-carpet fashion machine has escalated, the most concentrated manifestation of the powerful, strangely symbiotic entertainment-fashion fusion. Pre-show, speculation about who will wear what is at least as rampant as that about who will win what. Post-show, the clothes get as much, if not more, morning-after press attention as the winners. So, in this winter of Academy Awards discombobulation, can fashion save the Oscars? If yes, should stars amp up the show-off quotient a little bit? And should those supplying the clothes — the major houses at least — do more to flaunt their own creative identities instead of doing what so many are bizarrely willing to do, supply for free dresses that, while usually lovely, are often generic enough that they could have hailed from any of several design studios?
To the latter point, it’s unlikely that most brands will engage in creative hardball, so desperate are they for red-carpet placement. But if there were ever a moment for fashion to flex its communal muscle, this is it. Hollywood and its participants have chosen to make the Oscars a worldwide, leisurely viewing extravaganza. It’s a show about looking at movie stars. Stars who, along with their handlers, have systematically upped the importance and drama quotient of the dresses. Only recently, in a brilliant exercise of having your cake and eating it, those who have benefited from the sartorial lure of the Oscars have shifted the commentary, the current messaging that actresses should be lauded for their work, that they have more to talk about than clothes. And that to focus so acutely on the night’s fashion is superficial and even insulting to women.
But why? Why is it insulting to acknowledge when women (and increasingly, men) dress in a way that highlights one of the most highly marketed aspects of their industry — glamour — on its biggest night of the year? And why is it demeaning for those women to happily credit the designers and brands who helped them achieve their looks for the evening? As a smart lady once said (in a different context), it takes a village.
At a time when ratings have been down, and in a year when the Academy messed up royally in hiring its host, the Oscars need a positive reason to watch. Gee, how about the fashion? Or more accurately, the evening’s roster of diverse, interesting, talented women dressed in beautiful clothes? Even better, if at least some of those clothes are more than merely beautiful, but as interesting as the women who wear them.
And how about — this is really important — if nobody apologizes for or fakes disinterest in those clothes?
Which circles back to Gaga at the Globes. Again, a star among stars in the biggest, most flamboyant, most bellicose dress of the night, a periwinkle ballgown with endless train and frothy add-on sleeves and periwinkle hair to match. It was the glorious antithesis of anonymous; you knew whose it was before you knew whose it was, its particular iteration of couture volume as specific to Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli as its glamorous bravado was to Gaga. Yet the dress didn’t wear the woman. Rather, it did what great fashion is supposed to do — it aided Gaga in her self-expression. Gaga’s dress facilitated her hold on our attention all night — on the red carpet (where she discredited the Judy Garland homage storyline as nothing more than a happy coincidence), while presenting, and every time the camera cut to her in her seat. She was, in all her taffeta-ed, Tiffany-ed, major-eye/pale-lipped glory, fun to watch.
Come this Oscar night, such fun may be the primary positive reason for watching. To that end, let’s hope the evening’s many stars dare to ratchet up the risk factor — not necessarily to Gaga level; but for the Lady herself, few can carry off such overstatement. But how great if more women pushed beyond the pretty, standard goddess/column/tulle range to take a chance — à la Julia Roberts in a Stella McCartney trouser-gown hybrid; Lena Waithe in a dashing Prada tux, Alison Brie in a Vera Wang (slightly) naughty princess gown with sparkly bra; Rosamund Pike in a little-bit-of-bondage Givenchy couture; even Anne Hathaway in Elie Saab animalia regalia. (Can’t say I loved the dress, but I loved the spirit.)
From where things stand now, it seems that the Oscars show will need all the help it can get. Fashion to the rescue? Hollywood should revel in the notion, without apology.