THE FEAR FACTOR
STARS AND STYLISTS ARE GOING TO EVER-GREATER LENGTHS TO AVOID DUPLICATE DRESSES. BUT SOMETIMES, THE UNTHINKABLE HAPPENS.
Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
It might be a coup in baseball, but a triple-play on the red carpet recently lead to an embarrassing moment among three women who arrived at last month’s Berlin Film Festival in the same Escada gown. Photographers had a field day.
“Can you imagine?” Escada designer Brian Rennie recalled a week later during a visit to Los Angeles. Although it was almost eight weeks before Oscar Super Sunday, Rennie and team were already vying to secure stars for the big event and its related, much-photographed parties.
Escada’s attempts to prevent two clients, including actress Jasmina Pasalic, from wearing the same dress were unsuccessful. But who could predict a third attendee would purchase the dress and walk the red carpet that night. “We got great publicity,” Rennie mused. The company tracks its dresses bound for such public appearances, so this was a complete surprise. For Oscar week, Rennie only brought the newest samples to Los Angeles to prevent that happening again.
For fashion watchers, it’s a case of deja vu. For the frequently photographed celebrity fashionistas, it’s at best amusing — and at worst a nightmare. With media outlets increasingly documenting every sartorial move of celebrities, many have become increasingly cautious — some would even suggest obsessive — in ensuring that the special look they chose for that special appearance remains truly that.
Instances like the Escada trio are rare, of course. More often, the duplication occurs at separate events. But thanks to regular features such as People magazine’s “Double Vision” or the occasional appearance in In Style, as well as countless other opportunities in the international press, the public is likelier to relish in the coincidences. Uma Thurman and Nicole Kidman might not have cared to appear in the same Prada poppy-print dress in one magazine, but the stories continue to flow and grow about stylists making demands on designer reps not to show dresses to anyone else.
No stylist or house will go on record, yet there have long been whispers of agreements between houses and celebrities to work exclusively with one another. Some sources have even suggested that cash has exchanged hands in what is tantamount to a kind of commercial endorsement deal. There are those houses that consider it sound business to home in on a single A-list actress, or two, who will undoubtedly be photographed. While the investment of providing a couture gown gratis is a consideration, there is something to be said about not blanketing any and every bold-faced name.
Besides, as more than one publicist confided, who wants to put up with the exhaustive efforts involved in dressing everyone who’s interested? Chanel went with a single nominee, according to a publicist. And, each year for the Oscars, Tom Ford has reportedly been interested in only a handful, if that, of famous attendees. Many are sympathetic to their clients’ concerns of truly looking unique. “Absolutely, we understand the need for it,” said Marla Sabo, president and chief operating officer at Christian Dior Inc., the LVMH-owned fashion house’s North American division. “John [Galliano]’s always interested in cultivating a relationship with someone, especially when there’s an artistic and aesthetic meeting of the minds. It’s not just about putting a dress on someone.”
Galliano’s celebrated collaborations with Hollywood royalty include Kidman and Cate Blanchett.
Going couture should ensure a look only belongs to the wearer. “Keep in mind that most of what we work with here for the Academy Awards is Atelier, so they’re all one of a kind,” said a spokesman for Versace, who arrived last week with a crew of seven tailors to custom fit gowns. “We’re very careful about color and style — that we don’t replicate something too similar for two people.”
Donatella Versace herself, however, was caught in magazine pages in a double-take. She wore her own aqua blue dress to 1999’s CFDA awards; later that summer, Elizabeth Hurley was photographed in the same dress at the premiere of “Mickey Blue Eyes.”
Miuccia Prada, noted a company spokeswoman, designs a small collection specifically with the Academy Awards in mind, which is usually reflective of the fall season.
“They’re not straight off the runway. Usually it’s a matter of longer lengths, because we rarely show long, and there are definitely stylistic details to make it more evening,” she said. “Something shown in canvas can be reinterpreted in satin with pailettes.”
As is the practice at other houses, only one of each style is made to avoid duplications. “We try on our end to ensure that every look is individual,” she added. Plucking dresses right from runway presentations that only bowed weeks before has become a common practice. But even that can have drawbacks, added the Prada spokeswoman, who has been servicing Oscar week for the past four seasons.
“There is a sort of contradiction at being the first, before anything has been shown in any way, because the public gets tired with that season’s look months before it hits the store floor.” She believes some stars have become sensitive to that possibility and are more inclined to wear pieces that have already appeared in editorial coverage or advertising, at least to parties and premieres. “I think everyone started to realize that when you pull a designer away from what she feels at the time, you’re really compromising that season. Of course, they still want it to be different.”
And she admitted award shows, particularly the Oscars, are another animal. For stylists like Jessica Paster, if a look is “already produced, no one can guarantee whether more than one person might wear it to an event. It’s almost impossible if something’s not one of a kind,” she admonished. “I remember one year I put Kristin Davis in a strapless Valentino and three months later, Elle MacPherson was photographed in the same dress. I know both pictures ended up in some magazine. Another time, for the Fire and Ice Ball, I put Shiva Rose [McDermott] in a Valentino. Well, Sarah Michelle Gellar wore it like a month later to the Golden Globes. I guess if somebody likes a dress, then somebody likes it.”
Cate Blanchett, one of Paster’s ongoing clients, attended January’s Golden Globes and February’s London premiere for “Charlotte Gray” in Dior couture that Galliano designed for the actress. “Cate’s never asked for exclusivity. The house gave it to her, and that’s their prerogative. Have I ever asked a designer for it? No.”
But the stories circulate, particularly around awards season, from designer reps naming, in hushed voices, publicists or stylists insisting on exclusives for their famous clients. One way to really minimize, even avoid the risk, is vintage. Not surprisingly, some believe this is driving the burgeoning interest in archival frocks.
Renee Zellweger chose vintage Desses for last year’s Oscars, and when she isn’t doing the red carpet in couture designed for her, Nicole Kidman has frequently gone the vintage route. In fact, two looks that continue to receive a lot of play in magazines are the Loris Azarro from the New York premiere of “Moulin Rouge,” and the red no-name chinoiserie she later wore at Cannes. Both came from Decades in Los Angeles. Cameron Silver, owner of the Melrose Avenue shop and its in-store installment at Barneys New York in Manhattan, watched his stock of vintage party dresses sell out this week. So many starlets personally turned up at his Melrose Avenue store that, in order to protect their privacy, he had to deny access to members of the media he knew were on the prowl for dish.
“A lot of people who’ve never considered vintage have purchased it or pulled it this week because they know it will be exclusive to them,” said Silver, who also found the label-less black vintage couture Marisa Tomei wore to this year’s Globes. “It’s especially true with people not going to the Oscars but to the after-parties like Vanity Fair’s. There, they’re competing with that many more dresses.”
With that in mind, he and his team try to keep tabs through conversations with their customers as to whether dresses of a similar color or style might end up at the same event. The best part, incidentally, is that when a dress leaves Silver’s store, it’s paid for. “The smart stars,” he noted, “are keeping vintage in their closets in case the loaner dress doesn’t work out.” There are still others who simply go only a few years back in the chances that the rest of their peers are only obsessed with current or future seasons.
Julia Roberts wowed viewers at the 2001 Academy Awards in Valentino couture from 1982 (six years short of being classified vintage). Sure, winning the gold added to her chances at being splashed across the front pages, but it was clear she made an impact with that dress even among reporters and fans who claim not to care about such matters.
Of course, sometimes the strategy to go with something from earlier seasons can backfire. Elizabeth Hurley attended the premiere of “Permanent Midnight” in 1999 wrapped in a silver Dolce & Gabbana and strappy stilettos. Charlize Theron attended her own premiere of “Celebrity” a full year later in the exact same dress and similar looking heels. The bottom line to the issue is just that: design houses and publicists may keep track, but the primary intention in loaning out dresses to celebrities is the press coverage that can result.
“That can mean sales,” pointed out Paster. “It’s business. So when you see a dress twice, it really is just embarrassing for the celebrities.”