With awards season approaching, stylists are at fashion weeks, scoping out looks for their clients, readying them to be at their best for months of parading down scads of red carpets. Harvey Weinstein may be banished, but the awards campaign machine he helped create grinds on. Now, a year into #MeToo, and after the emboldened feminist statements made by actresses at the last Golden Globes and in Cannes, has the marketing machinery of the red carpet changed at all?
The early answer is no. With an asterisk.
The red carpet, of course, has a not-so-secret double life as a klieg-lighted walking advertisement for lavish brands. Many actresses and actors on the carpet get paid to wear gowns, watches and jewels, and can pocket anywhere from an estimated $5,000 to more than $100,000 for their efforts.
In the last year, though, the spectre was raised, fleetingly, that substance may trump conspicuous consumption in red carpet form. At the Globes in January, A-list women, sheathed in black, seemed less like fashion police fodder than an indomitable army, marching as one under the banner of Times Up, the anti-harassment campaign they had just introduced.
The show of solidarity was echoed a few months later on the red carpet at Cannes, when 82 women linked arms to protest the dearth of women filmmakers the festival had showcased over the years.
But recent high-profile red carpets at the Venice and Toronto film festivals and at the Emmys felt like a return to the same old, with actresses swathed in such familiar couture names as Armani Privé, Valentino and Givenchy. At the Emmys, Dakota Fanning was resplendent in a green Dior gown and plum-size emeralds, reportedly weighing 175 carats, from Lorraine Schwartz.
For a few red carpet watchers, the ostentation was at odds with the sombre messaging behind #MeToos cri de coeur, but hardly a surprise. Even at the empowered Golden Globes, actors and actresses accessorised with, by one count, more than $20 million worth of wares from the likes of Harry Winston, Bulgari and Chopard.
Though some lucre from the endorsements was diverted to Times Up — Tiffany & Co pledged on behalf of everyone wearing its brand, and Forevermark donated $25,000 on behalf of Shailene Woodley — some critics still found the branding exercise in poor taste.
“The whole seriousness of #MeToo — and certainly Ask Her More — is somewhat compromised by these women trooping out in jewels which often match their movie salaries,” said Bronwyn Cosgrave, a fashion historian who has contributed to red carpet coverage by The New York Times. “But its too much of a booming economy to have #MeToo jeopardise it.”
Several Hollywood stylists noted there had been a shift on the red carpet since #MeToo. Their female clients felt more like a tribe, they said, united in common cause. More people were requesting female collaborators and minority designers. And they said women should not have to account for or defend their sartorial choices, whether or not theyre paid to make them.
“The relationships between designers and actresses is more like a happy marriage and less like an arranged one,” said Erica Cloud, who has styled Mandy Moore, Lake Bell and Sophia Bush. The sentiment was echoed by Leith Clark, who is Keira Knightleys personal stylist as well as style director-at-large for Harpers Bazaar UK.
“I dont think anything an actor chooses to wear counters Me Too,” Clark wrote in a text message. “Its their choice. I dont think this movement is in any way about setting further rules or restrictions for women.”
As for the money stream from endorsement deals, Arianne Phillips, the costume designer and long-time stylist to Madonna, said celebrities aligned with various charities or causes should trumpet them, and donate the money accordingly.
“We can use that revenue stream in positive ways,” Phillips said. “Its a missed opportunity not to.”
While the marketing machine marches on, some insiders said the red carpet has seen a tonal shift. Four years ago, interviewers were urged to ask actresses about more than their dresses. These days, not asking about sexual harassment or gender equity is the rarity rather than the norm.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, several stylists saw nothing wrong with asking someone about who designed her dress, so long as the queries did not end there — especially since, as Clark said, “clothes can serve as armour, and a vessel of strength, confidence and grace.”
Cloud said designers like Christian Siriano, who dresses women of all sizes, ages and ethnicities, should be celebrated and, she added, “become the norm.”
And Karla Welch, whose clients include Olivia Wilde, Sarah Paulson, Elisabeth Moss and Tracee Ellis Ross, said it was misguided to look to the carpet or symbolic actions taken there, like wearing black en masse, as be-all-and-end-all measures of progress made in the name of #MeToo.
The structural inequities in Hollywood have nothing to do with what people happened to put on for a premiere or an awards show, Welch said.
“Its about your contract, negotiating for an inclusion rider, making sure the female star gets paid as much as the male star, making sure that executives and all the studios give more,” she said. “Thats where the work is done. The red carpet is the last thing about it.”
A question that still hangs about is whether people will ever again opt to put their clients in Marchesa, the label run by Georgina Chapman, Harvey Weinsteins former wife. Welch said that while she would not rule out the possibility, the question annoyed her nonetheless.
“Its another example of blaming a woman,” she said. “Again the woman is suffering for the toxicity of the man.”