February 6, 2023

The Business of the Academy Award Red Carpet

This time of year, signs of Christmas abound.  If you work in fashion, it is also the count-down – and the race – to dress celebrities attending the annual Academy Awards and the red carpet’s style parade.

Shipments of designer and fashion house attire arrive to be viewed, tried and worn on Hollywood’s biggest night.   For European fashion houses, the nightmare of shipping and customs begins.  There is no room for error or guesswork allowed to determine fabric content, and one misstep can hold up a shipment for weeks.   I’ve had numerous visits to custom offices at LAX to wade through red tape.   Try to impress an officer with “these are meant for the Oscar red carpet” means nothing.  

Once that situation is resolved, it is impossible to not be impressed with haute couture.  Hand sewn, with linings meticulously draped in the richest of fabrics and yes, dresses that cost as much as a new car.

In the early years, contacting a celebrity’s representative by offering to dress them for the event was the norm.  A few years later, stylists arrived to weed through the offerings and sometimes gather the best dresses, saving them for their clients and keeping them out of the mix for others to view.   Top stylists have a vision for their client as they walk them through fittings, alterations, and accessories.  In more recent years, an entourage of publicists, agents, friends and family circle like satellites close to the sun wanting a piece of the action.  Payments in money and clothing is the new norm.   

The Academy Award red carpet is compared to the “Super Bowl” and the biggest advertisement for fashion.   In a sea of beautiful dresses, the goal is to stand out and become forever memorable.   For me, Nicole Kidman’s John Galliano for Christian Dior mandarin style gown wins a prize.  The dress put Mr. Galliano on the map as a creative genius and Ms. Kidman stood out as more than Tom Cruise’s girlfriend.  Other creative outlets such as the Titanic theme handbag worn by actress Gloria Stuart or the diamond studded shoes by Stuart Weitzman draw attention.  

 I’m asked what happens to the dresses after the Oscars?   Like Cinderella, many are returned to designers and fashion houses because after all, a celebrity can’t wear them again.   Some are offered to the celebrity as a keep sake.   Kim Basinger kept her Academy Award winning gown by Escada and later, offered it up in an auction to raise money for a beloved animal rescue charity.   Escada caught wind of it and purchased the gown for their archives.

I sit on the sidelines grateful to watch the event, knowing what is involved behind the scenes.   My book “The Business Behind the Red Carpet” captures stories and offers advice that is still relevant today, even if you don’t have a check book for “pay to play”.