Editor’s Note: Bronwyn Cosgrave is the author of Made For Each Other: Fashion and the Academy Awards, a fashion history of the Oscars. The views expressed are her own.
Academy Awards ceremony takes place this Sunday
Bronwyn Cosgrave: Posing like a supermodel delivers a big payoff
Hollywood’s leading women want to be treated with a little more respect as they parade the red carpet on Oscar night this Sunday. And it’s not hard to sympathize with them.
Female nominees, it seems, are tired of simply engaging in the same old small talk about the make of their gowns, the jewels they are wearing, or the footwear they’re flaunting (not to mention the intimate secrets of their personal beautification process).
So they have been pushing back in the form of #AskHerMore, a campaign launched last year that’s being waged by women in Hollywood wanting to broaden the scope of their pre-telecast conversations beyond fashion. Whether it be Cate Blanchett’s pointed question to a cameraman at last year’s SAG Awards, or contenders refusing to raise their hands for E! Entertainment’s “Mani-Cam,” actresses are starting to speak out about some of the more sexist treatment they face.
So, can we expect a red carpet rebellion at this year’s Academy Awards? Far from it.
Posing like a supermodel and discussing couture delivers a big payoff – a lucrative contract representing a luxury brand of cosmetics, watches, automobiles or even bottled water and automobiles. Such contracts give stars an extra income, allowing them to refrain, if they choose, from making B-list movies or popcorn blockbusters. Plus, fronting a glossy campaign can also create a sophisticated aura around the star in question.
And this award season has felt even longer than usual. Instead of kicking off with January’s Golden Globes, it started two months early, in November 2014, with the Hollywood Film Awards. Purists lampooned the telecast, which despite proclaiming itself the “Official Launch of the Awards Season” has seemed barely known to much of the public beyond Hollywood. Yet that didn’t stop the talent considered a shoo-in for the big prizes from being out in force at the ceremony, gamely fielding pre-telecast questions from film and fashion reporters.
And this week, the Oscar front-runners are still talking fashion, despite the word on the ground here in Los Angeles being that some nominees are nursing colds, while others already have blisters from walking miles of red carpet in their borrowed designer stilettos.
For some, it seems, the thinking is #AskHerMore be damned!
It didn’t used to be like this.
Serious actors – especially those intent on winning an Oscar – once refrained from the “grubby” work of advertising. Cher’s decision to promote health clubs in a series of TV commercials, for example, was seen by many as scuttling her shot as best actress for the 1985 film “Mask.” If an actor did decide to promote a brand, he or she would generally do so on the sly, in Japan, and pocket big money out of sight of Western audiences (much easier in the pre-YouTube era).
Today there is no such stigma.
Last year’s red carpet star Lupita Nyong’o, who secured a statuette for “12 Years A Slave,” got an early jump on the Oscar buzz-generating action at the Telluride Film Festival in August before embarking on a six-month stretch of appearances in which she seemed to divide her time between film industry functions (which allow for networking opportunities with Academy voters) and fashion goings-on. On the day her Golden Globe nomination was announced, for example, Nyong’o was attending the Paris couture shows. A month after Nyong’o claimed the best supporting actress Oscar, Lancôme Paris announced she would be one of its brand ambassadors.
This is all a far cry from the days when the shoe was on the other foot, and it was old Hollywood’s leading women who felt honored to be associated with their stylists. Golden age stars like Marlene Dietrich and Audrey Hepburn were proud of their associations with style gurus like Christian Dior and Hubert de Givenchy – and they also paid for their clothes – while Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Janet Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor relied on Edith Head, the head of the costume department at Paramount Pictures, to prep them for awards-season premieres and the Oscars.
Similarly, on her way to winning the best actress prize for “Caberet” in 1973, Liza Minnelli sought out the services of design legend Halston, reportedly to ensure that she would have an image that would keep her out of the shadow of her legendary mother, Judy Garland. Halston’s reported advice? Minnelli should purchase a set of Louis Vuitton luggage, which he then filled with clothes, footwear and jewels all made to measure for her.
Still, for a time, the demise of the studio system and feminist ideals started to put paid to women prettifying themselves (too much) for awards season. Indeed, a slew of late 1970s and ’80s winners sported pantsuits and cocktail attire at the Golden Globes and the Oscars.
But Sharon Stone’s reasoning that “If you are going to the Oscars, you might as well go to the Oscars” may have marked a resurgence of glamor. Onetime model Stone liked fashion and understood how to wear fine jewelry. And today, her successors on the nominations list, actresses like Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore – respected both for their style and talent – carry her torch.
And increasingly, male leads seem interested in getting in on the act.
Eddie Redmayne, up for best actor for “The Theory of Everything,” has been a regular presence at events on TV. And although he hasn’t been nominated for an Academy Award, Ellar Coltrane of “Boyhood” has been working the style angle, becoming a red carpet star and the face of Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age epic. And like Nyong’o, whose claim to fame prior to “12 Years a Slave” was an MTV Base show, Coltrane has shot to overnight stardom . Clad in sharp Armani tuxedos and plush velvet Isaia suits, he has gamely chatted his way through E! pre-telecasts.
So if you tune in on Sunday, don’t expect the stars to be camera-shy, even if they are cringing inside at the questions they are being asked. After all, while some of them will be collecting awards for work already completed, the Oscar pre-show is also a chance for many of them to be auditioning for some more work – whether it’s on the silver screen or a magazine cover.
And for that reason alone, the red carpet circus isn’t going anywhere.