Actresses love to slum it now and again in small-budget movies with controversial plotlines. But if one of them should get nominated for a big award, don’t expect her to wear an equally edgy look on the red carpet. When Charlize Theron gained 25 pounds and donned doughy prosthetics to play lesbian vigilante Aileen Wournos for “Monster,” the stunning South African was lauded for her brave performance. She then glammed it up for the Globes, opting for a buttery yellow confection of a gown by John Galliano for Dior.
Four years before, Hilary Swank reportedly made $75 a day for her gender-bending role in “Boys Don’t Cry.” At Oscar time, however, she spurned a $25,000 haute couture Dior couture dress made exclusively for her in favor of a gown from more conservative designer Randolph Duke. Only Halle Berry wins an award for choosing a dress as daring as her role in “Monster’s Ball.” In 2002, she wore a Valentino to the Golden Globes but flummoxed fashion critics at the Oscars in a mostly sheer burgundy dress by then-unknown Lebanese designer Elie Saab. “Her image in Elie Saab Couture on the cover of every major magazine around the world has been invaluable,” says Saab, whose red carpet career has flourished ever since.
Fashion critics are even more divisive than their film brethren — especially as awards shows like the Globes bring out a breed of tabloid-style arbiters that includes drag queens, reality stars and comics. Imagine Carrot Top critiquing Lars von Trier’s latest film and you get a sense of the climate around awards season. “The entertainment factor in fashion is so huge,” says stylist Vincent Boucher, who has dressed Jessica Alba and Teri Hatcher for the Globes. “Do I wish that a magazine didn’t have a panel of 12 second-rate comedians commenting on the red carpet? Yes!”
At last year’s Globes, the tabloids and blogs singled out two fashion disasters: Renee Zellweger, wearing an avant-garde Carolina Herrera with a sheer bodice and fishtail skirt, was deemed “goth tragic,” and Marisa Tomei, in a voluminous blouse by Oscar de la Renta, received a unanimous one-word review: pirate. Then again, Vogue spotlighted Zellweger and Tomei as being the best dressed. Same goes for Tilda Swinton, who consistently garners raspberries from the tabloids and raves from veritable fashion editors.
Young Guns, Old Gowns:
This year, newcomers like Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”) and Abbie Cornish (“Bright Star”) could nab Globe noms, but will these up-and-comers, in turn, embrace neophyte fashion designers? Probably not. “Carey Mulligan (“The Education”) might wear a new designer, but I think the others will go with big names,” predicts fashion critic Jessica Morgan, who covers the red carpet for New York magazine as half of the Fug Girls. “They’re all afraid to end up on the worst-dressed list.”
If anything, young actresses tend to dress for the careers they desire rather than celebrate their innocence. Case in point: Last year’s ingenue contender Amy Adams arrived at the Globes in a black, tulle appliqued Oscar de la Renta fit for Hollywood royalty. And though the 2008 Globes ceremony was canceled due to the writers strike, it’s unlikely that first-time nominee and winner Marion Cotillard would have donned a young unknown. For Oscar night, she went with a gown by John Galliano for Dior that took two months to construct.
When it comes to Golden Globe campaigns, Harvey Weinstein has nothing on Giorgio Armani. His house first started actively courting actresses to wear his designs to awards shows in the mid-’90s, and what was once a courtesy became a fierce competition among designers. The big guns — from Prada to Armani to Versace to Dior — now employ brand emissaries who start wooing stylists before the nominations are even announced, and Bronwyn Cosgrove, author of “Made for Each Other: Fashion and the Academy Awards,” has equated major Oscar coverage of a dress to a $25 million ad campaign.
For years, rumors have abounded about sizable cash payoffs for a guarantee that an actress will wear a specific gown or gems. Jet travel, private villa vacations and free clothes have been named as incentives. But what if the industry cracked down on all the lavish gifts and monies exchanged? “I would love to see the payoffs eliminated,” says one jewelry exec, who loans out millions of dollars in diamonds every awards season. “I have always said that the red carpet is going to end up like sports, with pro athletes and their sneaker deals. Celebs will be wearing some gown with a large logo on it.”