When actors step out in front of the ShoWest crowd this week to offer up their latest films to exhibitors, they are most likely presenting an image created by a whole team of people, from fashion stylist to jeweler, makeup artist and hair dresser.
Nowadays, virtually every public appearance an A-list star makes is photographed and transmitted around the world, helping to fill the seemingly insatiable appetite for celebrity content. And that includes such erstwhile “insider” events as ShoWest.
“There has been a major shift in our coverage of celebrities in the last two years,” says Renata Espinoza, managing editor of Fashion Wire Daily. “We now assign photographers to shoot stars not just on the red carpet but at events like ShoWest or press junkets. Any place a star appears is fair game.”
Prime example: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were shot at last year’s exhib confab in Las Vegas. That glam image has been recycled so many times that most fashion and celeb-mag subscribers can describe exactly what each star was wearing.
It’s no longer just the Oscars and the Golden Globes and other televised award shows that compel celebs to put their best face forward. “People are now being styled every time they walk out in public, unless they are going to the grocery store,” says Lauri Eisenberg, a stylist for celebs as diverse as Matthew McConaughey and Courtney Love.
The fashion industry loves the attention. Brad and Angelina’s 2005 ShoWest tour turned into such a huge bang for Nicole Miller’s buck that this year’s Female Star of the Year, “V for Vendetta” headliner Natalie Portman, will have her choice of things to wear as she greets the ShoWesters.
“Today, they are very well prepared,” muses hair stylist Frederic Fekkai. “They have stylists to dress them. They have a makeup artist. They have a hair stylist like us, and they really have an army of people who are very well prepared to take care of them. It just wasn’t like that 10 years ago.”
The rise of the stylemaker has gone hand in hand with the increased circ of celebrity mags.
But it’s not just the paranoia of wearing the wrong dress one week and being trashed in Us magazine the next that is fueling the stylemaker trend, it is savvy marketing.
“The field has gotten so competitive that there are a lot of people who offer their services for free, just to work for a celebrity ,” says Eric Sakas, the creative director of Kevyn Aucoin cosmetics. “I’ve known makeup artists to say to a star, ‘I will pay to fly myself out to Los Angeles, put myself up in a hotel for the week, just to be able to work with you for an awards show, at absolutely no charge.’ ”
Although stylemakers give away their services just for the chance to be associated with a known face, they are also offered bribes by those wanting access to the stars. “The stylists of today, the way things are going, the rules seem to be if I pay them more, maybe they’ll use me,” says fine jewelry designer Erica Courtney. “We have not done that, I don’t understand it. Because I think that the people who are doing it are better than that. It sure takes the glamour out of Hollywood.”
Sooner or later, it had to happen: Paid for or not, the red carpet product placement has started to go awry. Take the Chanel snafu at this year’s Golden Globes. Dressing Reese Witherspoon in a so-called “vintage” frock, Chanel had actually put Kirsten Dunst in the same dress just two short years ago at the Golden Globes. And on this same recent Golden Globes night, Chanel also dressed Natalie Portman in a dress that Debra Messing had worn on a previous red carpet. Trashy or not, Cher never had these problems!
“The Reese dress was a huge gaffe,” says one designer publicist. “And the sad thing was how much play it got. Reese had just won a Golden Globe, but that stylist error was all people were talking about.”
Stylemakers took a hit, but the burgeoning business of dressing celebs from top to toe continues apace. “None of my clients will actually pay for placement, but the amount of competition for a finite number of stars has become tremendously fierce,” comments Sara Stein of SPR Public Relations. “The pressure is on to create bells and whistles and events and suites, all to lure in the celebrities or their stylists, who are really just as important to reach as the stars themselves.”
The proliferation of awards suites at events like ShoWest or the Oscars has produced a glut of free goodies, but not all that much free advertising.
Soured on suite
“I don’t do gift bags, I don’t do gifting suites, I don’t do anything of that nature,” says Matt Meyerson of BWR Public Relations. “It’s a complete waste of time, because that’s a forced endorsement.” His clients, like the Rebel Yell clothing line, are all over celebrities’ backs. (Think Ashton Kutcher, Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton.)
Meyerson gives away his clients’ products — but not in a gifting-suite. “There’s 8 million brands, they’re all competing for only a finite bit of press,” he says. For small brands especially, it doesn’t make sense to spend thousands on a gifting suite and give away $20,000 in product. “And then people see Paris Hilton holding my shampoo bottle, and everyone’s gonna go buy it?” he asks rhetorically. “It’s ridiculous.”
And much more than ridiculous is the fact that the general public has gotten very savvy about such product placement among the red-carpet crowd, “And they’re no longer buying it,” says Meyerson.
“You can’t force it,” says Stein, “and we all see the pictures of it being forced, and it looks completely false.”
Not that the swag is going the way of the way of shag.
“As long as there are gifting suites, and as long as it is an opportunity for people to receive free gifts, I don’t see it stopping,” says Stein. “I can’t imagine that it is going to I go anywhere, because people like it.”