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The Cannes Red Carpet Creates Global Brand Excitement

For almost two weeks every year, the Côte d’Azur comes to a near standstill as the glitterati descend upon Cannes for the film festival. Over seven decades, iconic images snapped by a phalanx of photographers have immortalized the famed festival, and cemented the marriage between the worlds of film and fashion. Which begs the question: What’s a major Cannes moment worth to a fashion brand by way of impact?

A Cannes moment is priceless, says Micaela Erlanger, who dressed Lupita Nyong’o in grasshopper green Gucci in 2015. “That moment in particular was a special one,” says Erlanger, “because it was the first red carpet moment under Alessandro Michele’s creative direction, and for it to be so well received, and highly covered by the press, really solidified the brand.”

“It’s very difficult to measure the impact,” says Said Cyrus, co-founder and head of design at Catherine Walker, the British label behind one of the most iconic moments in Cannes’ history — Princess Diana’s ice-blue gown in 1987, which the late royal wore to the premiere of Lindsay Anderson’s “The Whales of August,” capping off British Day at the festival.

Lupita Nyong’o captured the romance of Cannes in her chiffon Gucci gown.
VILLARD/NIVIERE/SIPA

“If we sold ready to wear and a celebrity wore our design, then the impact could be measured aligned to sales off the peg in the immediate aftermath. But for couture, the impact is felt over many months or even years.” To wit, the label remains a royal favorite today by way of Diana’s sartorial heir (and wife of her son Prince William), Kate Middleton.

“Cannes is a unique moment in the cultural calendar,” says Nadja Swarovski, who worked with Sienna Miller in 2015 when the jury member wore Atelier Swarovski jewelry throughout the festival.

“While the Oscars and other award ceremonies celebrate outstanding moments from the previous year, Cannes is about looking forward and discovering new talent, which is very exciting.” Swarovski witnessed first-hand the festival’s icon-making power when relative newcomer Ruth Negga commanded the red carpet — wearing sheer Marc Jacobs and Atelier Swarovski by Peter Pilotto earrings — at the Cannes premiere of “Loving” last year.

“The value to brands is twofold: it’s a fantastic opportunity both to celebrate culture and creativity, and to capture the attention of the world’s press,” says Swarovski, who notes that the “As Seen On” section on the Atelier Swarovski website is one of the most popular.

“The thing about Cannes is that it’s such an international platform,” says Erlanger. “Sure the Oscars and the Golden Globes and the other film festivals are seen across the globe, but Cannes is very different because inherently there’s an international crowd there — international actors, films from all over the world, producers, directors, the people buying the films, all of the media groups and then of course all the media outlets. So for a moment, it’s transformed from this beautiful port to the epicenter of fashion and entertainment, and in a global sense, so the impact is a lot different.”

In 1987, all eyes at Cannes were on Princess Diana in an ice- blue Catherine Walker gown.
STEVE WOOD/REX/Shutterstock

“Everyone in all the world is watching,” says Elizabeth Stewart, stylist to one of this year’s jury members, Jessica Chastain, who has enjoyed many memorable moments on the Croisette. “Cannes has real glamour,” says Stewart. “With the advent of ‘branded backdrops,’ so much glamour and sense of place has been lost … Cannes still has that. It’s a true red carpet with the iconic stairs and banks of tuxedo-ed photographers.”

There’s just something in the air, says Erlanger. “You’re in the South of France, and there’s a feeling and a sentiment and mood that comes along with it,” she says. “Look at what people have worn over the years — Jessica Chastain in that lavender Elie Saab blowing in the wind, Lupita in the green chiffon, Rachel McAdams in that iconic Marchesa, Blake Lively in iridescent Chanel Couture — they all have such a softness to them. Cannes presents an opportunity to explore that romanticism and also to have access to the European couture. Those specialty dresses are more readily available for Cannes because of the visibility that they receive and because of the talent that is there and the films that are being celebrated.”

Throw in the magical backdrop of the Riviera coastline, the azure ocean and the palm trees, and it’s a match made in celluloid — and brand marketing — heaven.

“The carpet’s not actually that long, but it’s really wide,” says Erlanger, “and so it’s very dramatic when you have the photographers on both sides, and then the stairs leading up — the photos are just sensational.”

One of last year’s most photographed moments was an Armani Privé-clad Julia Roberts walking up the famous steps — barefoot. And not as a protest to the festival’s anti-flats policy, says Stewart, her stylist. “It was so she didn’t fall!”

Perhaps the real impact of Cannes is the privilege of being part of a moment preserved for posterity. Says Cyrus of working with the late Princess Diana, who died on Aug. 31, 1997, “It was a seminal moment and a time of great pride for all of us involved behind the scenes.”

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