Today’s biggest fashion players are rewriting awards show style rules, going for drama, self-expression and authenticity — to great rewards.
From gender-bending ensembles to explosive volume to nontraditional silhouettes, the red carpet has become a stage for envelope pushing outfits and intrepid identity displays. Gone are the post-election days of somber awards attire — in these capricious times, stars are taking unprecedented risks and redefining what constitutes formal wear.
“When we get on that carpet, to us, it’s really a theatrical performance,” says Billy Porter’s stylist Sam Ratelle. “The carpet is your stage, he is the vessel and he’s acting through the clothing; we’re telling stories. He’s always stated that he wants to be political art, and he wants his wardrobe to say something. So we’re trying to tell as many stories as we can, based on the event, the climate and what’s happening now.”
With Porter’s looks, Ratelle aims “to blur the line between masculinity and femininity.” For the Globes, he and designer Alex Vinash reinterpreted the classic men’s tuxedo. Porter’s all-white suit with removable feathered train symbolized “peace, hope and new beginnings.”
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“We discussed the idea of having a necktie and when one can be exempt from doing so at a formal event,” says Ratelle, who sought an alternative source of neckwear. “I figured a multimillion-dollar, 40-carat Tiffany & Co. diamond necklace would do just fine.”
Inspired by glam rock icon David Bowie, Porter’s green Hogan McLaughlin jumpsuit at the Critics’ Choice Awards “pushed the boundaries of an androgynous punk aesthetic.” “I’m all about a reveal and the thought of people being surprised that it was a pantsuit excited me, because you can’t really tell it is until he starts walking,” Ratelle says.
They added temporary tattoos of butterflies to convey Porter’s 2020 theme of freedom. “The thrill of being Billy Porter’s creative director is that he is also an artist with a strong desire to take risks and make bold statements.”
Porter isn’t alone. At the Emmys, “Pose” co-creator Steven Canals wore a sequined Viktor Luna jacket with train-like sleeves, and “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness’ dress boasted a supersized bow. “Fleabag’s” Andrew Scott appeared most un-priest like at the Critics’ Choice Awards in a loud red and fuchsia Berluti look. For the Gotham Awards, Sam Rockwell sported a “silver and chaotic” Berluti jacket that stylist Michael Fisher says referenced his “explosive” acting.
“I think there has been this shift on the red carpet, and particularly in awards season, of black-tie formal wear being dressed down and reinterpreted, kind of reinvented,” Fisher says. “I think of Timothée Chalamet and Cody Fern from ‘American Horror Story’ — these are guys that are really pushing boundaries of what a tuxedo looks like and what’s appropriate for an awards carpet. They’re not at all contained or following any rules of what’s appropriate attire.”
Chalamet — whose Louis Vuitton “harness” at last year’s Globes went viral — sparkled in a Swarovski crystal embroidered Louis Vuitton hoodie at the BFI London Film Festival. At Venice, he debuted “The King” in a silver-belted Haider Ackermann suit, and at the National Board of Review Awards, Chalamet paired a peace sign T-shirt with a retro Stella McCartney tux.
Women have also been playing with tuxedo hybrids and formality standards. At the Globes, Kerry Washington went shirtless in a black Altuzarra jacket, high-slit skirt and glitzy body chain. Awkwafina similarly had fun with separates, combining two Dior Couture runway looks, a gown and short suit.
“It’s a nice marriage of old and new, where it’s a tuxedo look but also a gown,” says her stylist Erica Cloud. “It’s not your classic pant look — this was a nice play on that. Billy Porter could have worn it! I think that’s the beauty of this day and age, where [the tuxedo] is not conformed to one certain type of person or role.”
“Knives Out” breakout Ana de Armas generated fashion buzz by rocking an Alexandre Vauthier tuxedo at the BFI fest. “There’s a joke in my office that I’ll put every one of my clients in a tux at some point,” says her stylist Karla Welch. “Olivia [Wilde] did it nine years ago for ‘Tron,’ before anybody was doing it. For the Japan premiere, she wore a Stella McCartney tux and it was like, ‘Oh!’ Maybe it was a risk then, but I think we have such fluidity in dressing. I was thrilled Ana wore it.”
Phoebe Waller-Bridge exuded “cool girl” at the Globes in a black lace Ralph & Russo suit — even more so after auctioning it off for Australian wildfire relief. Millie Bobby Brown’s request for “a masculine but very feminine” SAG look yielded a white Louis Vuitton dress over pants, and Margaret Qualley’s black wool Chanel pantsuit conveyed the same comfortable-chic ease as Margot Robbie’s awards looks this season by the house.
Saoirse Ronan and Zoey Deutch have also made cases for wide-leg jumpsuits.
“For me, it was the next step from the tuxedo,” says Elizabeth Saltzman, who styled Ronan in an Emilia Wickstead gingham jumpsuit for the Governors Awards. “I loved the ‘feminine tomboy’ going on. It was powerful, like, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to wear that dress!’ She looks cool, fresh and effortless.”
Saltzman had never seen that type of jumpsuit at an awards event previously. “Now, look at [Deutch] who wore the yellow Fendi to the Globes! It looked great. Anything goes right now.”
Voluminous silhouettes with strong shoulders are rebranding femininity. At the Globes, Jodie Comer and Olivia Colman were among the women showcasing powerful, ballooning sleeves. “The Crown” winner Colman’s red Emilia Wickstead dress was worthy of royalty. “The puff sleeves were an element of drama that added an empowering but feminine touch and were a good balance to the simplicity of the rest,” says her stylist Miranda Almond.
Stylist Jason Bolden wanted “Harriet” star Cynthia Erivo’s looks to be “as big and beautiful and bold as Harriet [Tubman] was.” “She’s one girl who is not afraid of volume, print or color,” he says of Erivo, who wore a cascading floral Marc Jacobs gown to the L.A. premiere and a patterned Fendi Couture design to the Critics’ Choice Awards.
Her Palm Springs Fest Schiaparelli couture look paid tribute to Whitney Houston in “The Bodyguard,” and she picked a dramatic pink dress by the designer for the SAG Awards.
“She is such a couture girl — she loves to wear the things that people normally wouldn’t gravitate towards, because they’re really hard looks,” Bolden says. “She is what fashion needs — we need people that really love the art.”
Erivo arrived with spikes on her head to the Hollywood Film Awards — “she wanted to do an ode to her underground cool times in London,” Bolden says. “Or sometimes Cynthia will wake up and be like, ‘I think I want lilac hair today.’” A jewelry “fanatic,” Erivo has multiple piercings and piles on pieces in a way he finds “extremely authentic. [She has] that type of ambition and courage and also the tenacity to be like, ‘I’m going to be me.’”