Since November, when Emmy Award participants were asked to don dressy business attire, instead of black-tie, as a show of respect for victims of Sept. 11, the inner circle of celebrity image makers has debated the role of flashy fashion at awards shows.
Yet nothing, it seems, can take the sparkle out of Hollywood.
"The red carpet has become a tradition," said Patty Fox, fashion coordinator of last year's Academy Awards and author of "Star Style at the Academy Awards" (Angel City Press, 2000). Black-tie glamour has been a part of the Academy Award ceremonies for most of its history, though beginning in 1942, the academy banned formal wear throughout World War II. Ingrid Bergman even wore the same dress to the 1944 and 1945 ceremonies. That would be unthinkable today.
Now, Fox observed, "the red carpet is a hotbed of trend making" that's synonymous with celebrity style. The Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2000 even created a special award to recognize the contributions of the red-carpet arrivals to fashion. This year's VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards included a new red-carpet award for well-dressed women stars.
Watching the Oscars, and to a lesser extent, the nearly three-dozen other televised show biz awards programs, has become an international cultural experience. "It's a big fashion show. People want to see who has taste and who doesn't," said wardrobe stylist Deborah Waknin. "It keeps the public happy."
As stylists for Globe nominees worked feverishly in the trenches this week, tracking down gowns, debating shoe styles and finalizing handbags for the black-tie event, Hollywood's dream-making machinery was running in high gear once again. Beverly Hills hotel suites were still full of companies eagerly plying their wares onto nominees and presenters. The mood was upbeat for the first major awards show of the year.
Though star advisors were careful to make clients appear dignified at the Emmys, many say they feel an adequate amount of grieving time has passed.
"Hollywood is itching to get back to what it does best," said wardrobe stylist Vincent Boucher. "It's sort of like actors are going back to doing their job, which is to be glamorous and a little bit larger than life." Boucher noted that stars have been re-embracing celebratory attire, such as the red gown on Marisa Tomei and the sapphire-blue gown on Patricia Heaton at the recent American Film Institute awards.
The red carpet represents more than a fun fashion show for fans. It's become a small industry in itself. When the Emmys were postponed and the format radically changed, executives who had allotted marketing money for the event were panicked about their present investment and the future of their celebrity-linked strategies, especially since some products never received exposure. If glitz vanished, many worried that the public wouldn't tune into awards shows to see stars in sensible business attire.
Indeed, ratings for the Emmys dropped 20% from the year before, in part because they were up against the final game of the World Series. Networks, which have embraced awards shows because they combine inexpensive production costs with a high glamour quotient, have a lot to lose. And dozens of fashion and beauty companies, not to mention celebrity magazines, would have to find equally enticing lures to their products.
If anything, the temporary void left by the Emmys' changed format seems to have prompted some fashion companies into pushing their marketing efforts even harder. Victoria's Secret is already announcing that it will create "diamond luxuries" for best-actress Oscar nominees. Shoemaker Stuart Weitzman is developing a $1-million pair of platinum sandals aimed at the feet of a yet-unnamed Oscar participant.
Jeweler Harry Winston has just created a 30-carat brooch that will be clipped to a special $390,000 satin evening bag for Oscar night to promote its new line of $1,200 to $5,000 jewel-embellished bags.
Every year, another company becomes more savvy about capitalizing on its red-carpet exposure.
Significantly, Harry Winston, where the average sale is $100,000, has recently broken with its own exclusive heritage to offer not only the bags, but also less expensive versions of jewelry worn on the red carpet.
When Gwyneth Paltrow accepted her Oscar wearing a $160,000 Winston diamond choker, more than 200 people called the company expressing interest in buying a version of the one-of-a-kind necklace. "If it were today," said company spokeswoman Carol Brodie, "we would be able to translate that piece into a $30,000 or $40,000 necklace. I want people to look at that movie star and, when they call the next day, be able to make a sale."
Some companies are avoiding accusations of excess by tying their promotions to charity. The Diamond Information Center asked 14 jewelers to create diamond necklaces to be worn at the Oscars, Globes or Grammys. For each necklace that's worn, the jewelers will donate $10,000 to the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
Even the Oscars shepherd, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is looking forward to the return of glamour.
"We are going formal -- it's definitely black-tie," said John Pavlik, spokesman for the organization. "People come to expect this. We want to live up to people's expectations as much as we can," he said. "I think recovery is well on its way. We want to help that along by looking as good as we can."
Simply put, the awards shows are fun. "It's not the cure for cancer," said Boucher, "but we all need a little humor in our lives."