Cannes Film Festival 2012: Pictures that are worth millions
The right dress + the right star + the Cannes red carpet = red-hot fashion sales. Luke Leitch checks the Croisette accounts.
You can tell just how important - and commercial - the Cannes red carpet has become by how rigorously it is organised. Like lollipop men, but dressed in tuxedos, there is a team whose sole job is to steer starlets through what has become the world's biggest fashion photo-opportunity - one that is almost as vital to oiling the wheels of Cannes as the films are.
This year, their work began at the opening ceremony of the 65th Film Festival on Wednesday. At 6.40pm, the celebrity traffic was light: they waved the Virginie Ledoyen straight through. Wearing an excellent, elegant Elie Saab dark green strapless gown, Ledoyen took five minutes to walk 20 yards, stopping every few feet to swivel, steady herself, tilt her head then pose for the bellowing, four-deep photographer-phalanxes.
Suddenly, a traffic jam: Jane Fonda, Lana Del Rey, Eva Herzigova, Freida Pinto, Jessica Chastain, Eva Longoria, Fan Bing Bing and many more all either sat on the sweltering Croisette in their cars (where, according to one red-carpet stylist, they would have had tissue wadded in their armpits to prevent staining their dress) or waiting in a holding area at the bottom of the carpet.
At 90-second intervals, the lollipop men gestured them forward for their slow, lurking progress up the carpet. Pinto (in split, peplummed Michael Angel dress) and Fonda (in a shimmering, mirrored Atelier Versace gown), were particularly excellent posers; Fonda jiggled, wiggled, grabbed Alec Baldwin in a bearhug and seemed delighted to be there, while Pinto's beaming grin seemed spontaneous, too. The excitable Frenchman commentating for the thousands of rubberneckers played a Del Rey song as the singer started her walk: within minutes, Italian designer Alberta Ferretti pressed "Send" on an email to thousands, announcing itself as the designer of the singer's dress.
Even off the record, no fashion house will admit to paying actresses or models to wear their their clothes on the Cannes red carpet. They will, however, gleefully whisper suggestions that all their rivals do. The truth is somewhere in between: some actresses take money to wear dresses, others have more hazy ties that dictate their choice. One French fashion VIP wrangler said yesterday: "We never pay people to wear our designs. Many do, though, and you can't blame the actresses. Ten thousand euros or more just to wear a dress for the night? I'd do it, wouldn't you?"
One of the most significant sprinklers of stardust in Cannes is not a designer but a jeweller. Knockout pieces by Chopard - which has been a part of the festival for 15 years - glittered on Del Rey, Berenice Bejo, Ledoyen, Fonda, Pinto, Bing Bing and Dolores Chaplin. Herzigova, an old friend of Chopard's co-president, Caroline Scheufele, wore a particularly amazing, lace-intricate, white-gold and diamond necklace designed by Scheufele for the company's exhibition of 25 unseen Marilyn Monroe photographs that opened here this week.
The phenomenon of fashion house-led red-carpet style began in 1995, when Barbara Tfank (Michelle Obama's favourite designer, btfank.com ) dressed Uma Thurman in a Tfank-refashioned Prada dress for the Oscars. From LA, Tfank said: "Modern films (excluding period films and TV) have become so 'real', perhaps people long for some aspirational fantasy? The red carpet harkens back to the glamour that Hollywood once embraced via its iconic stars and talented costume designers: think of Carole Lombard, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly. Now, the carpet has become the only outlet for stars where full-on glamour is expected and accepted."
So perhaps the film industry has missed a trick by sacrificing its on-screen glamour - and the fashion houses have just filled the gap. As costume designer Edith Head wrote in the 1970s: "We don't make glamorous movies today. Everything now is very realistic, artistic - and depressing. When is the last time you you saw a wonderful musical or a fabulous fantasy?" The answer is on Wednesday night, when those tuxedoed lollipop men choreographed the Cannes red carpet.