Sunday 22 July 2018

It's high time Oscars rolled out red-carpet dress revolution

As Hollywood's women refuse to conform, let's hope they also have a rebellious style sense, writes Sophie Donaldson

Allison Janney at the Baftas
Allison Janney at the Baftas
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

The lead up to tonight's Oscars has been unlike anything before. While speculation is usually reserved for the guessing game of who will pick up Best Picture, this year the focus has shifted to both the treatment and representation of women in Hollywood.

Awards season has officially been hijacked by this political awakening and the red carpet has become a platform for resistance. An all-black dress code was introduced at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, while at the Grammys red carpet attendees clutched single white roses, in a show of solidarity for the Time's Up movement.

There has been no official report that tonight's Oscars attendees will be asked to wear all black. It is thought some may don a Time's Up badge as a nod to the ongoing campaign to address systemic sexism in Hollywood and beyond.

It's undoubtedly high time that Hollywood's treatment of women underwent a shake-up of revolutionary proportions. On a lighter note, and beyond the all-black #metoo dress code, red carpet dressing really needs a revolution, too.

Last week, director Sofia Coppola penned an op-ed for W Magazine, bemoaning the state of red carpet dressing. Coppola, who is a Marc Jacobs muse and style connoisseur, believes stylists are "killing red carpet style".

She's completely right. Year after year, the Best Dressed list is a homogenous line up of actresses in either non-offensive pastel gowns or bland LBDs. Anyone who dares flout this unspoken dress code is banished to the Worst Dressed list, thought to be the last bastion of bad taste.

But how wrong they are. A quick browse of recent Worst Dressed nominees reveals a refreshing display of individualism and devil-may-care attitude. At the recent BAFTAs Allison Janney (pictured right) made many Worst Dressed lists for her sculpted gown by Indian-born designer Bibhu Mohapatra. The dress was certainly not a safe choice but it was bold, just like Janney - it's little coincidence the 58-year-old was later photographed leaving the after party in her bare feet.

Coppola points out that red carpet dressing lost its joie de vivre when "failed fashion editors from New York moved to Los Angeles and invented the culture of the celebrity stylist", and when designers like Giorgio Armani began dressing celebrities in turn for exposure. She recounts the story of Anjelica Huston's 1986 Academy Awards dress for which the actress had to supply the fabric, and points out this would never happen today.

Of course, the industry has moved on since the 1980s with fashion and Hollywood now inextricably linked. Some of these designer-actress-stylist relationships have produced stunning red carpet moments, like Saoirse Ronan's asymmetrical Versace gown at the recent Golden Globes, devised by celebrity stylist Elizabeth Saltzman.

But for the most part, these fail-safe partnerships result in what can only be described as both safe and a complete fail.

As well as the influx of celebrity stylists and designer endorsements, fashion really only has itself to blame for the lack of imagination on the red carpet. In an attempt to out-shock past ensembles, stylists and stars have gone to extreme lengths to make headlines with their outfits, personal style be damned.

Liz Hurley's safety pin Versace gown at the 1994 premier of Four Weddings and a Funeral shocked at the time, but it would barely raise half an eyebrow in the era of the 'naked dress'. The proliferation of these totally sheer gowns has reached saturation point, and it is now more shocking to see a celebrity covered up than it is to catch a glimpse of her buttocks through her mesh skirt.

"I wish we lived in a culture where the actresses who aren't afraid to take daring roles in films could also take some chances and dress like themselves," Coppola says.

As Hollywood's women refuse to conform to long-held gender roles, let's hope they reject long-held ideas of what it is to be the best dressed, too.

Sunday Independent

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