The Glossy: Melissa Rivers on Red Carpet's 'Loss of Fun'
Fear, touchiness, cash deals to wear dresses...all have stifled Oscars' splendor
I’m Vincent Boucher, fashion journalist and former celebrity stylist.
The Glossy is my take in the ramp-up to the Oscars on the nexus of fashion and entertainment, who’s making money now and how, and the most inventive looks in film and TV. We hope to come back and join you for Emmy season as well. Last week, we talked about the new tux luxe, a Chanel showdown, and the chicest accessory on the red carpet: supporting Ukraine.
Today is about lots of touchy subjects: political correctness that has paralyzed the red carpet, the stars who will show up early to support the early un-aired Oscars, and the appropriateness of even partying right now (you have permission).
Please let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org and thanks for reading.
1. WHAT WOULD JOAN SAY TODAY?
Any time you talk about the red carpet today, it’s inevitable to remember the ‘aughts and the legendary figure who made “who are you wearing?” a cultural touchstone. That would be the late Joan Rivers, and so who better to ask about the current state of the red carpet than her award-season accomplice and daughter, Melissa Rivers. (Besides, Melissa has a new book out next month, Lies My Mother Told Me: Tall Tales from a Short Woman, and, though I only met Joan a few times in passing, I know she’d want me to start by plugging her daughter’s new work.)
Melissa also spoke of the same numbing loss of individuality in the time since those storied beginnings, as controlling publicists and moneybag fashion houses have had their way with Hollywood’s award attendees.
However, she reminisced that one of her all-time favorite red carpets was, surprisingly, Golden Globes 2018 when all the nominees were asked to wear black in recognition of #MeToo, an event she covered after her mother’s passing and also after Fashion Police was off the air.
“It was like the greatest kind of Project Runway competition ever because there were ‘rules’ but everybody still looked totally different, and people's personalities came out again. That was one of the best ones ever,” she says. “Everybody had to be more involved and work a little harder to make it different and have it reflect them. And I was like, ‘Can we have this at every award show?’”
Now, Melissa says, with Covid-19 hopefully receding, she’s heartened that people are starting to dress up have some fun again. “We lost the fun,” she emphasizes.
Nevertheless, she knows her mother’s brand of skewering celebrity fashion wouldn’t exactly fly today.
“Someone said to me, why don't you bring the Fashion Police back? Well, part of the show was people who were giving their honest thoughts and you can't do that anymore. And if you do try and do it, you have to quantify and qualify it so much that it loses the entertainment,” she says.
“If you want to say that you don't like someone’s dress, now, you would have to say, ‘Well, I really like the person and they're super-talented, and they’re a good person and they're incredibly gorgeous. And their body is amazing. And I think that the dress, I understand that the designer is a genius and I'm not insulting the design. Maybe this is not my favorite thing I've ever seen them to do but that doesn't mean that it’s not beautiful and they’re not brilliant,’” she says.
“It would be a monologue for each dress, just to not have people not get mad,” she muses.
“But we're talking about clothing, and you don't like everything you see in a magazine most of the time, right,” she says of criticism that such commentary was demeaning to women. “And we don't like one $15,000 dress that you wore to one of the 10 awards shows? That you got for free? I think we’re putting a little too much emphasis on it. And that’s what I mean by the loss of fun.”
What she does applaud is the new wave of creative leaders, stylists and hair and makeup artists that have brought some much-needed diversity to the red carpet. “From the point of view of fashion, they’ve blown the doors off.”
So, like everyone else she’ll be watching Sunday, though she tends to watch the award show a bit later in the evening, after setting her DVR so she can fast-forward during commercials.
“But I do sit there with my laptop going through Getty photos (of the red carpet) as fast as they come in.”
2. THE OSCAR’S ON-THE-MONEY TREND: MONEY
I called up a Hollywood fashion insider intending to ask about probable red-carpet fashion trends, and whether people were going all-out because they’ve been sprung from the pandemic lockdown or holding back on sparkles and long trains because of the larger picture of the awful war in Ukraine.
My friend stopped me cold, saying flatly: “It's not like that anymore, Vincent. There's too much money floating around. The days of stylists pulling and feeling inspired and loving something…it’s just different. It’s much harder to track any sort of fashion trends. I mean, what are there, like two women nominees who probably aren’t getting paid to wear something?”
Then we tracked down the Best Actress nominee list.
As has been noted in this column before, Penélope Cruz and Kristen Stewart are both ambassadors for the House of Chanel. Check.
Jessica Chastain? “I believe she’s the new face of Gucci.” Check.
Nicole Kidman? “Armani’s throwing her a dinner tonight. It’s like they’re not even trying to be discreet about it.” Check.
Judy Dench and Olivia Colman are both wild cards, my friend added.
Of the other Supporting Actress nominees, word around town is that Ariana DuBose is wearing Valentino. Jesse Buckley and Kirsten Dunst can’t be pinned down yet. And people are still guessing what Aunjanue Ellis has selected to wear.
“And Lady Gaga’s still a wild card,” my friend mused about the presenter. However, given that she’s worn Armani, Gucci and Ralph Lauren so far to the big awards this season, it’s got to be something major.
The men’s side is just as sewn up. “You have Kodi Smit-McPhee in Bottega Veneta, right? Will Smith in Dolce & Gabbana. Javier Bardem is the face of Zegna. Andrew Garfield is the face of Saint Laurent. I would guess Denzel is in Armani.”
Has the red carpet become just a series of advertisements, the major players walking billboards? “The game’s just not that much fun anymore,” my friend finishes. “The days of Halle Berry and Ellie Saab and changing someone’s career are gone,” they add, referring to the 2002 Oscars when Best Actress Berry made the then-unknown Lebanese designer a household name.
I did hear, though, that one presenter will be honoring the Ukrainian struggle by wearing a gown by one of the country’s impressive design talents but was unable to confirm at press time. Hopefully, there will be more than one.
3. OSCAR’S 4 P.M. REBELS
The Academy Awards are finally here. Having outrun a worldwide pandemic, amidst a war on the other side of the globe, an outcry over the truncated live awards presentation, they’ve even survived the coup de grace of The New York Times’ columnist Ross Douthat leading off the award weekend with the stark declaration: “We Aren’t Just Watching the Decline of the Oscars. We’re Watching the End of Movies.” Hyperbole, much? Sadly, probably not.
Nonetheless, the full-fledged award show is back and so is the Oscar red carpet at the Dolby Theater, last sighted just days before the world went into lockdown two years ago.
A bit of news…as everyone knows, AMPAS’ intends to give out eight of the so-called “craft” awards before the broadcast (and let’s name them again, just to make a point: film editing, production design, sound, makeup and hairstyling, music-original score and the three short film awards for documentary, live-action and animated short) at the ceremony before the live broadcast begins on ABC.
The plan is to drop clips of these acceptance speeches into the televised portion of the show, and it has been a headache for the Academy and producer Will Packer that just hasn’t gone away. Packer and co. were still defending the move for the sake of entertainment value even in a news conference late this week.
What I’m hearing is that many of the biggest names are planning to show up to the Oscars early. The thinking is that they want to be in their seats by 4 p.m. PDT for the pre-show presentation, as a gesture of support.
Best Actress nominee Jessica Chastain, for one, plans to be there when the Best Makeup and Hair award is presented, amid others who were not named.
“People are recognizing how important it is for us, to celebrate the people behind the scenes,” one insider tells me. “It's interesting that people are upping their arrival time because they recognize that in as much as the directors and the best pictures and the actors are important, it's also everybody behind the scenes that makes for a fantastic project.”
The biggest stars often waited in the past to make an entrance closer to the actual start time; this runs counter to usual form. And the fact that the exclusive ABC preshow starts at 3:30 only leaves a half hour for the big names to greet ABC’s red carpet hosts Vanessa Hudgens, Terrence J, and designer Brandon Maxwell. All of which suggests that there might be a logjam to get inside in those 30 minutes and perhaps some of these stars will decide to skip the red-carpet hoo-ha altogether.
4. OSCAR NIGHT’S TRIP WIRES
For any star navigating the red carpet this year, there are bound to be some trip wires. I was wondering if the war in Ukraine and general world situation was casting a pall and asked an A-list stylist who has several clients attending the awards. She told me that people’s feelings were mixed.
“I think that there's a certain amount of fear that how can we be celebrating when there are people who are suffering so badly,” she says. “But I think that there's also a certain recognition that if it were not for all these amazing shows, these movies, how would we have survived the pandemic? And Zelensky himself is an actor, right?”
She added that she’s definitely had clients stressing about whether they should be dressing up and hitting the red carpet and doing a fashion twirl. “Then I told them, ‘Hey, you know what, you might provide an escape for somebody who is otherwise suffering and maybe they get to hear you and you can use your platform in a manner with which to highlight what's going on. But I do know there’s a little trepidation.”
Whatever mixed feelings attendees are having, the awards weekend is back in full swing, from the Oscars themselves to the Elton John to Guy Oseary afterparties, and the much protested Jay-Z Chateau Marmont fete.
So, in some regards, the question is moot.
“The one thing that I have to say,” my stylist friend adds, “is that that maybe the pandemic and political situation has made people realize how wonderful our red carpet has become, in the sense that there's been a welcoming of people all different genders, of people of all different, shapes sizes, and ethnicities and faiths. And at the awards this year, we may have the first woman ever to win for director of photography. I feel like there might be a celebration of some progress.”
I got a heartfelt late email from a second big stylist who is also working with one of the nominees among her other clients, who I had asked about whether the war was casting a pall: “Everyone I am working with is helping in some way — mostly through various causes — and we continue on with this weekend very mindful of the freedom we have to do so.”
I’ve also heard that many stylists are asking the big fashion house to do away with sending them the usual big congratulatory bouquets of flowers the day after and asking that they instead donate to causes like Doctors Without Borders or José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen.
Thanks for reading! Happy Oscars, however you choose to celebrate. I’ll see you back here next week with some analysis of the big night.
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