Attire should be “inspirational and aspirational, not casual.” The letter that the American Film Academy sent to the 170 invited to the Oscars 2021 made it clear. And the recipients demonstrated reading comprehension and sense of the show. After all, fashion is a fundamental element of the gala and is treated as such by organizers and participants: it not only helps to turn the show in what it is, but rather has the power to make dreams come true, to convey hope, to a global audience battered by the pandemic: there is life beyond the tracksuit. And maybe, by means of vaccination, there is it beyond the mask, intentionally disappeared from a face-to-face red carpet where clothing was also a message.
Many women used it in this 93rd edition to express themselves, be it Chloé Zhao in her white trainers, Regina King proud in her monumental Louis Vuitton, Glenn Close with her discreet and infallible Armani Privé or Frances McDormand wearing gray hair (and with a mask at the gala). The hackneyed elegance gave prominence to individuality, and this strange red carpet dotted with musical performances thus gained in authenticity and capacity for surprise, two qualities that are not in abundance.
Carey Mulligan decided to conjure one of the scientifically least flattering colors in the world – bronze – to become a walking statuette herself at the hand of Valentino. The same tone was chosen by Andra Day, by Vera Wang. This category of women not afraid to attract attention but dread to bore is completed with King, who put all the meat on the grill with his sculptural metallic Louis Vuitton design; Laura Dern, with a 2020 Oscar de la Renta topped with an impressive feathered skirt, reminiscent – distantly – of the mythical swan suit that Bjork wore in 2001; and Zendaya with a yellow strapless from Valentino, one of the brands with the most presence in this edition of the Oscars.
In spite of everything – or rather, because of everything that is happening – the general tone was more contained than usual. The director of Nomandland and winner of the statuette Chloé Zhao wore white sneakers and appeared almost without makeup and with her hair tied up in simple braids. The director and actress Emerald Fenell wore a Gucci floral print dress that could have been worn by Camilla Parker Bowles herself, whom she brings to life in The Crown. The singer-songwriter Tiara Thomas opted for a white suit by Jovana Louis, of Haitian origin, demonstrating that, if you like, the choice of wardrobe can have an intention beyond aesthetics. Viola Davis matched the color with her brocade Alexander McQueen. And Margot Robbie wore a Chanel metallic embroidered piece. No surprise, since the actress and producer is an ambassador for the French firm.
Red carpets are a tool for marketing essential for the luxury industry. And in a year with practically no face-to-face award ceremonies – or physical parades – it has been forced to reinvent its modus operandi. For decades, this profitable marriage between fashion and cinema worked like this: brands dress the participants (via promotional contract or by sincere aesthetic affinity) and manage to reinforce their image and their halo of glamour before its astronomical audiences -23.6 million in the last edition-, in addition to all those who subsequently consume information about the gala.
There is no catwalk in the world that has such depth and repercussion. Who does not remember the black Valentino with which Julia Roberts collected her award or the blue Ralph Lauren that Penelope Cruz wore to give hers to Pedro Almodóvar. That is why the red carpet is managed like the business that it is. And when the actors and actresses cannot walk on it as in the case of the Golden Globes, they feed their social networks with videos and photos where the designs are the protagonists; content that is sometimes richer and more qualitative than the brief seconds in which they are captured before entering the gala, but which does not have, even remotely, the same ability to penetrate the collective imagination. Because even if Laura Pausini posted pictures of her black Valentino quasi-birth on Instagram, the impact of seeing her on the Los Angeles carpet was incomparable.
In this edition of the Oscars, the two formats are combined and only subsequent analysis will say if they will continue to coexist in the future when it will be possible to hug on the red carpet again. While data is being processed, tweets Y likes; Logic dictates that choosing a fuchsia pink suit with embroidered crystals like Colman Domingo or a gold Brioni suit like Leslie Odom is a formula as old as it is effective to be memorable.
It would also have been to wear a design by Alber Elbaz, the admired French designer who passed away on the same day as the gala and who gave such good times to the red carpet by dressing Natalie Portman (2005), Meryl Streep (2012, 2015), Nicole Kidman (2012) and Tilda Swinton on several occasions. A missed opportunity to turn fashion, this time, into a message of respect and gratitude.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.