Both appearances proved more compelling than the fashion at Sunday’s Primetime Emmys. Which leads to a simple sartorial query: Why? Why, when one can uncover exquisite creations from fashion houses willing to do almost anything to get their merch on the backs of anyone famous? Why, when this is supposedly the golden age of fashion-celebrity fusion? There were few chances taken at Sunday night’s Emmys. January Jones tried her best in a complicated blue Versace bustier cutaway gown over Minnie Mouse — make that Miu Miu — pumps. Someone categorized the look as “a mullet dress — business in the front, party in the back.” At least she skirted boredom, while providing a moment of fancy. Then there was Lauren Graham in Yigal Azrouël with floppy white bib action going on.
Otherwise, most of the women given airtime looked — fill in your adjective: lovely, pretty, accessible. There was so much mass appeal in play that the event presented no more glamorously than your last black-tie wedding. Which is to say the women were attractive — good bodies in nice dresses, quietly festive hair and makeup — but nothing special. Surely anyone who longs for a little fantasy with her celebrity dress-up viewing went to bed unsatisfied, at least in the fashion sense.
Which is a shame, because there are spectacular event clothes out there, some both wearable and wondrous. And with enough diversity for a lineup of beautiful actresses to find something in which each could feel herself while fueling that aspirational breathlessness, a hint of the fantasy factor we want awards shows to elicit. These shows get their ratings largely on the promise of eye candy. But that candy has become so sensible that watching is like getting a bucketful of raisins on Halloween.
Blame Joan Rivers (disclaimer: blame assessed unscientifically and perhaps unfairly, as red-carpet fashion may already have been on the decline). When she was married to Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman wore one of the most beautiful dresses ever made to the Oscars (this is fashion — hyperbole allowed), a lavishly fringed, chinoiserie-embroidered acid green satin column. Rivers took one look and screeched something to the effect that the color was “the ugliest green you’ll ever see.”
From there, it seems, conservatism took over. Fear of morning-after trashing trumps daring, exacerbated by the ever-expanding need actresses feel to look rail thin. Thus, curtains for all but a few silhouettes: mermaid (represented on Sunday by Sofía Vergara in sexy yellow Carolina Herrera); column, usually multicrystalled (Claire Danes, Armani Privé); bustier ballgown (Dianna Agron, Carolina Herrera); Lillian Russell hourglass (Lea Michele, Oscar de la Renta and 400 carats of premature middle age). Recently, the newly populist goddess look has worked its way into the mix, a Marchesa example of which Kim Kardashian wore with considerable charm as she channeled J.Lo channeling Liz Taylor.
My personal Sunday favorite: Keri Russell, whose vintage Sherrer had a bit of personality (albeit with an ill-fitting bodice). Unlike my on-site colleagues who covered the event, I loved Rita Wilson in her Prada chandelier (though the shoes were overkill). It looked like — what’s that word? — fashion.
Granted, the Emmys are more low-key than the Oscars, but that event, too, swings toward mundane. If all of these awards shows are not venues for fabulous-looking women to wear the most fabulous-looking fashion, then what exactly do designers get out of their endless celebrity coddling?
Certainly not an aura of aspiration. With the exceptions of Wilson’s crystal cage and Anna Paquin’s daring, if difficult, Alexander McQueen, not a dress in sight had a look that cannot be replicated far down the food chain. (WWD featured a shoot of some such accessible eveningwear two weeks ago.)
For people who love fashion — including not-for-everyone, tough-to-knock-off, highly aspirational fashion — this is woeful. Part of the joy of fashion is its ability to inspire wonder at special moments. But it takes the right girl in the right dress to deliver on the promise.
That didn’t happen on Sunday night, and not for a dearth of riches. Just last month, I recall being in the midst of a voluptuous fashion garden, planted and sowed with exquisite audacity by John Galliano at Dior couture. Watching Sunday night’s bland-eur made me wonder all right — that maybe I’d swallowed a bad vitamin and hallucinated Galliano’s floral fashion feast.