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Red Carpet’s Big Bust: Fashion Counts Cost Of Hype-Less Oscars

If a star wears your gown to the Oscars, but no one knows who’s name is on the label, was the investment worth it? So far, most designers say yes.

HOLLYWOOD— Designers and jewelers from Milan to New York awoke Monday contemplating the same question: If a star wears your gown or gems to the Oscars but no one knows who’s name is on the label, was the investment and effort worth it?

So far, the companies — despite all evidence to the contrary — insist the answer is an emphatic yes. It just may take longer to recoup their investments.

Before the war with Iraq and the decision by the Academy of Motion Pictures of Arts & Sciences to scale back the red carpet, the 75th anniversary of the Oscars was meant to be an all-out celebration of glamour and glitz. Instead, it was, for all intents and purposes, a bust for the extensive cottage industry that feeds from it. As the fashion and luxury goods industries well know, the Academy Awards are now perhaps more about brand awareness than the little gold statue. It’s why custom gowns and rare rocks are loaned out with a wink and a promise that the famous wearer serve as unofficial and (generally) unpaid spokesperson.

What the fashion industry got instead were stars who seemed reluctant to even talk about their dresses or jewelry while sticking with their original choices. That may have been by design: One of the nominee’s managers let it slip that many talent publicists gathered for an emergency meeting after war broke out and decided that their Oscar-bound A-list clients should go with their first choice of dresses. That way, no one went so subtle that those who were dressed up would appear unpatriotic.

The stars’ sudden shyness to talk couture created a stream of uniformed comment. Not even Joan Rivers at a hotel across the street could tell TV viewers what designers were worn by which actresses. Even ABC’s post-show hour failed to deliver when its sartorial experts, including the Academy’s fashion director Patty Fox, couldn’t name anything more than the $1.45 million necklace Queen Latifah wore — and even then she mistook the Harry Winston rocks for DeBeers.

The designers, at least publicly, claim it doesn’t matter, given the circumstances. Carolina Herrera, who did Renée Zellweger in ruby and loaned Salma Hayek a look the designer first wore eight years ago, said, "I don’t think the lack of a red carpet will affect my business in any way. We are at war and it was appropriate to do what they did. They all made a big effort to be there and to dress up. They were all photographed — I think they did it the right way."
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