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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.

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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."
But the costs to play the Oscars game are steep. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are invested in the outreach and coverage of the big show and the many activities leading up to it, from peppy TV segments shot at suites and showrooms for the evening entertainment shows to the dozens of photo ops that ultimately end up in magazine trend reports in the months following Sunday’s broadcast.

Entertainment Tonight and the like were mostly usurped by the nonstop war coverage on the networks. Even so, publicists strived to get B-listers to their hotel suites. "Anyone for the client," huffed a publicist from a multivendor suite late Friday night. But "anything" won’t exactly pay off for the brands or the photographers documenting the week, who already stood to lose upwards of $150,000 from Sunday alone when the Academy scaled back the responsibility to only a handful of wire lensmen.

And companies from the Banana Republic to Garrard shelled out quite a bit to host events, which turned up little in the way of star wattage. One of the best-attended events of the week, in fact, turned out to be the Global Vision for Peace party Thursday night at Talmadge House, which attracted Marcia Gay Harden and Drew Barrymore. If any designer got buzz this year, it was Henry Dunay, who created the dove peace pin connected with the Global Peace event— the pin was worn by Susan Sarandon, Pedro Almodovar and Adrien Brody to the Oscars.

"I think there’s going to be a lot less exposure for the designers because there was less press access — and because the actors felt uncomfortable going out at all," Kim Vernon, senior vice president of global advertising and communications at Calvin Klein, said Monday. She claimed there was a lot less drama than expected after the red carpet was cut. Subdued backups were offered, and a nearly six-months-pregnant Jennifer Connolly kept her black choice.

Still, Calvin Klein, like many other houses, remains hopeful that the Oscars would have a positive ripple effect. "I don’t think it’s going to affect sales directly," Vernon said. "I don’t think most designers do this because they want to sell the exact dress on Renée Zellweger. But there was certainly less focus on the clothes this year. A lot of the stars didn’t even go to Vanity Fair."
The magazine’s Oscar after-party remained the one hope for glamour, even though it was widely known that its red carpet had also been pulled and photo opportunities were limited to an in-house photographer. Nicole Kidman (in Jean Paul Gaultier Couture), Diane Lane (in Oscar de la Renta), Cameron Diaz (in Prada) and Julianne Moore (in Yves Saint Laurent) all turned out at Vanity Fair’s decidedly more somber event at Morton’s Sunday night. "Fashion houses kept calling me all week offering more demure dresses," said L’Wren Scott, who styled all three actresses but kept close to Moore and Tom Ford at the party. "I said, ‘My girls were sticking with their original choices.’"

Indeed, when the abridged pre-show began on ABC, the fashion media was caught slightly off guard at the sight of Zellweger in her ruby Herrera and Jennifer Garner in her pastel blue Versace. "The expectation was that it was going to be a sea of black," said Los Angeles Times fashion editor Booth Moore, "and, as we reported, the celebrities seemed to stick to Plan A, going with spring’s trend toward bright colors. It became news."

"Everyone kept wondering all week what everybody else was wearing so they wouldn’t be inappropriate," said a Chanel spokeswoman. "There was a lot of panic. But in the end, there was more panic than switching of dresses." As for the French house being a no-show on the Oscar red carpet this year (Amanda Peet wore a white Chanel to the Vanity Fair party), the spokeswoman explained it away as being a matter of an early couture showing and private clients who didn’t want to see their looks on the red carpet.

Particularly affected, however, were the jewelry houses that were banking on this being the big show’s diamond anniversary. Save for the Harry Winston ice around Queen Latifah’s neck, the trend that emerged was chandelier earrings and cocktail rings in less blatant sapphires, coral and emeralds — and with only a sprinkling of diamonds.

Like her competitors, Mara Leighton of Fred Leighton, remained optimistic Monday. "Did we have to work harder? We always work hard. But I think it made what we were doing even more important this year. I think the press had to dig deeper — we got a lot more direct calls from the media, who often go with what they hear on the red carpet. But I don’t think this will affect our business that much. Our pieces are mostly one-of-a-kind and we just like to show people that vintage and estate jewelry can be relevant to today’s fashion. I think we will have accomplished that."
The evening’s winners, of course, sang a different tune Monday morning.

Donatella Versace may have canceled her trip, but with Kate Hudson, Jennifer Garner, Heather Graham, Anjelica Huston and a very pregnant (and winner as best-supporting actress) Catherine Zeta-Jones in Versace, a spokesman admitted the house had little to complain about. Images of Hudson, Garner and Zeta-Jones, in particular, had already been splashed through the media Monday. "This was not an ideal situation, but it was much more about fulfilling the needs of our clients," he said, noting many had ordered color copies of black looks from the recent fall runway show. "There were no last-minute changes."

Similarly encouraged was Valentino, who recreated for Jennifer Lopez the mint toga he first designed for Jackie Kennedy. He watched the show from Chateau Wideville, his estate outside Paris. "Everybody was very elegant and very appropriate for the moment," he observed.

For years, designers have willingly talked about the orders filled for a dress seen on TV on the red carpet the night before. Then there’s the real business of the outreach: the lipsticks, underwear and handbags sold worldwide that have nothing to do with the actual Oscars gown and everything to do with the aspirational effect it has on consumers from Kansas to Kuwait.

"We’re in the entertainment business and our job is to uplift people in times like these," said New York makeup artist Scott Barnes, who colored and shimmered Jennifer Lopez and Kate Hudson in Dior cosmetics. "We thought it was the time to rise to the occasion and go extra glamorous. I’m sure the people fighting for our country would want to see us carrying on and not hiding."

Whether or not a bust for the fashion industry, it was nonetheless a week full of activity and drama. Here, a blow-by-blow account of this year’s Oscars, from the parties in the night to the changing mood, put together by WWD’s Los Angeles bureau:



SUNDAY, MARCH 23

Midnight: Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas entered and quickly left the In Style party at a tent on Robertson, where Sir Elton John, John Mayer and Anastacia performed. But being pregnant was no excuse for most guests, who made the scene for barely five minutes.
11:15 p.m.: The night’s biggest bash? As usual, it was Vanity Fair at Morton’s, where Cameron Diaz, Kate Hudson, Carine Roitfeld, Mario Testino, Kirsten Dunst and Amanda Peet mingled, along with nominee Julianne Moore in her bottle-green strapless ruffled Yves Saint Laurent gown by Tom Ford and Boucheron emerald earrings to match. "I like to tell people that Tom was up for three days stitching this himself!" she laughed. Meanwhile, Ford — with partner Richard Buckley — held court at the party, kissing everybody twice on the cheek, saying, "It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Doesn’t it look great on her?" Shiva Rose McDermott also was there, although she was tired from leading war protests every day last week. "It’s not like I had time to look for a dress. Luckily, I remembered Prada had sent me this dress a while ago, so I just threw it on and ran out the door." Surprisingly, pistachio green-clad Jennifer Lopez (who, sources said, was channeling an Elizabeth Taylor moment, down to her makeup —and certainly down to the number of marriages and divorces) and Ben Affleck were fairly low key — even though they arrived in a $350,000 Mercedes Maybach — spending the evening on the sidelines and not even drinking. The party’s last sighting: best actor winner Adrien Brody, still wandering around shell-shocked at 2:30 a.m. as Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter stood at the door bidding everyone a good night.

11 p.m.: At the St. Regis in Century City, most real VIPs were shuttered away in Harvey Weinstein’s penthouse suite, while the party masses milled about in the warren of basement ballrooms. Diane Lane, still in her befeathered Oscar de la Renta, was spotted waiting for her limo in the driveway, huddled under a heat lamp.

10 p.m.: Show over. So where are the celebrities? At Paramount Pictures’ intimate bash at Astra West, Thora Birch and Marla Maples wandered, while waiting for the studio’s only winner, best actress winner Nicole Kidman, to show up. Barbara Davis made her entrance after having stopped at the parties held by In Style and Vanity Fair. "This is better than New Year’s Eve," said the 60-plus doyenne, clearly figuring the night was more her speed. Finally, Hilary Swank — universally judged one of the night’s fashion losers in her candy pink Dior gown with a see-through skirt worn over a short slip — swooped in at 10:45: "I have to sit down." Minutes later, the Kidman brigade came through and made a beeline for Paramount president Sherry Lansing. They stayed just long enough to meet protocol.


SATURDAY, MARCH 22

9 p.m.: Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt saw through their host committee duties at the "Night Before Last" party held by Variety and Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Maybe it was the promise of no press — save Variety’s photographers — or the seniors of the Motion Pictures Home benefitting from the night that made it all right for Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Halle Berry to turn out in, natch, casual dress. Only Renée Zellweger raised the code in a strapless, black lace Carolina Herrera cocktail number after hitting Miramax’s uber-private Maxi Awards.

4 p.m.: At the Frédéric Fekkai salon on Rodeo Drive, where Judith Lieber, H. Stern, Sigerson Morrison, Selima Optique and Adrienne Landau formed their own Oscar co-op, fabulous nobodies treated themselves to the complimentary blowouts and manicures. H. Stern didn’t fare much better, reporting they’d only lent 20 pieces out of 200. Lieber, which only brought plain satin and solid jeweled minaudières, fared better, loaning 40 bags.

1:45 p.m. The vibe at the beachside IFP Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica was so relaxed that most actors looked as if they hadn’t even bothered to shower, let alone brush their hair. In contrast to previous years, many more opted for blue jeans and flip-flops. Good thing, too, as the vibe turned decidedly folky when Elvis Costello took the stage for an acoustic rendition of "Peace, Love and Understanding," which was met by a standing ovation.

"I didn’t want to wear a dress by a big designer that cost thousands of dollars to make," said nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal, who looked like an Echo Park club girl in a cute dress by 20-year-old unknown Patrick Rzepski. "Fashion is not the most important thing now." Mena Suvari, on the other hand, looked out of place in tiered chiffon. At the after party, held a few hundred yards away at Shutters Hotel, the mood was also light, although not totally removed from the shadow of war. "It’s like a black cloud over everything," said "Adaptation" actor Chris Cooper, "but you have to celebrate life and live it at the same time."


FRIDAY, MARCH 21

10 a.m.: Although the U.S. was in the midst of “shock and awe,” no one wouldhave guessed it from the product frenzy at the Chateau Marmont’s Beauty Buffet, cohostedby Allure Magazine and The Cabana publicity crew. Miniskirt and stiletto cladstaffers cheerily handed out pink wristbands to the hundreds who’d RSVP’d.

Cabana partner Kari Feinstein insisted she only had two celebrity cancellations.“What else are people going to do? They may as well have a great time,” shesaid. Inside, Marcia Gay Harden navigated her way through the swag.“Unfortunately, because we’re in the middle of a war, these things are a littleembarrassing, but I’m not solving anything by staying home. I’d rather be here,”said the Oscar-winning actress.

Minutes later, word came that Saddam Hussein may have been killed. Guests,including the Bugs Bunny-costumed staffer gathered around the TV in the WarnerBros. bungalow. For a few minutes, the room stood mesmerized — until a staffmember sighed, “I just can’t watch this stuff anymore.” The TV clicked off and theLooney Toons music on.



THURSDAY, MARCH 20

8 p.m. During a week when A-listers are practically quarantined from themedia glare should they be seen having a good time, and event planners are banningcameras from just about every party, self-styled fashion guru Steven Cojocaruwas getting tanned from all the spotlights at his book bash at Emporio Armani. “Ifeel like a bride,” oozed People magazine’s style editor in his custom-made whiteArmani suit.

7:40 p.m. The real stars snuck out for dinner and an art show tonight, hittingLarry Gagosian’s annual Oscar week bash at his gallery and Mr. Chow. Despite thefederal indictment which made the papers that day, the focus among Sir EltonJohn, Sophie Dahl and Kelly Lynch was politely on the Ed Ruscha photos on thewalls and not on Gagosian’s legal ills.

6:15 p.m.: It’s hard to imagine Sharon Stone arriving at anyevent that didn’t have a press line, but then wartime is allabout exceptions. At the end of a very shortened redcarpet, Andy Gelb, special events director at PMK,awaited her arrival at Sotheby’s for “WorthExposing Hollywood,” a photo exhibit and auctionto benefit American Foundation forAIDS Research (amfAR). “We didn’t disinviteany press,” he said.When Stone arrived, dressed in a basicblack sweater and pants, the fanfare wasminimal. Before auctioning off theblack-and-white photos of Fifties starletsin their heyday, Stone made a dramaticgesture, though, asking for a“moment of silence to think about thefamilies of the individuals fighting boththe war overseas and the war againstAIDS.” She then raised almost $30,000for amfAR in 10 minutes.
1:30 p.m.: “This suite is all about takingrefuge from Oscar week stress, or, as thecase may be, stress from world events,”insisted Laurie Zeigler, an organizer of theweek’s largest suite, the Oscar Oasis at theSunset Marquis, where Donovan Leitch downedbeers on the lawn and Anna Getty taught one-on-oneyoga. “Last night, I got my hair done, got in the car, heard[President] Bush, turned around and headed home,” she said.

Meanwhile, Hollywood photographer Alex Berliner snapped away. “It’s allabout the suites now,” he sighed. His company stood to lose at least $100,000 inOscar photo revenues. Upstairs, where Laurent D. and MAC offered their services,the projection-screen TV remained turned off. The irony wasn’t lost on designerAnand Jon. “Yesterday, as I was fitting Eve in my room at L’Ermitage, bombswere going off on the TV screen behind her head. It was a true David Lynchmoment,” he said. “Beat that, Galliano.”

1 p.m.: Commitment got Stella McCartney on a plane from Arizona to attend alunch long planned for her and some 30 guests at a manse high above BeverlyHills, which also doubled as the W Hollywood Retreat. Rattled by the war,McCartney couldn’t have wished for a more serene setting.

Still, over a vegetarian buffet enjoyed by Rashida Jones, Marley Shelton, JacquiGetty and Shiva Rose McDermott — who took a few hours off from the ongoingstreet protests — couldn’t keep from discussing rumors over whether the Oscarswould or should be canceled. Jennifer Tilly, clad in a frothy pink Marc Jacobsdress, chose to ignore decorum. “Either stay glued to the TV or go for it. The Oscarsonly come around once a year,” she shrugged.

Aimee Mann admitted to feeling completely removed from the world’s events.“I kind of feel like nothing’s going to happen,” she said. “I feel oddly safe. MaybeI’m just really naïve.”

12:30 p.m.: In his plush Beverly Hills boutique, jeweler Martin Katz entertainedHollywood’s serious, “they-buy-their-own-[diamond]” set — pastel-cladsocialites Irina Medavoy, Jamie Tisch, Wendy Murdoch and Salma Hayek (one ofthe few nominees to venture out), fellow nominee Rita Wilsonand Angela Bassett — with a ladies’ lunch that was anything butdark. Walnut-sized diamonds nestled in a bed of rose petals litteredthe lunch table. The luncheon got even brighter when the dessertcourse arrived in a silver bowl: a diamond ring. Only co-host Medavoywas in on the secret. “Rita and Salma get pink diamonds because they arenominated,” she announced. “And, yes, we are getting a real dessert, too.”


WEDNESDAY, MARCH 19

8 p.m.: Guests pull up to the valet at the WWD-Diamond Information Centerparty at Patric Reeves’ Laughlin Park home to find the press line and red carpetgone. Less than two hours after President Bush told the world Allied forces wereentering Iraq, those who decided to commune with their industry friends still hadtheir car radios tuned to the news. Security was so tight at the gate, in fact, thatguests joked even Keanu Reeves had trouble getting past the gatesman into hismother’s home. “No, that's not true,” he said. “They know who I am.”

Those who’d ventured out bonded in relative privacy — or anonymity. “I’m soglad for that,” sighed Tracee Ellis Ross, clad in a Missoni caftan. The World WarII-era music by Pretty Babies, Zooey Deschanel and Samantha Shelton’s band wasin keeping with the low-key mood. “We feel good about singing tonight and it’smeant to be uplifting,” Deschanel said.

The crowd still lingering at 1 a.m., Paris Hilton, fresh from a day of prepping forher reality show “A Simple Life,” made a grand entrance, causing a collectiverolling of the eyes among several guests in the foyer as she unsettled the otherwisesanguine vibe. “I’m doing a lot of weights and yoga,” she blurted out to no one inparticular. “I mean, I’m going to have to work in a Kmart and eat fried chicken, andI don’t want to get fat.”

6:50 p.m.: As a large screen tuned to Fox flashed scenes of the first Scud missileshitting targets in Baghdad, blowouts and the chatter at the makeup and manicureareas mostly drowned out the sounds at the Vidal Sassoon-Bourjois-Creative Nailsuite at the Chateau Marmont. The suite suddenly blew a fuse. “What spirits did we anger?” demanded China Chow.Within minutes, they were serveda reality check when PresidentBush came on the lounge’swidescreen to announce the U.S.-led attack. Even the ever-loquaciousJennifer Tilly stopped gabbing— although she continuedwith her makeup application.

10:30 a.m.: The Missonicrew at the Chateau Marmontpulls the plug on a media lunchwhen VIP consultant GerlindeHobel is called back to Milan byfamily order.

TUESDAY, MARCH 18

9 p.m.: The Garden Suite atLe Meridien is filled with NickyHilton’s friends celebrating theevening bag she designed forSamantha Thavasa. “I’m tired,”she whined to her mother aspaparazzi swarmed around her.But she managed to appear twohours later at the GM “Ten” bashat Hollywood and Vine, whereAshton Kutcher, Erika Christensenand Kimberly Stewartcheered from the front row asAdrien Brody hit the catwalk in awhite suit, channeling John Travoltain “Saturday Night Fever.”But the 1,600-strong crowd wentwild when, during Eve’s set withN.E.R.D., Justin Timberlakejumped on stage.

7:30 p.m.: What was supposedto be a festive rooftop dinnerfor Stuart Weitzman at theLuxe Hotel turned into a crowdedcocktail party as high windskept the crowd crammed insidethe penthouse. The shoe designerannounced he would pull his$1.3 million dollar ruby andplatinum slipper from the redcarpet given world circumstances.“It seems more appropriate to save it for a more festiveoccasion,” he said.

5 p.m.: Jade Jagger is in bed.As Garrard’s creative director,Jagger set up shop in a BeverlyHills bungalow to introduceherself better to the Hollywoodcommunity. For a photograph,she slips into the room’s bed,throws on a tiara, leaves herchampagne flute on the nightstandand mugs for the camera.

3 p.m.: Stylists ElizabethStewart, Todd Hallman, ElizabethSaltzman and actress KellyLynch file out from an extendedlunch for about a dozen friends ofValentino at Mr. Chow hosted bythe Italian house’s right handCarlos Souza. World politics dominatedthe conversation as mostat the table believed the Oscarswould get postponed.



MONDAY, MARCH 17

4 p.m.: The Estée Lauderrooms at the Four Seasons inBeverly Hills are among the firstof the week’s half-dozen Oscar-relatedsuites already seeing visitorsfor massages and manis.Company poster girl CarolynMurphy is in a chair gettingblow-dried by Ray Ellington,while star plucker AnastasiaSoare finishes a guest nearby.

2:45 p.m.: Caviar and Champagneat the Ferragamo boutiqueon Rodeo Drive, where GraemeBlack and Giovanna Gentile Ferragamopersonally give stylists andeditors a look at evening.

10:15 a.m.: Word comesthrough that Matthew Williamson,Donatella Versace and representativesfrom Dolce & Gabbanaare canceling trips because of the threat of war.
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