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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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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."
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