Friday, December 20, 2013

Editorial: Should Pretty Take A Fashion Risk?

Cher at the 1988 Oscars

Looking pretty vs. taking a fashion risk...are these two objectives always at odds?  You see a lot of this "fashion schizophrenia", if you will, on the red carpet when a celebrity, or often their stylist, has to decide one way or the other how it should go.  Back in the day, it seemed often enough that shock value alone would determine direction.  These are often the memorable moments at awards shows (Celine in the backwards tuxedo, Cher twice appeared barely clothed in totally sheer fabric (1988) or headressed and entire mid-section on display (1986), Lara Flynn Boyle in a pink tutu, Bjork in that swan dress and of course, more recently Lady Gaga in just about everything, ahem, the meat dress) that are talked about not only days but years after.  These outfits mostly verge on the costume-y rather than the "avant-garde but still wearable" particularly those constructed of inedible matter (sorry Gaga) this is not a Project Runway unconventional materials challenge.

(BTW, great idea for a spin-off: Project Runway Extreme where the designers have to work under terrible conditions such as in a meat locker.  It would be absolutely priceless to see Tim Gunn in a parka over his suit judging meat apparel saying "Mmmm-ake it w-wwwork!" as his teeth are chattering.  And you just know that at least one of the designers is going to be a vegan!  They could go to the Gansevoort meat market instead of mood to select their "hides."  This show could give new meaning to the words: spoiler alert).

Dresses by David Koma

I recently found an article from the LA Times that was written nearly two years ago by Booth Moore, the LA Times Fashion Critic addressing exactly some of the questions that I had been pondering.  In her article "Red Carpet Fashion Statements"   she makes some interesting points and a few comments that are very funny in retrospect.  I initially stumbled upon this article while researching two recent fashion house helming changes:  Nicola Formichetti's move to Diesel from Thierry Mugler and David Koma's move to replace him in the vacant house of Mugler.  I've always been in awe of Formichetti ever since he linked up as Gaga's stylist (the video for "Telephone" starring Lady Gaga and Beyonce still ranks as one of the all-time greatest fashion music videos, at least in my mind).  David Koma was also on my radar with some spectacular creations worn by Jennifer Lawrence and the model Karolina Kurkova among others.

Miley Cyrus 2013 Jingle Ball in Washington Concert
In the article, Moore mentions the fashion evolution of Miley Cyrus (remember this was two years ago!) in a risk-taking but "sleek and chic futuristic white dress" by the new designer David Koma, that she wore to the People's Choice Awards on January 11, 2012.  "The dress Cyrus chose for the People's Choice Awards speaks volumes about where she would like her career to go.  For the first time, she came across less as a hard-partying, trash-talking, peace-sign flashing teen and more as a sophisticated, well-dressed, refined young woman."  And she's correct, we did see a bit of couture friendly Miley for a while, perhaps up until her engagement to Liam Hemsworth ended.  It reminds me of the scene in "Miss Congeniality" when Sandra Bullock gives the perfect answer to her pageant question and just as Michael Caine, her pageant coach, is gloating ("My God, I did it") she follows it up with a rant about how she will hunt down anyone who is trying to hurt her new pageant friends/contestants, and kill them.  Caine as Victor Melling visibly crumbles and says "A brief shining moment, and then that mouth."  The mouth part could apply to Cyrus for obvious reasons, as well. LOL

Bjork in that swan dress

The article states "When it comes to the red carpet, it's easy to think that a beautiful dress is just that: a beautiful dress.  But the right dress can be a game changer when it comes to how a celebrity is perceived and the career opportunities that follow.  And the wrong dress can mean this year's fresh young thing is forgotten by the time the Oscars red carpet is rolled up."  Moore points to Rooney Mara appearing in the tough-and-sexy dresses of Nina Ricci and Roksanda Ilincic that reference her character Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" while Berenice Bejo of "The Artist" did not stand out in her shades of blue Gucci and Elie Saab gowns.  Likewise, that year Marion Cotillard stole the fashion spotlight wearing "one distinctive dress after another" so that even if you hadn't seen "La Vie en Rose" people were asking who is this woman?  Fashion Director of In Style and author of "100 Unforgettable Dresses" Hal Rubenstein concurs that there is often a missed opportunity and that some actresses never take that chance to make an impact.  "They are just looking for the pretty dress, not the right dress," he added. 

Rooney Mara In Lanvin

According to the article "the perfect match of celebrity personality and dress is the exception, not the norm" which lends itself to the sea of amalgamation and sameness.  Part of this has to do with the sheer number of gowns needed for so many red carpet events all basically coming from the same designers.  The best results are often from a dress that is custom designed for the celebrity with her personality, likes and dislikes in mind.  Barbara Tfank, a Los Angeles designer who has dressed Adele as well as Michelle Obama, cites her background as a costume designer as being important.  In referring to the Oscar dress that she designed with Prada for Uma Thurman when she was nominated for supporting actress in "Pulp Fiction" she asked the actress who she wanted to be that day and picked the icons of Glinda the Good Witch from "Wizard of Oz' meets Grace Kelly.  "She felt at the moment those were the right icons for her."  Moore adds that this approach was reminiscent of celebrity dressing in the Golden Age of Hollywood when costume designers such as Edith Head and Helen Rose sought to attire the actresses more or less in character to create consistency and to fit a slot or a type.

Perhaps it is easier to take a fashion risk when the stakes are not so high as in an everyday outfit rather than a red carpet moment.  Knowing that these images are out there in media land forever may be intimidating for someone who has any insecurities regarding style or doesn't want to look back and second guess "what was I thinking?" at a particular juncture in time.  Still, it should be theoretically possible to embrace the trends while being sexy, stylish and true to your own aesthetic all without resorting to the donning of food or fowl.
- Laurel Marcus

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