Hollywood's annual awards season kicks into high gear with the unfurling of the Golden Globes red carpet on Sunday. From afar, it will probably all seem the same as usual — cheering fans in the bleachers, photographers and TV crews by the yard, glamorous women ready and willing to strut and pose.
Look a little closer, though, and that carpet's seeming a little frayed and down-at-the-heels. Call it red carpet fatigue syndrome, a syndrome that incubated during the last year's worth of "step-and-repeat" appearances at award shows, premieres and press junkets.
"It's a never-ending red carpet," Hollywood fashion publicist Marilyn Heston of MHA Media said. "If you wake up on any Tuesday, there's an awards show or a premiere somewhere." In the first two weeks of January alone we've had the People's Choice Awards, the Palm Springs International Film Festival and now, starting off the third week of the year, the Golden Globes.
"You have to look at this from many angles, and a lot of what goes on in this town doesn't translate internationally," she said, noting that only the Oscars, the Globes, the Grammys and Cannes Film Festival command worldwide attention. Nevertheless, here at home, the weekly tabloids, entertainment cable channels and daily bloggers are always gunning to parse a star's getup, on any red carpet at any given time.
So just after New Year's, Hollywood publicists and stylists hit the ground running to keep up with the ever-expanding award season calendar, as Anne Crawford, brand ambassador to uber-chic Roger Vivier shoes, said in early January.
"There's the Palm Springs Film Awards, The Art of Elysium gala, the Bulgari Red Carpet party, several premieres… then the Golden Globes," she said. Then the calendar gets really jammed, with the Producers Guild awards (Jan. 22); the Directors Guild awards (Jan. 29); the Screen Actors Guild awards (Jan. 30); the BAFTAs, given by the British critics group (Feb. 13); and the Film Independent Spirit Awards (Feb. 26), all leading up to the Academy Awards the next night.
"Everyone needs at least 10 outfits," Crawford said.
Veteran Hollywood stylists like Elizabeth Stewart, known for her work with Cate Blanchett and Kristin Davis, has ordered just a small handful of custom gowns for her newest client, first-time Globe nominee Jennifer Lawrence. She doesn't worry too much about the scrutiny.
"There's always this dance between wearing something I love and picking something we know will be liked by Us and People," she said. In the end, all you can do is be true to your client. "Forget trying to please anyone else."
But, not so fast, say the critics.
"Our thing is that if you're gonna dress up, put the effort in. On the red carpet you need to entertain us — that's what you're there for," said blogger Tom Fitzgerald, who, with his partner Lorenzo Marquez, runs the popular former "Project Rungay" website (now called Tom and Lorenzo) that morphed into a lively red-carpet forum often featuring side-by-side photographs of outfits on red carpet stars and as originally on the runway.
Apparently that's a lesson that Young Hollywood still needs to learn, after the fashion implosion at this year's People's Choice Awards. Starlets such as Minka Kelly, Leighton Meester and Mila Kunis showed up in drab browns and baggy looks, and the critics howled. ( New York magazine's the Cut blog: "one of the saddest red carpets in some time…some of this nation's most gorgeous women swaddled themselves in what could have been their grandmothers' pillowcases." Jezebel: "The Worst Red Carpet We've Ever Seen." Los Angeles Times fashion critic Booth Moore: "Let's just say, things can only get better.")
"I don't know what that was," said George Kotsiopoulos, co-host of E! Entertainment's Fashion Police (revived last fall with red carpet lightning-rod Joan Rivers back in the saddle). "Probably they thought, If I get dressed up for this, I'm gonna look like a fool."
Certainly they'll do it up right for the Globes, he said, but celebs shouldn't have written off the People's Choice, even if it's generally regarded as a lightweight event where you get an award just for showing up.
"The viewers at home don't know it's not a 'real' awards show," he said, later adding: "You have to know this is business; it's not just about trying to dress pretty. The smart girls get that."
Whether lacking smarts or just individual style, the red carpet has become "sort of like high school, where one girl wears something and then everyone else does," said blogger Marquez of the last year's mind-numbing default by young actresses to the black mini-dress and platform clomper.
Of course there are still style luminaries, like a "breathtaking" Cate Blanchett at Cannes, he added, in her architectural black and white Alexander McQueen gown emblazoned with a flying silver eagle that certainly was the last word in edgy drama.
But with the sheer multitude of images — all that fashion-obsessed white noise emanating from multiple awards shows and premieres — could they say whether anyone would remember it next year? "I just don't think we can have those kinds of iconic moments anymore," Fitzgerald said.
And really, for sheer entertainment, what's an edgy McQueen, anyway, when pitted against the spectacle of a meat dress?
For 2010 was also the year the red carpet literally went Gaga, as the Lady herself threw it down at the Grammys last January — in a look that was part gown and part solar system science project — and she never let up, book-ending things at the VMAs at the end of the year in her infamous sirloin slip.
Publicity-craving Katy Perry also embraced red carpet stunt-dressing, upending Vogue magazine's painstakingly choreographed procession of starlets in tasteful designer gowns at the Met Ball by wearing an LED-wired dress that lit up on the carpet. And it landed her the cover of Women's Wear Daily.
Even without those extremes, awards season got off to a bad start last year when the Golden Globes' red carpet was almost rained out. Now it's just a soggy memory of ruined fishtail hemlines and nominees such as Tina Fey channeling Mary Poppins while being photographed under big umbrellas.
The weather behaved for the rest of "the season" but the gloss seemed off. Sandra Bullock picked up her expected Academy Award for best actress in an equally expected gilded column gown. (Fashion insiders had been handicapping that Marchesa dress as "the one" as soon as it was shown on the runway weeks before.)
And amid the Oscar red carpet's sea of net (as in tulle) neutrality — a boring tone of "blushnudeplatinumivory" — there was gown gridlock as many actresses opted for a ball-skirted "princess" moment. During the show, two of the evening's best-dressed stars, Carey Mulligan in a riveting black Prada bi-level ball gown and Zoe Saldana in an orchid-toned Givenchy couture puff-ball style, were forced to hike up their skirts unattractively and hold their breath as they made an ill-conceived entrance on a moving stairway while the audience cringed.
Certainly, the fashion world has a love-hate relationship with the Hollywood red carpet — designers crave the mass exposure when a star triumphs but recoil when she looks bad, in recent years heaping their scorn on "the stylists" for ruining their precious vision.
"Trophy stylists are pretty savvy, so when you get a clunker it's usually that the star wore what they wanted … or what the boyfriend wanted," said Anne Crawford "They have the last word. And then we all have something to talk about the next day."
Vincent Boucher is a stylist and writer in Los Angeles.