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How the race to the Oscars brought more diverse stars and style to this season's red carpets

How the race to the Oscars brought more diverse stars and style to this season's red carpets
Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, who's nominated for an Oscar this year for "Hidden Figures," chats with fans during the red carpet arrivals at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 29. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Instead of being a symbol of exclusion, this year's red carpets have slowly reinforced the message that glamour comes in many colors, shapes and sizes. More ethnically and physically diverse nominees are arriving as better, more substantive and more award-worthy parts are being written and recognized.

After two years of no nominations for actors of color, this year's Academy Awards nominations include seven minority actors. Two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington ("Fences") and first-time Oscar nominee Ruth Negga ("Loving"), the Ethiopian-Irish actress who was raised in Ireland, are on this diverse list of nominees.

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Some designers and expert observers say they hope that as Hollywood becomes more diverse, fashion — and the clothes and sizes the industry offers — will follow.

Ruth Negga, a first-time Oscar nominee, arrives at the Golden Globe Awards show on Jan. 8.
Ruth Negga, a first-time Oscar nominee, arrives at the Golden Globe Awards show on Jan. 8. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

That dream could be a long way off. High-profile actresses still struggle to find appropriate clothes. After she was Oscar-nominated for "Bridesmaids" in 2012, Melissa McCarthy said she was turned down when she approached several high-level designers for clothes. McCarthy lost the supporting actress Oscar to curvy Octavia Spencer ("The Help"), who also earned acclaim for her custom, beaded gown by Los Angeles designer Tadashi Shoji. Like the characters Spencer often portrays, the designer has become a role model for his embrace of the disenfranchised.

Though he's hardly a household name, Shoji has become Spencer's reliable source for her many red carpet appearances. Since dressing Mo'Nique for her Oscar win in 2010, Shoji also has earned praise for beautifully dressing full-figured actresses such as Gabourey Sidibe and Amber Riley. He's learned from his own collection, which ranges from size 00 to 18, how to fit many body types.

Academy Award nominee Octavia Spencer appears on the red carpet at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Academy Award nominee Octavia Spencer appears on the red carpet at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

"Everything is proportion," he said. "My forte is that I can make any kind of figure beautiful. As much as possible, I can make a figure fuller or smaller, or short or taller." He also takes steps that many manufacturers don't, such as hiring fit models in petite, regular and plus sizes in Los Angeles, New York and China. The practice is costly and time-consuming but delivers a properly sized and scaled garment — and scores of adoring, loyal customers.

Designer Christian Siriano also has boosted his profile by expertly dressing a range of women for the red carpet, from slender Gwyneth Paltrow to curvy Jennifer Lopez and Christina Hendricks and stately "Ghostbusters" star Leslie Jones, who took to Twitter last year to say no one wanted to dress her before Siriano stepped in.

Melissa McCarthy poses on the red carpet at the 2012 Academy Awards. At the time, McCarthy said she was turned down by high-level fashion designers.
Melissa McCarthy poses on the red carpet at the 2012 Academy Awards. At the time, McCarthy said she was turned down by high-level fashion designers. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

"I like showcasing my work on all these different types of women because my customer is all types of women," Siriano said. "It's much better for us to show that we can do all kinds of sizes and silhouettes." His business, and his clients, benefit.

"It's a trickle-down effect," Siriano said. "If you make one actress look beautiful, then [stylists] want you to dress another. Then other women want to look the same way or better," he said. Siriano said he hopes that welcoming, not shunning, actresses helps end prejudice.

"It's really important for actresses who can't find something to wear to really be vocal about what is happening. I think what happened with Leslie was a great example of that," he said, adding that shunning "probably happens more often than people will admit. I'm sure lots of actresses don't talk about it; that they're embarrassed."

Tracee Ellis Ross on the red carpet at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 29.
Tracee Ellis Ross on the red carpet at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 29. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Silence allows the stigma to continue and may contribute to the reluctance of high-fashion designers to dress non-standard figures. "No real designer is stepping up to the plate, besides Christian Siriano," said L.A.-based stylist Melissa Chataigne. "Give me a curvy girl who is wearing a high-end designer. It doesn't exist."

Time will tell if this year's more diverse nominees are part of a movement — or just a moment. Progress is gradual but noticeable. Golden Globe winner Tracee Ellis Ross ("black-ish") has been the most notable example of late, wearing body-conscious designs from Zuhair Murad. She's a smart actress and shapely woman of color who also is over 40 and slays on the red carpet.

Wearing a Dolce & Gabbana gown, Kerry Washington arrives at the Golden Globe Awards show on Jan. 8.
Wearing a Dolce & Gabbana gown, Kerry Washington arrives at the Golden Globe Awards show on Jan. 8. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

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