Will Hollywood dim the bling for Oscar night?


Around this time every year, accessories designer Stuart Weitzman debuts a one-of-a-kind pair of Oscar shoes festooned with $1 million worth of precious gems. It’s a stunt he started in 2002, when “Mulholland Drive” actress Laura Elena Harring pranced down the red carpet in diamond-encrusted sandals. Since then, actress Regina King and singer Alison Krauss, among others, have worn the high-profile “Cinderella” slipper, and the ploy has always garnered lots of publicity.

But this year, with the economy backfiring, Weitzman won’t be playing Prince Charming. Many actresses will undoubtedly adorn themselves with plenty of carats at Sunday’s Academy Awards, but no one wants to be branded an out-of-touch fairy princess.

The issue of appearance is playing out all over Hollywood this week: How do you deliver the red carpet glamour expected on Oscar night, but also show some sensitivity to the state of the economy? It’s a delicate balance to strike in a town not known for its restraint.


Oscar parties such as the Vanity Fair bash and Madonna’s annual soiree are being scaled back considerably, but certainly not canceled. (Expect to munch on mini hamburgers instead of foie gras, and don’t be surprised to see recycled decor from parties past.)

Lavish gifting suites are on the wane and there are fewer outrageous offerings like the “diamond facial” (in which tiny diamond chips are used to exfoliate the skin). But the red carpet, a factory in itself and the most public spectacle associated with awards season, is having a harder time dialing it back. Picture a prom queen being asked to skip the limo.

“Would you really want to tune in and see a bunch of women walking down the red carpet in black pantsuits?” asked Hal Rubenstein, fashion director of InStyle magazine and an Oscar fashion commentator on “Good Morning America.”

“It’s a recession, not an apocalypse.”

Rubenstein isn’t alone in defending the necessity of glamour. Many fashion stylists, jewelers and makeup artists interviewed for this article insist that the red carpet represents escapism. They say that a toned-down parade wouldn’t be nearly as transporting for viewers who tune in for the Technicolor thrill of seeing their favorite stars dressed like royalty in borrowed finery.

And it’s not just about the viewers. A traipse down the Oscar red carpet in the right dress can land an actress on the cover of thousands of newspapers and countless websites worldwide. Beauty endorsement deals and brand ambassadorships also are riding on a star’s style quotient -- best actress nominee Kate Winslet is a Lancome ambassador; Beyonce is a face of L’Oreal.

It’s not as though those in the glamour business are in denial. “You would be beyond ignorant not to be acknowledging” the economy, said celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe, whose clients include Cameron Diaz and best actress nominee Anne Hathaway.

But, Zoe added, “there are still movies and movie stars and designers doing fashion shows. My attitude is: Let’s put a smile on people’s faces even if it’s just for an hour.”

At this point, no one knows for certain whether the Oscar red carpet will be a sea of black sheaths or a rainbow of pastel hues. Stylists typically pull a few gown options from design houses and decisions are almost always made at the eleventh hour.

Right now, there are whispers of lots of metallics, and nude and taupe tones (seen in prevalence at the Golden Globes). Winslet, who wore a pale sherbet-green Valentino gown to the 2007 Oscars, has worn mostly black on the red carpet this year. Or simple, unfussy dresses like the royal blue Narciso Rodriguez she donned for the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

And it’s safe to assume that cameras won’t be zooming in on anything like the dark green couture Dior by Galliano gown worn by Charlize Theron in 2006, with a bow the size of a capuchin monkey on her shoulder. Excess is out, and that includes wedding cake dresses with tiers of lace and tulle and trains that require an extra set of hands.

When it comes to jewelry, the aesthetic sentiments are similar. “No one wants to be inappropriate in a time when people are struggling,” said Sally Morrison, director of the New York-based Diamond Information Center. “The trend is fairly big, but fairly simple. Classic styles with sizzle that any woman can wear.” Other jewelers say colored stones are also being considered over diamonds.

“Rather than making sure that you have the necklace, earrings, bracelet and ring, it’s more about the one thing that can say it all,” said Rebecca Selva, spokeswoman for jeweler Fred Leighton.

“People are looking for that one statement piece.”

Such as a bejeweled watch. Penelope Cruz sported a dainty Chopard timepiece encrusted with 5 carats of diamonds to the recent SAG Awards. Marion Cotillard wore a bolder style with diamonds floating inside the watch face to last week’s British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards in London. What could be more down to earth than a watch -- even if it costs more than a year’s tuition at Stanford?

No one’s talking price tags, though. Three years ago, nominee Dolly Parton proudly announced to reporters that her Fred Leighton earrings were worth $1.2 million. That’s a no-no these days.

“It used to be chic to say, ‘I’m wearing $16 million worth of jewels,’ ” said publicist Howard Bragman, who specializes in crisis counseling for celebrities. “That’s distasteful right now.” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has made occasional changes to its dress codes in deference to political sensitivities. In 1941, with the country mobilized for World War II, attendees were asked to wear dark, semiformal attire. In 1967, hippie staples such as love beads, miniskirts and turtlenecks were banned. “In the ‘70s, there wasn’t such a focus on the clothes and nobody wanted to win an Oscar anyway,” film historian Robert Osborne said.

Nowadays, though, the focus on style is intense. “Beyonce’s brand is glamour,” said hairstylist Kim Kimble, who swept the singer’s hair into a ponytail for the Golden Globes, so it wouldn’t compete with her 200-carat Lorraine Schwartz diamond necklace. “She has an image to live up to. It’s her job.”

But glamour’s getting a closer inspection with so many pink slips emerging across the country. Andy Lecompte, who styled Jennifer Lopez’s tresses for the Globes, scaled back on the drama and went with a simple bun. “She wore that gold dress, and with the economy the way it is, she didn’t want to overdo it with jewels or her hair,” he said.

Such adjustments may seem almost imperceptible from afar -- Lopez’s dress had enough shimmer, after all, to put the rest of her look in the shadows. But in some circles, the effect of Hollywood’s “less is more” impulses has been dramatic.

In the last 11 years, evening bag designer Mary Norton has seen her jeweled and feathered accessories carried by celebrities such as Catherine Zeta-Jones and Miley Cyrus. This time, demand is flat. “Overall, it’s been a dismal season.”

Of course, any glimpse of glamour is ephemeral; it lasts only as long as the red carpet itself. The jewels go back, the dresses get returned and even the elegant chignons fall into disarray. “Everyone knows it’s make-believe,” stylist George Kotsiopoulos said. “Everything is borrowed.”

But with a country in the red, borrowing too much can be considered poor form.



More photos and coverage of the Oscars are available online.