Lauren Conrad, the Emmys’ trophy designer

Lauren Conrad, peeking at the gathering crowd before her show, will create a dress for this year’s Emmys.
Lauren Conrad, peeking at the gathering crowd before her show, will create a dress for this year’s Emmys.
(Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

MAYBE IT’S the fusty name: Emmy. Sounds a bit like that teetotalling aunt who’s always bragging about her latest canasta score. Last year, the Emmy Awards drew just 13.1 million viewers, down from 16.2 million the year before. (Even the Country Music Awards beat it.) But this year, the producers of the 60th -- at least it’s the new 50! -- annual show are intent on luring a dewier set.

How to get some traction among the ADHD audience? Well, it couldn’t hurt to thrust reality star and newbie fashion designer Lauren Conrad, “L.C.,” into the ring. Last week, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced that Conrad, 22, whose eponymous dress line debuted in March, will create a one-of-a-kind gown for the trophy girls who hand over statuettes.

This is the first time the Emmys will feature a dress created exclusively for the program, and the decision to pin the task on Conrad was canny -- she’s the face of an Avon makeup line aimed at young women and the spokeswoman for social networking site College Tonight. “We looked at her designs and saw that she had potential,” says Ken Ehrlich, the show’s executive producer.

Ehrlich must be reading between the seams. At this point, Conrad has yet to wow with her simple jersey frocks that sell at Bloomingdale’s and other major retailers. (Kitson recently dropped the line due to flagging sales.)

Conrad’s dresses are cute and airy -- like meringue -- but lack the bite of a designer with a cutting-edge vision. Asking her to create a custom-made gown, a giant leap from her current prêt output, is a stretch.

And unfortunately, no one considered the potential slight to the Costume Designers Guild. It did seem bizarre to put a spotlight on a reality star whose internship at Teen Vogue was a plot thread on MTV’s “The Hills” -- especially when there are more than 400 costume designers in TV who are far beyond the intern ranks. What about Katherine Jane Bryant, who expertly outfits the curvy women of “Mad Men”? Or Joseph G. Aulisi, the costume designer behind Susan Sarandon’s delicious alcoholic-socialite chic in “Bernard and Doris”? Even choosing Christian Siriano, who won last season’s “Project Runway” and will show at Fashion Week in New York in September, would have made more sense.

“The bottom line is that they don’t think about people who work below the line,” says Mary Rose, president of the guild and curator of an exhibit that celebrates costume design in television at downtown L.A.'s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. “It’s all about money and ratings.”

The TV academy isn’t denying that. The dress decision “was based on our desire to attract a younger audience to the Primetime Emmys,” a spokesperson said, trying to smooth feathers by adding that the plan was “in no way meant to be a slight to the extraordinary professionals who comprise our Costume Design peer group.”

Of course, a star of “The Hills” is no stranger to contention. Still, Conrad had better deliver. Emmy might need some flashy accessories too.

Read Monica Corcoran’s daily blog, All the Rage, at