BRONWYN COSGRAVE, who authored the book referenced below, also writes about fashion at BRITANNICA BLOG, where my own GLAMOROUS EXCESS and ACADEMY AWARDS columns can be found.

On ACADEMY AWARDS night, the biggest speculation is still about whose name is in the envelope. But the most asked question has become: “What are you wearing?”

From the moment a star like KATE WINSLET steps onto the red carpet leading to the KODAK THEATRE in Hollywood, she will answer the question countless times – often before a live television audience – as she negotiates the media frenzy beaming her images all over the world.

In a matter of hours, her dress will be seen by tens of millions of people, analyzed in detail by fashion pundits and probably knocked off for the public eager to wear a cheaper version of red carpet couture.

If all goes well – and especially if she turns out to be one of the evening’s winners – the gown can propel not only the actor to new heights of stardom, but her designer as well.

“It has been said that coverage at the Academy Awards is equivalent to a $25 million advertising campaign for a designer,” said BRONWYN COSGRAVE, author of MADE FOR EACH OTHER: FASHION & THE ACADEMY AWARDS.

With the stakes so high, the competition among fashion houses to have a star wear their creation is fierce.

“It’s almost like going to war. They have these huge PR machines. They’ve got men on the ground courting stars to wear their clothes,” Ms. Cosgrave stated.

Some actors stick with one label for the red carpet — think RENEE ZELLWEGER in CAROLINA HERRERA gowns — because they either are a spokesmodel for the fashion house or have a special relationship with the designer.

Other stars, however, are up for grabs.

The process of wooing them can begin as early as the CANNES FILM FESTIVAL, Ms. Cosgrave said, about nine months before the ACADEMY AWARDS even take place.

CANNES gives fashion publicists a chance to look for break out stars, a process that snowballs as the year progresses and more film festivals and movie premieres arrive.

The strategy also means designers zero in on stylists who work directly with the actors.

“As soon as they have the nominees out, you start pitching right off the bat,” said PAMELLA ROLAND, a New York based designer whose gowns have been worn by FAYE DUNAWAY and JANE SEYMOUR at the ACADEMY AWARDS.

The pitching process can include sending out sketches, images and finished dresses.

PAMELLA ROLAND stated that some of her designs have been requested this year by TARAJI P. HENSON, who is OSCAR nominated as BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS for her role in THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. The request isn’t a guarantee that the actor will wear her dress, Ms. Roland added.

Meanwhile, bigger designers can spend lavishly to ensure that their gowns end up on the red carpet.

Major fashion houses courting A list actrors may treat them to trips to Europe, where they get a front row seat to a designer’s fashion show and visit his/her studio, Ms. Cosgrave observed.

In the end, stars can look at dozens of gowns before deciding on a short list. It all adds up to nail biting time for the designers.

“Stars can hold these dresses and you don’t know until they walk on the red carpet what they’re wearing,” PAMELLA ROLAND remarked. “It’s become a crazy business.”

The gowns are often gifted to big name celebrities, who usually keep them after the ceremony.

Fashion experts predicted that the bad economy won’t have any impact on how actors dress at the OSCARS this year.

The ACADEMY AWARDS didn’t use to create much of a stir among designers. But BRONWYN COSGRAVE identified two key moments when that changed.

The first was in 1986, when CHER showed up at the OSCARS in a Mohawk ensemble by BOB MACKIE. The look sparked enormous debate, showing how much publicity a designer could get on the red carpet, Ms. Cosgrave commented.

She traced the second milestone to the mid 1990s, when GIORGIO ARMANI made a concerted effort to court stars to wear his designs at red carpet events, prompting other designers to take notice.

“Once they all started moving in on the territory…it became a real cat fight,” BRONWYN COSGRAVE remarked.

Today, the dresses are so closely watched, they can filter down to the public quickly thanks to labels like ABS, which rush to produce similar designs at a fraction of the cost. OSCAR styles can also influence prom dresses, as well as spark color trends.

But for the stars, dressing up for the ACADEMY AWARDS is more than a night on the town.

“The public always mistakes the Oscars for a really big party. It’s not. It’s a complete part of the job to go and network and look good at these things,” Ms. Cosgrave noted.

“The entire fashion industry is looking to Hollywood on that night to find their next big girl.”


  1. Half the fun of watching the Oscars is dishing the fashions.

    I’m sure that this year – like every year – there’ll be a share of gorgeous gowns and an equal share of “What was she thinking?” attire. I can’t wait!

    I know you’ll be covering it all on your blog and I’m planning to do my usual next day post as well.

  2. Yeah, the ACADEMY AWARDS is the big premiere glamour extravaganza of the year that isn’t run specifically by the fashion industry.

    It’s amazing how big it’s become. But I personally think it’s kinda cool that there are great stylists and talented designers involved now. Looking back at those old photos etc., you can see how tacky people were. Particularly in eras like the 70s.


    But with people like GIORGIO ARMANI involved now, you can’t really go wrong. Well, I suppose you could. But you’d have to try a LOT harder to dress that badly.

    Pat, I saw your costume design post that you wrote for LAMB up at your site. You’re obviously very knowledgeable about fashion and glamour.

    I’ll be very interested to see what you think of all the people at the KODAK THEATRE on the 22nd in their remarkable finery.

    Should be something else. I can hardly wait…

  3. Bronwyn Cosgrave Says:

    Thanks for blogging about my book!

  4. Bronwyn, you’re very welcome.

    You and I possess a similar interest in fashion.

    Additionally, you also are incredibly aware of the substantial political landscape that forms the backdrop behind these prestigious events.

    It is about looking glamorous. But it’s about far more than just the dress.

    Your book was referenced in the CNN article above and you were quoted often. It was an interesting piece and I’m a great admirer of your work. So it was an easy fit for the site and the best choice in material that I could have made at the time.

    I’m happy to help. It was my pleasure….

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