Editorial: Should Pretty Take A Fashion Risk?

Cher at the 1988 Oscars
Looking pretty vs. taking a fashion risk…are these two
objectives always at odds?  You see a lot of this “fashion
schizophrenia”, if you will, on the red carpet when a celebrity, or often their
stylist, has to decide one way or the other how it should go.  Back
in the day, it seemed often enough that shock value alone would determine
direction.  These are often the memorable moments at awards shows
(Celine in the backwards tuxedo, Cher twice appeared barely clothed in totally
sheer fabric (1988) or headressed and entire mid-section on display (1986), Lara
Flynn Boyle in a pink tutu, Bjork in that swan dress and of course, more
recently Lady Gaga in just about everything, ahem, the meat dress) that are
talked about not only days but years after.  These outfits mostly
verge on the costume-y rather than the “avant-garde but still wearable”
particularly those constructed of inedible matter (sorry Gaga) this is not a
Project Runway unconventional materials challenge.

(BTW, great idea for a spin-off: Project Runway Extreme where the designers have to work under terrible conditions such as in a meat locker.  It would be absolutely priceless to see Tim Gunn in a parka over his suit judging meat apparel saying “Mmmm-ake it w-wwwork!” as his teeth are chattering.  And you just know that at least one of the designers is going to be a vegan!  They could go to the Gansevoort meat market instead of mood to select their “hides.”  This show could give new meaning to the words: spoiler alert).

Dresses by David Koma

I recently found an article from the LA Times that was
written nearly two years ago by Booth Moore, the LA Times Fashion Critic
addressing exactly some of the questions that I had been pondering.
In her article “Red Carpet Fashion Statements”
she makes some interesting points and a few comments
that are very funny in retrospect.  I initially stumbled upon this
article while researching two recent fashion house helming changes:
Nicola Formichetti’s move to Diesel from Thierry Mugler and David Koma’s
move to replace him in the vacant house of Mugler.  I’ve always
been in awe of Formichetti ever since he linked up as Gaga’s stylist (the video
for “Telephone” starring Lady Gaga and Beyonce still ranks as one of the
all-time greatest fashion music videos, at least in my mind).
David Koma was also on my radar with some spectacular creations worn by
Jennifer Lawrence and the model Karolina Kurkova among others.

Miley Cyrus 2013 Jingle Ball in Washington Concert

In the article, Moore mentions the fashion evolution of
Miley Cyrus (remember this was two years ago!) in a risk-taking but “sleek and
chic futuristic white dress” by the new designer David Koma, that she wore to
the People’s Choice Awards on January 11, 2012.  “The dress Cyrus
chose for the People’s Choice Awards speaks volumes about where she would like
her career to go.  For the first time, she came across less as a
hard-partying, trash-talking, peace-sign flashing teen and more as a
sophisticated, well-dressed, refined young woman.”  And she’s
correct, we did see a bit of couture friendly Miley for a while, perhaps up
until her engagement to Liam Hemsworth ended.  It reminds me of the
scene in “Miss Congeniality” when Sandra Bullock gives the perfect answer to her
pageant question and just as Michael Caine, her pageant coach, is gloating (“My
God, I did it”) she follows it up with a rant about how she will hunt down
anyone who is trying to hurt her new pageant friends/contestants, and kill
them.  Caine as Victor Melling visibly crumbles and says “A brief
shining moment, and then that mouth.”  The mouth part could apply
to Cyrus for obvious reasons, as well. LOL

Bjork in that swan dress

The article states “When it comes to the red carpet, it’s
easy to think that a beautiful dress is just that: a beautiful dress.
But the right dress can be a game changer when it comes to how a
celebrity is perceived and the career opportunities that follow.
And the wrong dress can mean this year’s fresh young thing is forgotten
by the time the Oscars red carpet is rolled up.”  Moore points to
Rooney Mara appearing in the tough-and-sexy dresses of Nina Ricci and Roksanda
Ilincic that reference her character Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl with the
Dragon Tattoo” while Berenice Bejo of “The Artist” did not stand out in her
shades of blue Gucci and Elie Saab gowns.  Likewise, that year
Marion Cotillard stole the fashion spotlight wearing “one distinctive dress
after another” so that even if you hadn’t seen “La Vie en Rose” people were
asking who is this woman?  Fashion Director of In Style and author
of “100 Unforgettable Dresses” Hal Rubenstein concurs that there is often a
missed opportunity and that some actresses never take that chance to make an
impact.  “They are just looking for the pretty dress, not the right
dress,” he added.

Rooney Mara In Lanvin

According to the article “the perfect match of celebrity
personality and dress is the exception, not the norm” which lends itself to the
sea of amalgamation and sameness.  Part of this has to do with the
sheer number of gowns needed for so many red carpet events all basically coming
from the same designers.  The best results are often from a dress
that is custom designed for the celebrity with her personality, likes and
dislikes in mind.  Barbara Tfank, a Los Angeles designer who has
dressed Adele as well as Michelle Obama, cites her background as a costume
designer as being important.  In referring to the Oscar dress that
she designed with Prada for Uma Thurman when she was nominated for supporting
actress in “Pulp Fiction” she asked the actress who she wanted to be that day
and picked the icons of Glinda the Good Witch from “Wizard of Oz’ meets Grace
Kelly.  “She felt at the moment those were the right icons for
her.”  Moore adds that this approach was reminiscent of celebrity
dressing in the Golden Age of Hollywood when costume designers such as Edith
Head and Helen Rose sought to attire the actresses more or less in character to
create consistency and to fit a slot or a type.

Perhaps it is easier to take a fashion risk when the stakes
are not so high as in an everyday outfit rather than a red carpet moment.
Knowing that these images are out there in media land forever may be
intimidating for someone who has any insecurities regarding style or doesn’t
want to look back and second guess “what was I thinking?” at a particular
juncture in time.  Still, it should be theoretically possible to
embrace the trends while being sexy, stylish and true to your own aesthetic all
without resorting to the donning of food or fowl.
– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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