Despite the fact that the American audience is likely to see Sunday’s Academy Awards with a “collective shrug,The fashion industry gives the show a hug.
Awards season has been an opportunity for fashion and beauty brands to build equality and notoriety for years, literally on the backs of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities. Luxury brand ambassadors appear contractually in couture on the red carpet, while websites describe the fashions of the evening in slideshows and talking heads debate the best and worst dressed people.
Lately, however, there’s been a shrinking audience – a pre-pandemic trend fueled by controversies over diversity, a reluctance to embrace popular movies, and the show’s ever-lengthy format. Yet fashion enthusiasm around the Academy Awards has not waned.
“This pricing season almost feels like it’s more important because there have been so few in-person fashion moments as a result of the pandemic,” said Donovan Tatum, CAA’s commercial approvals agent. “Brands now really hope to benefit more than ever.”
Luxury brands with a red carpet still view Hollywood awards as an opportunity to enhance the look of their brand. The marketing opportunity isn’t about driving instant sales – as much of the fashion is either couture, filing, or just too expensive for the millions of people who watch. But seeing celebrities repeatedly wearing tailored Dior suits or Chanel dresses encourages the purchase of accessories and licensed products, a boon for brands given their high margins.
This year will of course bring unique challenges. To make the Oscars as engaging as possible, producers are banning Zoom (unlike any other major award show to date in the pandemic) with attendees, presenters and winners expected to appear in live broadcasts from satellite hubs around the world.
In terms of fashion, the event will be maskless, and while there won’t be a traditional red carpet full of paparazzi, there will be a dress code. The show’s producers defined it as the Los Angeles Times as a “fusion of inspiring and ambitious, which basically means that formal is totally cool if you want to go there, but casual really isn’t.”
Despite this year’s differences, brands have doubled down on their attendance at the event and are even embracing them as an opportunity to showcase the pre-show moments.
Fashion and jewelry brands still work with famous stylists to dress up visitors and with agents to secure approval deals, said those who were at the center of deal making. Brands are also entering into agreements with the stylists and makeup artists, many of whom have millions of followers on social media themselves, to drive online impressions.
“A lot of people don’t really tune in on the actual prices, they look forward to red carpet and these amazing spontaneous moments between celebrities or wardrobe malfunctions or weird red carpet attacks between exes,” said Elana Fishman, style editor at the New York Post. “The pandemic basically took all of that away, which has certainly accelerated that kind of decline, but … Instagram has become a stand-in for the red carpet.”
Indeed, in a year without the normal fashion frenzy surrounding the arrival of the red carpet, social media offers the opportunity to maintain the evening’s marketing opportunity. But to do this without a massive gathering place, brands have to put in more effort themselves. For example, to ensure the high-quality images that normally circulate on photo services, brands have hired fashion photographers to shoot both the prep moments at home and the looks themselves, Tatum said.
Even with a dwindling number of viewers, brands are still investing because these shows are still an effective tool. Even brands that are less intentional in their approach to showing prices can take advantage of this. When stylist Shiona Turini dressed Daniel Kaluuya in Fear of God for the Critics Choice Awards, the brand’s founder, Jerry Lorenzo, said it was an organic surprise moment. But it helped the way consumers would think about the streetwear brand, which is’ net [its] feet wet ”in customization, said Lorenzo.
Award shows like the Oscars are also an opportunity for independent designers to shine, especially in a year when stylists and celebrities have been more intentional about the brands they spotlight. Nominated and styled by Elizabeth Stewart this year, Viola Davis wore Louis Vuitton to the Screen Actors Guild Awards, but chose CK’s Greta Constantine and La Vie for the Critics Choice Awards and Golden Globes respectively.
“She’s really branched out,” said Fishman. “We’ve seen her in … all these lesser known color designer brands that might not have gotten the same placement otherwise.”
While celebrities and their stylists are interested in showcasing a new generation of red carpet designers, brands are also seeing the opportunity to work with new talent. Dress-up actors with rising stars, such as Steve Yeun or Yuh-Jung Youn, the protagonist of the best photo nominee “Minari”, offer brands the opportunity to reach new audiences while embracing the values that talent itself could signal .
“We see a lot of brands jumping on and really behind these emerging talents,” said CAA fashion agent Josh Otten. “They believe in what they stand for, not just as actors and actresses, but also in what their greater cultural impact is.”
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