Tuesday June 6th, 2006

La Dolce Vita

At This Year’s CFDA Awards Civility – and Jessica Simpson -- Ruled

-By Diane Clehane with photos by Randy Brooke

Maybe it was the library setting, but the mood at last night’s CFDA Fashion Awards was exceedingly civilized – at least among the VIP guests. Kudos to KCD for an impeccably run evening. Everything from the décor to the well-produced clips were slick and stylishly executed. The one thing that can’t be factored into an organizational chart for an evening like this no matter how many headset wearing minions man their posts is red carpet excitement. That, unfortunately, was in short supply.

Karl Lagerfeld & Lindsay Lohan

The momentarily blips of adrenaline occurred when two biggest stars of the evening made their ‘late’ arrivals. Twin tabloid princesses du jour – Jessica Simpson and Lindsay Lohan (it’s okay to feel old after reading this. You can’t imagine how I feel writing it) were unquestionably the evening’s ‘it” girls. Lohan arrived first. Alighting from a massive black SUV with Karl Lagerfeld, the starlet looked a little less fresh than she did the night before at the Prairie Home Companion premiere. Still, Us Weekly’s favorite bad girl was polite, stopping to talk to most reporters and gamely answering hard hitting questions about her fashion choice – a demure Chanel gown that she unfortunately accessorized with fingerless leather gloves. A gift from Karl, perhaps?

Michael Kors & Jessica Simpson

The paparazzi moment of the evening belonged to Jessica Simpson. Busting out of her white lace Michael Kors mini the starlet was a curious mix of in-your-face sexuality and virginal sweetness. Perhaps that is the secret to her inexplicable superstardom. Among her entourage was her hairstylist and BFF the ubiquitous Ken Paves (“The most overexposed walker of the new millennium,” groused a fellow journalist). He’s been playing the role of Simpson’s confidant and has morphed into her doppelganger now that former assistant CeCe Cobb has left for greener pastures – hey, I work for PEOPLE I have to know these things!

It was a curious sight to see Simpson ignite the biggest media frenzy of the night. The savvy singer kept the dogs at bay while she went over to fans to sign autographs and pose for pictures. Making her way up the library steps, she stopped every few feet for clusters of orgasmic photographers. By the time she reached the entrance way she was all but carried into the dinner by her handlers barely stopping to answer reporters’ questions except to say “It’s all about Michael Kors!”

Yes, there were other celebrities. Whether or not they were A, B or C-listers depends solely on your perspective. Pretty young things in diaphanous dresses gladly chatted up reporters from InStyle and USA Today. Jamie Lynn Sigler (in Monique Lhuillier) whose character on “The Sopranos” was lucky enough to be written out with a move to California rather than suffer the indignity of their head-scratching Christmas show finale which aired this Sunday was among the first to arrive. Amanda Bynes – you may not know who she is, but trust me, your kids do – came next. A guest of Max Azria, Bynes sported a BCBG gown and looked positively wide eyed when asked about the possibly of meeting her fashion role model Jessica Simpson. “I’d love to raid her closet!” gushed the teen queen.

Sandra Oh & Peter Som

Other bold faced names arrived dutifully on time singing the praises of their designer escorts. Heidi Klum in J.Mendel traded compliments with designer date Giles Mendel. Sandra Oh, wearing one of Peter Som’s mini goddess gowns clutched the designer’s arm while answering reporters’ questions. Both women were happy to chat at length with all who inquired. Unfortunately, given the fact that they’ve been at virtually every A-list event on both coasts for the past six months there wasn’t much to talk about. But I’ll give them points for graciousness and for looking great. Chloe Sevingy (who gets my vote for fashion maverick of the evening for wearing an eighties-inspired black wool mini dress by Proenza Schouler despite the warm weather) was surprisingly accessible dishing about her new HBO series “Big Love” which begins shooting its second season in August.

A brunette Scarlett Johansson let her nude colored Calvin Klein dress speak for itself as she breezed by reporters. The 'dowdy secretary' style said one word loud and clear: frumpy. It’s a bit ironic that the worst dress of the evening was designed by the winner of the women’s wear award. Sorry, Francisco.

Right: Tommy Hilfiger

Then, there are those celebrities that tried to hard. The worst offender: in an all too obvious bid for attention, Tommy Hilfiger looked ridiculous in a Guns N’Roses t-shirt. We get it – you’re cool enough to make fun of yourself for getting into a bar brawl with Axl Rose. The designer was actually looking for reporters to talk to. From where I was standing there were no takers.

Others seemed star struck themselves: Kerry Washington (who actually hovered around the entrance so she could meet Jessica Simpson). She finally got her wish when after everyone had been ushered into the dinner the actress was still in the hall when Simpson arrived. The two women embraced and chatted while photographers screamed at reporters trying to wrestle one usable quote from the blonde bombshell to get out of the way. (More on that later)

And, of course, there are those stars that are in desperate need of good PR who inexplicably show up for these events with handlers that bar anyone from talking to them. Exhibit A: Janet Jackson. She wore a fiery Bill Blass halter dress. Don’t ask me why she chose it. The newly svelte songstress was surrounded by a squadron of handlers – the most imposing one looked like her grandmother and barked out “No questions!” to anyone that dared to look in her direction. When I did summon up the courage to challenge the gatekeeper and called out to Jackson about her dress, she stopped dead in her tracks, did her best ingénue imitation and whispered ‘Bill Blass’ before grandma shot me a look and led her away.

My biggest beef of the evening comes courtesy of the “A-list photographers.” Just how many pictures does one person need of the same celebrity in the same pose? While the supposed more aggressive photographers are kept under control in the pen, ones bestowed with most favored status are allowed to roam free often making reporters’ life hell. We know the drill, we let you guys get your photos and cool our heels at the sidelines while you take what seems like a ridiculous amount of shots. At one point last night Heidi Klum, who knows a little something about giving good camera in record time stood still for what felt like forever -- “Over here Heidi, to the left Heidi, one more.” When a fellow journalist and I moved in to talk to her after what seemed like an eternity one lensmen shouted at us “I didn’t get the full length yet!” Come on!

Janet Jackson

I know it is heresy to say anything less than glowing about Patrick McMullan but here goes: It’s not enough that he always gets the first shot – literally and figuratively –at every event. It’s a given and every reporter I know gets it and works around it. Last night, while three of us waited to talk to Heidi Klum and were trying to figure out how we also might get Janet Jackson who was coming up the stairs at the same time, McMullan bumped into me from behind. Clearly annoyed, he looked at me with distain and said, and I quote, “Writer, can you stand somewhere else?” My answer: “No, I can’t.” I’ve got a job to do too. Give me a break. Then, while other reporters were trying to talk to Terrence Howard he interrupted the 30-second interview that they had patiently waited for – and cleared with his gatekeeper -- to grab the actor for a photo with Janet Jackson. Nice.

Inside it was the reporters versus the photographers again when Jessica Simpson and Kerry Washington chatted during the final moments of the cocktail reception. One poor scribe was given her marching orders from her editor to get anything from Simpson. That was her sole mission for the evening. Since this was the only time Simpson was accessible to her, it was now or never. She moved in to talk and the lensmen literally shouted her down. “Get out of the way! Move!” The novice journo flinched but those among us ticked off enough intervened. We stood in front of them for all of thirty seconds so she could get her one precious quote.

Doesn’t it all sound so glamorous?

Daily Fashion Report