Wednesday January 16, 2008
FASHION INTELLIGENCE
By Diane Clehane


THE CASE FOR A FASHIONLESS OSCAR SEASON

After a mind numbingly dull Golden Globes awards ceremony- turned-press conference where the biggest stars to were Mary Hart and Lara Spencer dressed in their camera ready, studio supplied finery, it’s clear that Hollywood needs fashion – and fashion needs Hollywood. But maybe all this codependency is reason for some fashion rehab after all. And what better time to take that much needed break from each other? There has been much hysterical reporting about all the relentless campaigning by designers to dress the stars that starts in December in anticipation of ‘awards season’ leading up to the Oscars – the Super Bowl of fashion (and the second biggest advertising generating television event bested only by the year’s biggest football game) only to be thwarted by the increasingly hostile Writer’s Guild strike. Designers, stylists and other assorted hangers on that bank on making their biggest publicity hits (not mention sell more than a few dresses and handbags or bill studios upwards of $5000 a day to send assistants to Beverly Hills to hoard jewels and dresses) are literally sick over the prospect of not being able to fight for the privilege of dressing Brangelina. In case you haven’t heard, Angie has a shot at an Oscar nod for her portrayal of Marianne Pearl in ‘A Mighty Heart’ which Brad produced.

“It’s really got people quite desperate out here,” bemoaned one Los Angeles stylist. “It is the biggest event of the year here and the thought that it might not happen has people reeling.”

Having covered the red carpet at the Oscars for almost a decade, I can remember those heady days in the mid-nineties when ‘red carpet fashion – and reporting on it was fun. Remember fun? Prada’ wasn’t a household name but became one thanks to one utterance by Uma Thurman, Joan Rivers decried Nicole Kidman’s (then Mrs. Tom Cruise) chartreuse Dior dress as “the ugliest” she’d ever seen and was promptly threatened by uber publicist Pat Kingsley with the prospect of never being able to speak to any other PMK clients ever again and Randolph Duke (remember him?) was a major player in fashion thanks to dressing starlets like Minnie Driver who lost the best supporting actress statuette in 1998 but won best dressed honors. A footnote: no one remembers who bested Driver, but her flaming red gown worn that evening remains one of the most memorable looks from any Oscar before or since. People magazine bought it at the AmFAR Christie’s auction had kept it on display in their offices for the longest time - -a true testament to its rightful place in pop culture.

In recent years I have been an outspoken critic on how boring and safe the fashion at the Oscars have become largely because A-list actresses have been lining up to sign five and six figure contracts with fashion and jewelry companies to act as mannequins while shilling for their films. Sure, most deny it, but it’s the worst kept secret in the business.

Perhaps there is one exciting scenario that could come out of this near apocalyptic event. There is less than one month left until the Academy Awards. Many designers (none of whom would admit this on the record) are pulling back a bit from the prohibitive cost of doing Oscar dressing which is speculative anyway unless you have a deal with an actress these days and focusing more on the upcoming collections. “I simply can’t afford to invest in doing Oscar dresses that I know will never be worn if the strike isn’t settled,” says one young designer that was hoping to make his first splash in Hollywood this season. “If the show goes on at least I might get some party coverage. If there’s no show, all the work is really for nothing.”

So, imagine that a last minute deal is struck the Friday before the Oscars. It’s on! All of Hollywood descends on Barneys, Neiman Marcus and Fred Segal. An off the rack Oscars! Just like the good old days (before my time, thank you, but I have seen pictures of Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange and Sally Field in dresses they actually bought worn at the Oscars!) Sure Renee might have some old Carolina Herrera hanging in her closet and Angelina Jolie could turn up in some $20 black dress she bought in Ethiopia, but what about the rest of the glamazons? That is an Oscar I want to see – and that might just be what fashion needs to come back in Hollywood even bigger next year. Come on -- admit it -- things were really getting pretty boring fashion wise anyway. Can you name last year’s best dressed actress? I thought so. After all, isn’t it the movies that taught us that absence makes the heart grow fonder?


Tina Goes ‘Live’: Her Next Book Takes on Hillary and Bill

Hot off the success of her best selling Diana Chronicles Tina Brown has announced she’ll take on the Clintons for her next book – aptly titled The Clinton Chronicles -- due out from Broadway Doubleday Publishing Group in 2010. It’s a somewhat surprising choice given what the former editor of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair told me when we spoke last summer during a chat at Michael’s (the epicenter of her first book’s unofficial public relations campaign). When asked at the time about rumors she was going to take on the life and times of Tony Blair for her next epic tome, the once and future Queen of New York dismissed the idea saying she prefers dead subjects over those that are alive and kicking. While she did say that her next subject would like be American she added: “I think it’s very difficult to write well about a living person. It’s so complicated because you’ve got to clear the thicket of a life that you can see whole.”

Further complicating things is Brown’s unabashed admiration of Bill Clinton which she described in a glowing and somewhat infamous portrait that she penned for The New Yorker. After observing him at a White House dinner she wrote: “For those of us who dismissed him … see instead as his guests do: a man in a dinner jacket with more heat than any star in the room (or for that matter, at the multiplex.)” Ah, but what does she think about Hillary?

Given Brown’s legendary ability to tap into the zeitgeist (the late lamented Talk not withstanding), it would seem that she’s expecting a Clinton 2.0 version to be filling up the pages of the country’s tabloids just in time to fans the flames for her book. If she was able to contribute new insights to the exhaustive list of Diana biographies that were largely retreads, my money is on her to serve up fresh dish on whatever we don’t know about what’s gone on before in the Clinton’s public and personal lives and to reveal whatever happens to be going on when the Secret Service aren’t around come November 2008.


A Campaign of Charisma

Speaking of the election, it would seem that this race of some of the least engaging figures to ever run for office (Fred Thompson, if I were you, I’d call Dick Wolf immediately!) has inadvertently become largely a campaign of charisma. Sure, there are those political wonks who are hung up on the issues, but take a look at most of the editorials in the country’s major newspapers including The New York Times and it seems to me that style is triumphing over substance – at least when there’s no actual primary reporting going on. Hillary’s tears have garnered more coverage than anything else in her campaign. Maureen Dowd cynically asked, ‘Can she cry her way back to the White House?’ (The answer appears to be she has a better shot since tearing up). Hillary promptly went on Access Hollywood to explain why she got emotional. Was Tim Russert unavailable? She chatted up Tyra Banks (!?) about what Bill’s title should be if she wins the presidential race – and then suggested a national contest be held to choose. Mike Huckabee’s extraordinary weight loss (Did you know he has lost 150 pounds?) may be the most interesting thing about him. The New York Post recently ran an editorial opining that his weight loss is truly political issue citing obesity as a drain on the country’s already taxed health resources. Barack and Michelle Obama most definitely seem to be taking a page from Jack and Jackie Kennedy in everything from their wardrobes to their body language when they appear on stage together (even if it’s not consciously, but you’d be naïve to think so). Can’t you just see the Vanity Fair photo portfolio that’s most certainly being planned to capitalize on that? One veteran ABC newswoman recently described the sight of Michelle clad in pearls with her chic flipped-up hairdo her arms encircled around her husband as he spoke to the crowd in New Hampshire as “beautiful imagery.” Indeed.

One reliable barometer that indicates that style ranks higher in this presidential campaign than in those past: designers are lining up to get their wares on political wives (well, some of them at least – I’ll let you figure out who), pretty young thing daughters (Donatella Versace already had a crack at Chelsea Clinton – we didn’t love the black tights with the open toed sandals but that’s just us. Perhaps she’d like to give Bridget McCain was recently crowned ‘a hottie’ by The New York Post a call), and, of course, the candidates themselves. “They are the movie stars of the moment,” says one New York designer. “Young Hollywood is trash and A-list celebrities might not even get to go to the Oscars this year. These politicians are out every day. Barack wears clothes beautifully – and Michelle she is the chicest working mother we’ve seen in so long. My dream is to get Hillary out of her safe pantsuits. She’s worn Donna Karan and Oscar – I can make her look even more beautiful.” Next thing you know, Chris Matthews will be vetting the qualifications of the candidates’ personal stylists. Think about it …

(Read Diane's interview with Tina Brown for Mediabistro.com:click here for article)


Diane Clehane is Lookonline.com's Entertainment Editor. She is the author of several national best sellers including Diana The Secrets of Her Style (GT Publishing) and I Love You Mom! (Hyperion). Her work appears in Variety, People, The New York Post and other national publications. She also writes the popular "Lunch at Michaels" column for Mediabistro.com.If you have news, gossip, an event, or a new product you would like to tell her about please email her at DClehane@aol.com



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