Awards-show clothing (or lack thereof)
In a country that insists on supersizing just about everything, Hollywood is downsizing — at least when it comes to awards-show clothing. From Lil’ Kim’s notorious ensembles to the breast-revealing Mariah Carey at the American Music Awards soiree, to Jennifer Lopez’s Grammy navel gazing and Cameron Diaz’s Oscar neckline, this trophy season has been an unprecedented flesh parade, boasting more bronze than American Beauty.
There have been such ludicrous amounts of skin on display that attendees are now part fashion plate and part human spectacle, like couture as designed by the producers of Jerry Springer. ”Celebrities aren’t satisfied with just looking nice,” says Alison Lurie, author of The Language of Clothes. ”The dresses themselves aren’t even that elegant, they just reveal a lot. The clothes just shout, ‘Look at me! Look at me!”’
Granted, flashing a little cheesecake to garner free publicity is nothing new, but even fashion pros are stumped by the intensity of this big show-off. ”It’s to the point that at each awards show, there’s a fight to see who’s going to bare the most,” says Los Angeles-based Cloutier stylist Ricci DeMartino, who works with Lara Flynn Boyle and Courteney Cox Arquette. ”It gets more and more challenging to come up with something striking and sexy that will get everyone’s attention.”
Now it’s simply not enough to be nearly naked. It has to have just the right kind of nakedness to catch the eye; the perfect combo of timing, engineering, and tramp-trend savvy. ”People are always looking to see the defining moment,” says The Wall Street Journal’s Teri Agins, author of The End of Fashion. ”Sometimes there’s a struck chord…everyone is looking at one person, and this moment happens.”
This season’s most notorious moment still belongs to…Lopez. When you replay her Grammy tsunami it becomes clear the Donatella Versace sheath alone could not have created the kind of jaw-dropping incredulity that Lopez received. (Which is to take nothing away from the Italian designer. To have her counsel you on clothing is like having Stephen Hawking give you a few pointers on the universe. She understands the physics of star dressing, the variables of fashion, and the infinite power of what a little fabric can do.)
Along with the perfectly flimsy dress barely supporting a perfectly taut body, Lopez had a certain X factor working in her favor: Appropriately, her copresenter was David Duchovny. The crowd’s stunned reaction to her ensemble could have been a scene straight from The X-Files: ”Wait a second, Mulder. Are we seeing what we think we’re seeing?” Whether it was eyelash glue or just an adherent sense of self-confidence that kept the stitched-together scarves from vanishing like an alien life-form, we may never know. And it doesn’t matter. With the bottom half drawn back like chiffon curtains, Lopez redefined what we think when we think revealing, drawing a line in the sand that says with an arrogant whiff: I dare any of you to try and top this one.
But why does what she wore at a weeks old awards show still matter? Turns out, Lopez has created a way to react to a snarling media spotlight: Use your hot body as media decoy, your nakedness as your best defense. Her attire has acted like a press stun gun, giving her all the attention she could possibly get and drawing focus away from her recent brush with the law, her boyfriend Sean ”Puffy” Combs, and her much discussed derriere.
”She hit it right on the mark,” says Jeanne Yang, also an L.A.-based designer and Cloutier stylist, whose clients include Calista Flockhart and Angelina Jolie. ”Her body, her lipstick, her hair, everything. Everything was perfect.”
But if Lopez’s outfit was such a fashion sensation, why didn’t we see even more, so to speak, at the Oscars? ”[They] have a different tone,” explains Vogue associate editor Robin Givhan. ”You’re not supposed to be too flashy.” Still, there were dangerously low fronts (Heather Graham and Vanessa Williams) and fully exposed backs (Cate Blanchett, Charlize Theron, and Nicole Kidman), and even an I-see-London-I-see-France Versace ensemble worn by Diaz that was no doubt inspired by Lopez.
Of course, it’s all relative. If going to the Oscars in a backless dress that nearly exposes your nether regions is considered subdued, the mind boggles at who might be wearing what (or lack of) at the MTV Movie Awards, the next glam awards show, slated for early June. ”Someone is going to just show up in a bikini with heels,” predicts Yang. ”It’s gotten to the point where some of these stars are just going to get naked.” (Not that Rose McGowan didn’t come close in 1998.)
Yet if actresses and performers continue on this path, fashion editors caution they risk self-parody. ”You begin to look kitsch,” explains Vogue’s Givhan. ”Or you pull a Cher, where you’ve gone beyond sexy and it becomes expected that you’ll wear something over-the-top.”
Ultimately, the only thing that will rein in the celebrity barely-there look is when it trickles down to the masses. Chalk it up to style snobbery: It’s over when a waitress can try it at home with a version from Contempo Casuals. ”Men in singles bars everywhere are panting in anticipation for that [Lopez] dress to get popular,” says Yang. ”And when that happens, [it] will reverse.” Or just move on to another body part. ”We’ve seen too much of breasts. The next thing will be legs,” predicts DeMartino. ”We’re going to see microminis and lots of legs.” Legs? That just doesn’t sound bare enough. At least not until someone appears in a beaded fig leaf…Donatella?