Style Sheet

Red-Carpet Bombing

Who pays the price when an outfit flops?

J. Lo's Mrs. Roper-on-acid ensemble. Celine Dion's white Dior. Lara Flynn Boyle's pink tutu. We all remember celebrity fashion bumbles with a mixture of sympathy and schadenfreude. After all, if stars -- with their battalion of cooing stylists, makeup artists, and designers -- can't get it right, who can? But in the cutthroat world of red-carpet fashion, where A-listers get piles of free couture and are often simply paid to wear designer duds, what is the fallout when an outfit completely bombs?

''Everyone says all publicity is great publicity, but if a dress is a disaster, it isn't good for anybody,'' says Garth Condit, who's styled Angelina Jolie and Faith Hill. But there's a distinction between don'ts from established designers versus young upstarts. While Hedi Slimane -- already known for outfitting Brad Pitt and Sarah Jessica Parker -- can be forgiven for making Nicole Kidman look like a mortician at the premiere of ''The Human Stain,'' David Cardona (he of the LFB tutu) has been MIA since the Golden Globes.

''If a little-known designer dresses a star and it turns out less than attractive, that's a disaster,'' says ''WWD'' editor Eric Wilson. ''It costs them a fortune to get their clothes on celebrities, and if people don't like it, that's not going to get them off the ground.''

That said, when bad clothes happen to good celebs, it's usually the star who takes the public fall. ''Red-carpet watching has become one of America's favorite pastimes,'' says Stacy London, cohost of TLC's ''What Not to Wear.'' ''And celebrities get beat up and bruised when they make mistakes.'' Joan and Melissa wouldn't have it any other way.

Originally posted Dec 05, 2003 Published in issue #740 Dec 05, 2003 Order article reprints