Behind the Business of Dressing for the Oscars

Nicole Kidman Oscars 2

This is a guest post by Mary Alice Haney, Editor in Chief of

The Oscars and the fashion industry have a long and profitable relationship, with just about every designer in the business looking to put his or her gown on this year’s Best Actress winner or “it” icon — a victory that can deliver millions of dollars worth of free press and instant brand recognition. And a big night on the red carpet isn’t just lucrative for designers — it can also lead to big paydays for actresses. Case in point: January Jones wearing Versace a few times led to her becoming the face of the brand.

With so much at stake for designers, the pre-Oscars behind-the-scenes negotiations have become a heightened chess match, with both sides looking to receive the most gain from their choices. Granted, A-list celebrities often have a clear advantage: They can require that a designer agree to dress them exclusively, meaning that the designer may not offer any other actress a dress for the night. This can become a game of cat-and-mouse, since the top celebrities are typically not required to pledge equal exclusivity to the designer. As such, brands must place their bets wisely — is it better to aim for, say, Nicole Kidman exclusively, and risk losing her? Or to offer to dress 4 or 5 lesser actresses instead?

Larger and more prestigious brands can bind an actress, contracting with her to wear the brand exclusively to big events –- which is why Charlize Theron is always dressed in head-to-toe Dior at awards shows.

In the center of this game are stylists, acting as the master negotiators between the parties and assessing which star will work best with which designer (and vice versa).

Stylist and tastemaker Estee Stanly, who dressed Lea Michele for the Oscars and the Grammys, said,  “for those actresses who are at the early stages of their careers, and don’t yet have relationships with design houses, the relationship between a stylist and designer is critical. We not only make women look gorgeous on the red carpet, but we help cultivate relationships that ultimately benefit both the actress and the design house.”

In fact, an important factor for designers choosing whom to dress is the designer’s relationships with the stylist involved. Designers typically want to dress the already-famous, but the dressing decisions of lesser-known actresses are often based on the stylist involved and whom he/she has dressed in the past. All of which creates a guessing game, where both sides have a lot to win (or lose): A brand can nab the next Jennifer Aniston, while an actress can achieve a look that can help define her career (JLo, anyone?).

Click here for a gallery of stars and the labels that dress them.

2 Responses to “Behind the Business of Dressing for the Oscars”

Leave a Comment!

  • (will not be published)

*Required field