The red carpet for the 90th Academy Awards was a fashion rainbow. There was a little bit of black, a whole lot of white, bits of red, a ton of blush tones, a dollop of buttercup and a few outlier shades of gray, silver and caramel. It seemed that the actors and actresses wore the clothes to which they were drawn, the clothes that their friends designed or the ones that they were contracted to wear.
There was no solidarity in wearing black to draw attention to the issue of sexual harassment and the lack of gender parity the way there had been at the Golden Globes and the recent BAFTAs in London. Viewers did not see the myriad buttons and brooches that had been promised by activists and nonprofits. There would be pins informing viewers about Time’s Up and the $21 million it has raised in support of women dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace. Buttons would raise awareness about gun violence and gun control. They would acknowledge that Black Lives Matter. For a while it seemed that one might need a cheat sheet to figure out what everything represented. But crib notes were unnecessary.
Instead, the solidarity seemed to be more in actions and attitude, with moments such as actress Nicole Kidman dipping into an interview with Sandra Bullock on ABC for a hug and a declaration of affection.
And on E! Entertainment, instead of turning the red carpet into a soap box, bully pulpit or courtroom, it became artificial turf for a game of keep-away. The object of avoidance was host Ryan Seacrest who has been accused by his former stylist of persistent sexual harassment, which he has denied. After interviews with a string of men, including actor Christopher Plummer who noted that he was wearing “some old thing” he’d pulled out of his closet, a lifeline of a hello and kiss from Seacrest’s daytime co-host, Kelly Ripa, and what could best be described as a sympathy interview with best supporting actress nominee Allison Janney, the E! cameras turned away from the red carpet and focused on a roundtable conversation with stylists and fashion pundits. Their live from the red carpet show was mostly live from an open-air conference room.
So there was no one left who would cheerfully ask the stars who made their dress or who tailored their tuxedo. It was left to design houses to tweet and Instagram and send out news alerts. Giorgio Armani snagged Allison Williams, Denzel Washington, Sally Hawkins and Nicole Kidman. Calvin Klein got Jordan Peele, Laura Dern and Saoirse Ronan. Burberry? Martin McDonagh. Michael Kors dressed Viola Davis in fuchsia. Gucci outfitted Salma Hayek in lavender and crystals.
On the red carpet, people were shying away from conversations about designers, but not necessarily clothes. ABC’s Michael Strahan was happy to chat with Tiffany Haddish about her embroidered ballgown because it was inspired by her Eritrean heritage. Rita Moreno, one of the few women on the red carpet who spoke to Seacrest, shared that her gown was from 1962, the year she’d won the best supporting actress Oscar for “West Side Story.” The dress, she said, was made from a Japanese obi and quite frankly she was amazed that it hadn’t “tarnished” in all these years.
But despite the lack of conversation about the designers and their frocks, it would be a leap to argue that the interviews on the red carpet had taken an enormous leap in substance. They didn’t. Not really.
And that’s no one’s fault. The red carpet simply is not an environment conducive to rich and thoughtful conversations. It’s a place for sound bites and quips. If a person can manage to utter a few well-considered sentences, as did Michael Stuhlbarg about his moving monologue in “Call Me By Your Name,” well then, you’ve accomplished something.
The red carpet is a place for leaving a lasting visual impression, a place to take pleasure in the creativity of the fashion industry. It’s a chance to dress up and revel in one’s success. It’s also an opportunity to make a small statement about oneself. And there was silent commentary about aging, about independence and beauty ideals.
Both Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda looked sexy and strong on the red carpet. They are women well into their senior years but there was nothing about their style that suggested there is a particular age at which one must opt out of fashion, when one should step into the shadow — even a bit. Mirren wore a sensually draped blue-gray gown by Reem Acra that flowed seductively down her slender frame. Fonda was in tailored white Balmain with shoulders that could cut through glass.
Dee Rees, the director of “Mudbound,” looked exquisite in black trousers and white tails. Emma Stone also eschewed the typical ballgown and wore black satin trousers with a geranium blazer and pink sash that was custom-made for her by Louis Vuitton. Mary J. Blige, whose gritty portrayal of a tough and soulful woman in “Mudbound” made clear she has not left glamour behind with a glittering, corseted white gown by Atelier Versace.
The men stood out as well. Peele looked dapper in his white Calvin Klein dinner jacket and the young Timothée Chalamet was elegant in all white Berluti. And Chadwick Boseman channeled Black Panther in a bedazzled long black jacket.
The clothes made personal statements about who these actors are and how they see themselves. Or at least how they want the public to see them. That may not be political or social activism. But it’s still meaningful.