For the 93rd Academy Awards tomorrow, guests have been pre-advised via email to fuse “Inspirational and Aspirational”. It’s a push for sartorial formality but, if these adjectives were a touch too ethereal for some to understand, the email continues with: “Formal is totally cool if you want to go there, but casual is really not.” According to The Cut, it was sent by the Oscars producers to all nominees.
This year’s event will, of course, be different again to pre-COVID years. The red carpet won’t be the usual hullabaloo and there’ll be no designer questions or major interviews. There will be no official after party and the actual event will be reworked. There will be no host, but rather a slew of presenters taking part in what cinema director and this year’s broadcast MD Steven Soderbergh says will be shot as though “it’s a film itself”.
Perhaps the producer’s email warning was is in anticipation of our COVID brainwash. That not only the rest of us, but Hollywood elite, could have fallen victim to exclusively wearing stretchy waistbands and second-skin tees. With all the dialling in and lack of emphasis on the red carpet, perhaps some could have erred on the side of fleece, rendering the year’s global order of taffeta and chiffon wasted – destined to be wrapped up and passed on to Dancing With The Stars. Or, perhaps it’s in reaction to Timothée Chalamet’s Prada athleisure last year – a kind of kindergarten-esque precedence fear. Whereby if they let one get away with it the rest might follow.
However, there’s something to be said for formality that dips a little too close to the casual edge. Personally, I think when a look is given freedom, away from the constriction of ten-point rules, it finds a way to become particularly memorable. The limitation of floor length gowns, or a stitched up tux seems, just, very un-2021. How beige and bygone to demand such stringency. Of course, there’s risk involved. With creative minds given sartorial freedom we might summon a repurposed wedding dress that makes an ironic statement against the patriarchy, or a jazzed up kitchen apron that banners the rights of cooking show contestants.
It wouldn’t be perfect, but wow it would make it more interesting.
Surely those nominated tomorrow should be free to express their persona through couture as they wish. Add a jacket! Mix up the footwear! Belt a skirt! The overt observance of toeing the high fashion line isn’t particularly progressive. Macro skirts and matching bags. Extreme couture or ubiquitous formal frocks. After all, if we’re simply being served a roll call of well known people in frocks stylists told them to wear, then the chance of a beguiling Oscar’s moment is near impossible.
We should be celebrating the wacky, the weird and the moderne, because this is how identity is born. Without it, we’d never know the true risk-takers, the chic-makers, the swan-wearers. Runway-to-red-carpet is only sensible if the piece is reflective of the actor beneath (thank you Lupita, Cate, Natalie). While many A-listers sell an Oscars look with devastating perfection, so many others are swallowed whole. Strangling a smile for the cameras while inside they scream I’m desperate to get home and rip this jail-dress off for all eternity.
So, this awards season, let’s pray to queen Tilda Swinton that we see our celebrated performers take creative license and their foot off the style-minutiae pedal. May they let the fashion breathe and revel in the party of it all rather than the stipulation. While it’s a moment to exit the COVID fashion stalemate, we’re mostly here to applaud the films and their contributors.
With less on the line perhaps we’ll see more of these paired back, super-chic ensembles that rise as muse once again. Martha Plimpton on the arm of River Phoenix in 1989. Gwyneth Paltrow circa Brad Pitt wearing Calvin Klein and a radiant (pre-GOOP!) smile. Vintage Lauren Hutton and Geena Davis in forever-cool Halston. Courtney Love in breezy Versace in 1997. Claire Danes pairing a Narciso Rodriguez pale blue two-piece with a pixie cut. And special mention to Laura Dern, the Billy Bob years, in 90s formal-goth oddness.
Off-the-cuff and kick-back-relaxed…and referenced for years to come.