The Cold, Hard Business of Dressing the Stars

Designers Plot Media Exposure for Awards Season

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Once upon a time, a dress was just a dress, and the Oscars were a one-night awards event. Now the Oscars have become a season, and one dress on the red carpet represents months of research, negotiation, investment and perhaps even a little bit of baksheesh.
'Ugly Betty' actress America Ferrera showed up at the Golden Globes in a dress by Brian Reyes, 'and now everyone is asking who Brian Reyes is,' one media exec said.
'Ugly Betty' actress America Ferrera showed up at the Golden Globes in a dress by Brian Reyes, 'and now everyone is asking who Brian Reyes is,' one media exec said. Credit: AP

'Tis the season
Oscar night has become the pinnacle of a full "red-carpet season" stretching from January to March and including the Golden Globes, the U.K.'s Baftas, the Screen Actor's Guild Awards and more. That means designers no longer just count on one star, but target different celebrities or groups for different events to maximize their exposure.

In 2006 when advertisers paid $1.7 million for 30 seconds of airtime during the Academy Awards broadcast, designers were shelling out similar sums in the hope that one dress would end up on the red carpet. While the designer's name might be mentioned once or twice by the star wearing the dress, the exposure goes far beyond a 10-second interview here and a 20-second speech there. The photographs -- and their accompanying credits -- last forever.

'A year's worth of publicity'
"Today, it's all part of a marketing campaign," said Tom Julian, senior VP-strategic director of trends at McCann Ericson. "It is a year's worth of publicity and leadership in the [fashion] industry because those images don't go away." On Oscar.com alone, where Mr. Julian has served as a fashion expert for the past 12 years, there were 41 million page views by 1.86 million users the day after the broadcast.

People magazine, which has a verified rate base of 3.4 million, saw that number jump 300,000 for its annual Oscar Style issue in 2006. On Jan. 16, the day after the Golden Globes, People.com drew 39.6 million page views, the highest single-day page view record in the site's history, according to a People spokeswoman.

Profiling
Just as celebrities want to wear items no one else has, consumers aspire to their choices. "If the celebrity has a multitude of known endorsements," said Mr. Julian, "then the impact is lost."

With so much investment at stake and no guarantee that a particular actress will actually show up on the red carpet in a particular gown, designers have all but given up on relying on relationships and have started getting strategic. Mr. Julian said many designers will start profiling potential Academy Award nominees to woo as early as November or December.

New and different
So, who is the woman all the fashion houses want to dress this year? "It is always someone who has fashion buzz," said Mr. Julian. "Someone with credibility for Women's Wear Daily and the weeklies and someone who has some reincarnation value. Cate Blanchett is always top of the list."

Sometimes, though, taking a chance on someone new and different is well worth it. "Ugly Betty" actress America Ferrera showed up at the Golden Globes in a dress by Brian Reyes, "and now everyone is asking who Brian Reyes is," Mr. Julian said. Never mind that Mr. Reyes has been in the business for almost 10 years.
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