Actors win Oscars for their performances on the big screen, but a lot of the time it can be more entertaining to see which stars rule the red carpet.
The 92nd Academy Awards, which airs on Feb. 9, will welcome celebrities like Charlize Theron, Cynthia Erivo and Leonardo DiCaprio, to name a few.
Big-name stars often wear gowns and diamonds that cost thousands — sometimes millions — of dollars, but there’s a good chance those celebrities don’t pay a cent. Here’s the rundown on how celebrities choose their outfits, and some insight into who covers the cost.
Stylists play an important role
Nearly all A-listers work with a stylist. For awards season, established stylists use their connections to find their celebrity clients gowns that will wow viewers. Designers will either reach out to stylists asking to dress their clients, or stylists will contact brands to sort out a deal.
This process often starts many months ahead of award shows, said Emmy-nominated costume designer and red carpet stylist Kemal Harris.
Harris works with stars like Robin Wright, Alexis Bledel and Kate McKinnon.
In an interview with CNN, Jennifer Lopez’s stylists, Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn, said they called some of their go-to designers, including Versace and Oscar de la Renta, as soon as they learned Lopez was presenting an award at the 2019 Oscars.
The pair said designers gave them access to sketches of couture collections before they were even made so Lopez could have her pick.
Getting stars to wear designer gowns is a lucrative business and can help with brand awareness.
During a panel on celebrity dressing hosted by the Cut, stylist Jessica Paster said stylists can receive anywhere from US$30,000 to $50,000 for brokering deals between designers and celebrities. For sporting a gown, actors can receive anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000 from designers.
Paster also said that it’s not just clothing designers who want A-listers to represent them: jewelry and shoe designers make deals, too.
If a celebrity is a household name, designers may create a custom gown for them. Designers know that if a celebrity makes best-dressed lists, their name will be in the press.
“If someone shows up to the Oscars in a black dress and huge statement necklace, chances are they’re being paid by a jewelry company,” celebrity stylist Brad Goreski told the Cut.
Celebrities often borrow from designers
It’s no secret celebrities have friends in high places. If an actor has a close relationship with a designer, they will often sport their creations on the red carpet as a sign of support. This was the case with Cher, who wore unforgettable Bob Mackie creations to many Academy Award shows.
But these relationships can sour.
Anne Hathaway had a notorious fashion situation at the 2013 Oscars when she decided last-minute not to wear her pal Valentino’s gown. The night before the awards show, Hathaway says she learned that another guest would be sporting a look similar to the Valentino creation she was set to wear and wanted to avoid this situation.
So she decided to wear a now-infamous pale pink satin Prada dress with a pointed bust — a look that put her on many worst-dressed lists.
Hathaway later released a statement apologizing for the switch, saying she honoured the relationship she had with Valentino and deeply regretted “any disappointment caused.”
Obviously, not every actor has the connections to get Prada delivered on short notice.
If an actor is up-and-coming or lesser-known, designers may be less likely to lend them a dress. Designers also often save their most coveted pieces for A-listers, which means another celebrity may be told they can’t borrow a dress because it’s on hold.
In an interview with Teen Vogue, stylist and TV personality Law Roach said that it’s common for designers to turn down requests.
“You’ll go, ‘Can I have that?’ and they’re like, ‘No, we’re saving that for one of the girls who is nominated,'” Roach said.
“It’s very competitive, which is hard, especially when your heart is set on something, and you know it’s the one and it’s a no. Then you have to see someone else wear it, which breaks your heart every time.”
Actors like Melissa McCarthy have spoken out in the past about having a hard time finding an Oscars dress because of their body shape. In a 2014 Redbook interview, the actor said she asked “five or six designers — very high-level ones” in 2012, who all said no to dressing her.
The Help star Octavia Spencer also faced difficulty finding a dress for the 2012 Golden Globes, telling reporters “no designers” had approached her because of her size.
Actor Rachel Bloom told reporters that she had to buy her own Gucci dress for the 2017 Emmys, saying it was hard to get designers to lend her a gown because she is “not a size zero.” (Designers notoriously create samples in size two.)
Harris said the sample size standard does not reflect the “average human being.”
“That’s not inclusive of all body types, and fortunately, in film and television, we have a wonderful array of different body types,” Harris said.
“Some designers, over the seasons, have been acknowledging that. I think Christian Siriano stands out to me as one of the most accommodating and just absolutely lovely designers who does custom sizing.”
Some stars have designer contracts
If an actor has a deal with a brand or is an ambassador, they are often required to sport a designer’s gowns on the red carpet per their contract. (These contracts are often worth millions and millions of dollars.)
Kristen Stewart works with Chanel and frequently wears the French label’s creations at public events, including its pre-Oscar parties.
Trends we may see at the Oscars
Harris said viewers can expect to see more colour this year on the Oscars red carpet as celebrities aren’t shying away from bolder statements.
The stylist pointed to other recent red carpets, like the Grammys, where stars like Billy Porter, Lil Nas X and Ariana Grande played with colour and texture.
While stars have leaned towards more monochromatic looks in recent years and sported classic red and black gowns to the Oscars, Harris thinks this year’s show will be a refreshing change.
Harris also thinks Cynthia Erivo, nominated for her role in Harriet, will be one to watch.
“She’s been absolutely knocking it out of the park on the red carpet,” Harris said.
“She is embracing true fashion; she’s playing with some of the trends we’re seeing right now, like ruffles and fuller, statement sleeves.”