Red-carpet blues Fashionistas who take cues from the stars rue the endangered awards shows. With no stars on red carpet, fashion fans are blue

Posted: January 09, 2008

For several years now, the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards have served as the link between the fashion and beauty industry and the rest of us.

Remember Angelina Jolie's sleek white Dolce & Gabbana pantsuit? Jennifer Lopez's barely there green Versace gown? America Ferrera's cute and classy Brian Reyes debut?

Now that Sunday's ceremony is a news conference and the fate of the 2008 Academy Awards, slated for Feb. 24, is in limbo, that connection has been temporarily severed.

The lack of red carpet has left everyone from designers to retailers to regular viewers disappointed. How will designers recoup the loss of name recognition? What will Us Magazine and the Style Network cover? Where will trend-followers get their fashion inspiration?

"It's where I get my sense of what's hot and what's not," said Bonnie Young of Penn Valley, a 62-year-old real estate investor.

"I love watching the celebrities' hair and makeup. Remember that fabulous yellow dress Reese Witherspoon wore? You do see those things in the magazines, but it doesn't mean as much as on a real-life person."

Jennifer Bisicchia, a stylist at Giovanni & Pileggi in Center City, said the award ceremonies point clients toward the latest haircuts and color.

This past year, for example, women have been asking for the butter-blond shade worn by Grey's Anatomy star Katherine Heigl.

"I'm not going to have the clients coming in saying, 'Do you like So and So's hair?' " Bisicchia lamented. "This time of year is motivational for people. Celebrities represent real people to them, and they are much more real than the models."

It's not that the fashion industry won't go on. Designers, as well as hair and makeup artists, created the looks seen on celebs in January and February more than a year ago. In actuality, the fashion world has already moved on to next season.

But the red carpet is crucial to making outfits seen on the hanger come alive. A Valentino that looks static in a magazine can be electrifying on Keira Knightley. And that all leads to name recognition; last year, 20 million people tuned into the Golden Globes, and between 40 million and 46 million people tune into the Academy Awards annually. This audience can be the difference between toiling as an unknown or becoming a household name, as dressmakers Zac Posen or Badgley Mischka can attest.

Even fine-jewelry designers Swarovski, Fred Leighton and Harry Winston receive boosts from all that bling and shine.

"We make sales after the Oscars," said Rebecca Selva, director of publicity at Fred Leighton, the New York- based jewelry company that provides diamond baubles of all sorts to the stars.

"Of course it will affect us, but to what extent?"

The red carpet affects the spring off-the-rack gowns - the prom dresses, the bridesmaid dresses - that often take their cues from celebrity style.

"Will short dresses be better than longer dresses?" asked designer Allen Schwartz, of ABS by Allen Schwartz, which has gained notoriety for creating reasonable facsimiles of celebrity dresses.

"Will ruffle dresses be important? What's the most important color? ... The consumer misses out."

Schwartz also noted that the celebs themselves are not immune. Young breakout stars such as Nikki Blonsky and Ellen Page, nominated for Golden Globes for roles in Hairspray and Juno, respectively, would traditionally have designers fighting over them to create debut dresses for the red carpet. They, too, will miss the exposure.

Of course, it's not just those who create the trends who are taking a hit. A slew of businesses make big money off the awards - and those who love them.

Think how many pre-shows, post-shows and entertainment segments appear on the TV networks and cable. That's potentially millions in advertising sponsorship lost, according to Tom Julian, director of trends for McCann-Erickson and fashion expert for www.Oscar.com.

Media outlets of all types also integrate red carpet shows online, Julian said. That won't happen on Sunday.

The dearth of red carpet will change how the New Jersey-based Fantasy Fashion League is played this season. Right now, more than 25,000 people play the game nationwide, matching designers to actors and actresses - and the Golden Globes and Oscars represent the season's highlight.

"For us it's like having the Fourth of July with no fireworks," founder Erica Salmon said.

Designers and celebs will find other ways to get their red-carpet moments, Julian said. Expect an uptick in glamour at the Cannes Film Festival, and a surge of interest in lesser shows such as Monday night's Critic's Choice Awards (which featured loads of designer cocktail dresses).

Frank Pulice, vice president of communications for the fashion line Carmen Marc Valvo, said his company will get more involved in movie and celebrity premieres. In fact, the designer created 400 gowns for a scene that featured actors and actresses at the Cannes Film Festival in the forthcoming movie What Just Happened, starring Robert DeNiro.

"We are doing more product placement in movies now," Pulice said. "We'd been so inundated with red carpet shows, we were starting to look for more ways to get our message out."

As for the celebrity magazines, with their fashion winners and losers ... well, there's always Britney.

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com. Read her recent stories at http://go.philly.com/elizabethwellington.

Movie critic Carrie Rickey talks about the impact of no Golden Globes. Blogosphere, E2.

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