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Chanel and Meryl Streep in celebrity dressing controversy

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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The glamorous season of award ceremonies reached its climax on Sunday evening at the Academy Awards red carpet for the Oscar's, Hollywood’s most important fashionable event.

The morning following the Oscar’s is a media frenzy of releases, with ‘who wore what’ stories circuiting the globe and dominating our newsfeeds, as designers, brands and public relations gurus tell us what was worn and by whom. Having an A-list actress wear your dress is the ultimate endorsement for a designer, bringing kudos, sales and streams of free publicity that are near inimitable.

There are no coincidence when it comes to what celebrities wear

We all know a brand’s endorsement in dressing a celebrity is no coincidence. Michelle Williams in Louis Vuitton and Jennifer Lawrence wearing Dior are contractual obligations, they didn’t happen upon these gowns while browsing the rails in a shopping mall. Some actresses require monetary endorsement to wear a brand, other’s keep the gowns that are custom-made for them in lieu of payment. There are as many contracts between designers and actresses as their are awards.

The stylist is the conduit between designers and actresses

But it is neither the brand nor the actress who is at the vortex of the ‘who wears what’ machine; it is the stylist. The true conduits are an elite group of stylists who are the go-to between designers and actresses, and who's taste levels are responsibility for what we see on the red carpet. In-demand stylists will have as many as ten actresses to style on Oscar night, for which planning gets serious as soon as Paris couture finishes in January.

But for every designer dress worn by an actress on the red carpet, there will have been plenty of options left on the rail she didn’t choose. For this there could be a plethora of reasons: the fit didn’t work, the fabric or colour wasn’t to her liking. Or perhaps she changed her mind at the last minute.

The latter seems to have been what happened when legendary actress Meryl Streep chose to not wear Chanel to last night’s Oscar’s. WWD falsely wrote Ms Streep had abandoned her agreement to wear Chanel for her 20th Oscar nomination for another brand who had offered to pay her to wear its dress.

Chanel’s Creative Director Karl Lagerfeld vented his frustration, accusing Streep of rejecting one of his dresses because she found a different designer who was willing to pay her, although he has since somewhat apologised stating he "misunderstood” the situation. Referring to Streep, he said: "A genius actress, but cheapness also, no?"

Meryl Street responded: "I do not take this lightly, and Mr Lagerfeld's generic 'statement' of regret for this 'controversy' was not an apology.” She also criticised fashion website WWD, which originally reported his quotes. "He lied, they printed the lie, and I am still waiting," she said in a statement.

But irksomeness of the situation works both ways. A custom-make Chanel gown comes with a price tag. And while there is no guarantee a gown will be worn on the red carpet, when you advance past the sketch stage and the actress’ stylist sends measurements and requirements to a fashion house to commission a dress, there is cause for probability, if not expectation. To tell a designer to stop sewing a dress at the last button must be heartbreaking.

Ms Street, who chose to wear Elie Saab, further stated: Lagerfeld "defamed me, my stylist and the illustrious designer whose dress I chose to wear, in an important industry publication. The story was picked up globally, and continues, globally, to overwhelm my appearance at the Oscars, on the occasion of my record-breaking 20th nomination, and to eclipse this honour in the eyes of the media, my colleagues and the audience."

Photo credit: Robyn Beck / AFP

Meryl Streep
Red carpet