Saturday, 1 March 2014

Blue Sequins, Green Carpet

Awards season is in full flower. It’s a funny season – relatively short, conventionally consistent, with some pretty flashes of colour. It moves between continents and industries, culminating in the Oscars tomorrow.

I’m not particularly enthralled by the whirligig of announcements and trophies. There are some incredible individuals and creators (rightly) celebrated, some fun to be had for the casual keyboard-clicker in peeking into the glitz and glamour and some interest in which films get stamped with industry approval. But, until this year, my only engagement stretched to perhaps flicking through the paper the following day to find out who had won what. I blame the about turn on the move to university. So much daily time spent working on my laptop means more than occasional bouts of scrolling through red carpet galleries, the pretty gowns and best-dressed lists serving as frothy procrastination from essays.
For it seems that, more than ever now in the age of Buzzfeed lists and live-tweets, it is less about achievement or what a particular actress has won (or not won) – but what she has worn. The bulk of coverage of anything like the Golden Globes or the BAFTAs is devoted to those outfits paraded on the red carpet. What label? Is it Dior? Chanel? Valentino? Upholding the establishment or celebrating up-and-coming designers? Who are the new faces of the season? What are the trends, what’s being said about them – and, oh my god, Emma Thompson just took off her heels!

I maintain an ambivalent relationship with ‘Red Carpet Style.’ Part of me enjoys that five-minute interlude of casting an eye over gorgeously crafted dresses: Lupita Nyong’o looking utterly glorious in green, Tilda looking… Actually, why mention anyone else? Let’s leave it with just Lupita for now (perhaps throwing in Léa Seydoux as well). There is, of course, a kind of draw to these representations of fantasy, or at least a ramped-up reality where make-up is artfully done and some really very pretty dresses – and the occasional tuxedo, a la Angeline Jolie - grace the camera’s eye.

Yet at the same time I feel an overwhelming cynicism at the commercialism; the level of chirping banality about manicures and major fashion faux-pas; the issue of similarity and homogeneity, with the (sadly understandable) unwillingness of the majority of attendees to rock the boat with truly visionary or innovative get-ups; the fact that there’s nothing quite like a roster of Hollywood starlets to make most viewers feel much larger than what is deemed beautiful by the industry’s ever-so-slender standards. By extension, there is the unsettling realization - yielded on viewing comparative slideshows of celebrities’ dresses matched to their sample versions on the catwalk - that many dresses weren’t even designed for A listers but for six foot, UK size six, sixteen year olds. Okay, that’s a ramped-up, not-quite-true stereotype – but it’s not far off.

Anyone who doesn’t quite slot into the mould, or at least speaks out against it, is thus latched onto. Enter stage right (or rather, probably photo-bombing someone else’s pose) Jennifer Lawrence. It’s not that Lawrence presents a hugely radical shift away from what is already valorized, but that she calls out bullshit and has the audacity to possess very slightly more in the way of hips-and-thighs than many of her contemporaries.

Yet the difficulty in discussing something like Hollywood’s vaguely unhealthy body image is that it often sets up bitchy oppositions. A while ago, the trend among commentators was to celebrate Lawrence and disparage Anne Hathaway in the same breath. This is just as reductive, as it simply creates a new epitome of how an actress should look and behave: “Girls, Lawrence is cool because she makes mistakes and falls over and eats pizza and drinks shots and is bemused by questions on beauty regimes. God, those actresses who lose weight for roles and choose their words really carefully and present a polished, media-aware persona – aren’t they the worst?” 

Because it’s not the individuals who should be criticized for their bodies being too big or too small or not zipped into the right kind of dress. It's the system. It’s the same one that sets up categories of skinny or curvy, ice-queen or kooky, pretty princess or cool girl we all want to go to the pub with. It's the culture that claims we must choose one ideal or the other, rather than acknowledge and commend a range of personalities, approaches and appearances. Perish the thought of a multifarious, multi-talented group of women defined by their individuality rather than a typecast! 

You can begin lists: Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong’o, Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie, Léa Seydoux, Zoe Saldana, Amy Adams, Natalie Portman, Carey Mulligan, Julianne Moore, Naomi Harris, Marion Cotillard, and so many other actresses with their own specific accomplishments. All are women of varying strengths and skills: strong, intelligent, articulate, hardworking.  

But it’s not necessarily these qualities that are celebrated on the red carpet – but what they look like. Nothing wrong with that in itself, as appearance is part of identity. Moreover, there's obviously a strong visual aspect to film making (for appearance must be right for the role) and this of course feeds into what is then seen at ceremonies. Yet the problem particularly at these awards, where films are momentarily overshadowed by the fashion choices, is the illustration of the fact that there are still certain female aesthetics validated and valued above others. It's an issue that straddles the worlds of both film and fashion. 

There’s nothing wrong with praising or being interested in style choices and the pleasure of dressing well. Yet in future I’d hope that the particular aesthetic of what is considered beautiful on the red carpet might be widened – encompassing more women of colour, more women of different ages, different backgrounds, different body sizes. It's not about saying that beauty isn’t something to be celebrated, but that beauty has multiple possibilities and meanings – inner, outer, unconventional, individual. How about seeing that?  

This vintage dress was something of an ode to that Marilyn-esque mode of glamorous dressing, complete with sequins, tight seams and a split up one side. I bought it for £18 at Rokit during the wonderful Brick lane trip that yielded so many treasures. It was given a good soak in the bath and an oddly sewn up hem was unpicked and laid flat to dry. The jewellery is vintage, while the satin shoes were from a charity shop. Using red carpet glitz as inspiration for dressing up can feel quite powerful (and/ or empowering), even if the only carpet is that of green grass and the only flash of light is the late evening sun. An interesting point to make, further to the discussion above about image, is that these photos were taken two days after the Isabella Blow homage below. What I found so fascinating was the way in which I could manipulate the perceived size and shape of my own body through the choice of outfit and the poses struck.  


daisychain said...

I cannot get over how wonderful you look xx

Abigail said...

what a wonderful dress! a beautiful and stark contrast against a simple country background.
I'm with you girl, i like to see the dresses of the awards season but hate the commercialism and nit-picky people who think others dresses are just so horrible. Just let them dress how they want, i say.

Helen Le Caplain said...

Swit-swu that dress looks like it was custom-made! Love the sequins and the fabulous up-do :)

jessica rose said...

Gorgeous dress..


I agree with your beautiful words ... there certainly needs to be and should be in the future a greater number of diverse women seen on the red carpet and in Hollywood in general as well.
You look like a glistening starlet in the sparkled gown. Marvellous control of styling. :)

Hannah said...

These pictures are all the more beautiful for the context in which you discuss them. And for the juxtaposition between the ultra-glamour and the natural setting. The second to last is especially breathtaking. As always, you rock, girl.

Anja said...

Great read and really, really gorgeous pics! That dress, that light, those poses, you!

Ivana Split said...

The approach to the body that we as society have today is really strange...sometimes I have a feeling like every single body type is supposed to be wrong and we are forever meant to feel uncomfortable in our bodies.

If we look at tips 'for dressing your body type' they always advocate trying to change your body type with help of clothes. I mean why someone shouldn't feel comfortable being tall? Why should they look at ways of making themselves look shorter? and it goes other way around...It's like whatever body type we are, we have to feel bad about ourselves. ( and then there are these skinny versus curvy debates around there that really don't make any sense.)

That is one thing that bothers me, the other is (and more connected with other subject you have mentioned - the Oscars) is the lack of variation. As far as I have noticed when I was examining the most beautiful people/celeb lists is that 99 percent are white and more precisely white of west European roots. My husband once told me (while we were looking a documentary about the Maasai tribe from Africa) how he thought that any women from there is more beautiful then any Hollywood actress. Still, that is his standard of beauty. But I do wish there was more variation in both fashion and celeb world. I will probably glance at what wore what at the Oscars but I can't say I'm very excited about that. Maybe because there is so much talk about it that it somehow stops being trilling.

I love that dress and photographs!

Vix said...

Wow! What a dress, you're like a landloving mermaid! xxx

OrigamiGirl said...

First of all, thanks for the lovely comments on my blog about the Lego pictures! I agree that there is something really wonderful about sitting down with friends/relatives and making stuff.

On the red carpet I have been really enjoying how much more interesting the interviews seem in recent years. People like Tilda Swinton and Kate Blanchet calling bullshit on questions about diets. I've seen a lot of funny gifs of this kind of thing and I think women on the red carpet are standing up for themselves more. It's a shame if, as you say, that's making the paps more harsh towards those who don't. Seems very hypocritical of them!

I'm also definitely with Ivana about about seeking more diversity in film. I'm sure you are aware of the Bechdel test but if you tried applying that same category to women of colour I can't think of many films that pass. Once you start really looking, so many films have all white casts that in films like Tangled where they've chosen to put everyone the same skin shade it starts to feel creepy. Or at least that's how I feel about it. Films seem so much more white than the real world.

Shannabanana said...

Amazing Ros! Eat your heart out Marylin. Much love x x x

Pull Your Socks Up! said...

If I see another strapless gown on the red carpet I'm going to scream. Whatever happened to SLEEVES?!!!!! I love the incredible sleeves on the beautiful frock you wore in the previous post, now THAT is a dress! So what of my strapless dilemma? I'm going to have to skip yet another awards ceremony and scroll through the pics through squinty eyes ;) xoxoxo

Coffeevines said...

That's a great blue sequence dress! A girl who works for my online coffee retailer business also bought one like that. Both of you look fantastic in them!

Carlota Antolin Vallespin said...

Oh! girl.... I just cannot believe that you actually exist. Is my first time in your blog. I was looking old posts to have a over view of you... And I'm so impressed. You are just special and original and different and normal and clever and natural.
And all of it represents for me my idol! Or what I would like to be...
So young and so smart already, I love it.
Well, I think that is not necessary that I continue....
I would love if you come to visit my blog and give me your opinion. I just want to know it.
Maybe I'm just someone more...maybe I'm boring But, just come by.


his_girl_friday said...

You're so old-school movie star here.

Citizen Rosebud said...

I haven't come 'round for a while- been trying to keep my head afloat. And attached to my body.

But what a treat- gorgeous girl, gorgeous outfits, and beautiful words. You sparkle. And that blue looks magical on you.