How The Oscar Red Carpet and Awards Season Became The New Fashion Week

With the 2014 Oscars nearly upon us, it's nearly impossible to ignore the plethora of lucky celebrities parading custom designer creations on the awards season red carpet. But the red carpet wasn't always the designer advertisement it is now: over the past several years, a combination of multi-channel coverage, social media reporting, and celebrity endorsement deals have turned awards ceremonies into a continuous commercial for top designers and their gowns.

During the Golden Age of Hollywood, established designers shared their red carpet fandom with studio costume designers. Iconic celebrities from Grace Kelly to Audrey Hepburn were dressed by legendary costume designers like Edith Head, and couture designers began their illustrious careers as in-house creatives at major studios, like Oleg Cassini for Twentieth-Century Fox.

Through the better part of the 20th century, the focus of the red carpet was placed on the celebrities themselves, and secondarily, on the look of their designs instead of on name-dropping designers.

Sharon Stone highlighted the laissez-faire attitude by combining her lavender Vera Wang skirt with a borrowed menswear Gap shirt in 1998. Similarly, Kim Basinger designed her own white satin Oscar dress and unabashedly rocked it on the red carpet. The '90s also brought on a vintage gown trend for the red carpet, from Julia Roberts' vintage Valentino to Renee Zellweger's yellow Jean Desses frock.

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Now, however, the red carpet has become a platform for promoting the latest designers and trends for the upcoming season. Case in point: footage of the 2014 Golden Globes was readily available to interested viewers via streaming video, live tweeting, and Instagram pictures. A 360-degree camera displayed outfits at all angles using the Vine app. The E! red carpet commentators used a "Mani Cam" to examine at painstaking proximity the manicures and jewelry of the stars, and streamed red carpet footage from three vantage points for maximum fashion coverage.

The effects on the fashion industry are substantial; designer careers are made and redefined on the red carpet. For the duration of the red carpet, celebrities become glorified models for each designer. Julia Roberts' simple Dolce & Gabbana number was deemed an uninspiring design, and Kaley Cuoco's floral gown by relative newcomer Rani Zakhem struck many viewers as a disappointment. Due to the abundance of social media coverage, all three fashion brands are now resigned to watch mixed reviews of their designs drastically affect the public opinion of their creative capability.

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However, fashion successes on the red carpet can mean a major boon in business for new designers. Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman experienced an instantaneous leap to notoriety after Renee Zellweger wore one of the designer's gowns to her Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason premiere. More recently, Prabal Gurung's unexpected overnight success was directly linked to his design showing up on Rooney Mara for the premiere of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in 2011. After the edgy black dress made its appearance, Gurung instantly became a celebrity favorite of stars who appreciated his sleek, modern designs. This kind of dedicated fashion marketing is giving new meaning to red carpet coverage and the trend predictions that come out of it.

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Celebrity endorsement deals are also the wave of the fashion future on the red carpet. At the Globes alone, couture darling Jennifer Lawrence openly discussed the fact that her 2013 modeling contract with Dior incentivizes the actress to show up to each awards event in the design house's wares, making Lawrence synonymous with the brand.

Natalie Portman and Marion Cotillard forged similar alliances with Dior, predictably outfitted for red carpet events in Dior Couture designs. And who could forget Julianne Moore's mutually beneficial deal with Bvlgari? Likewise, look out for starlet Kristen Stewart in a succession of spectacular Chanel ensembles as a result of her recently signed deal with the legendary brand. Just as Audrey Hepburn's name will forever be linked with Givenchy, design houses are making sure that their dazzling creations are associated with the hottest celebrities.

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In addition to the marathon promotional proceedings of red carpet fashion commentary, the presenters at prestigious awards shows have begun a runway exhibition of their own. What once included a single costume change for awards show musical numbers now often includes upwards of four unique ensembles for presenters.

The 2014 Golden Globes saw host Amy Poehler change between a sleek cutout Stella McCartney gown for the red carpet, a sparkling black halter neck dress, a Ted Baker suit, and a final Stella McCartney strapless number for a total of four looks. And stylist Rachel Zoe broke red carpet records when she dressed presenter Anne Hathaway in an unprecedented eight looks for the 2011 Oscars.

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Celebrity stylist Jessica Paster, whose clients have included Emily Blunt and Kate Bosworth, confirms the impact red carpet publicity can have on a new designer's career:

For an unknown designer, being worn on a big red carpet can give you a career. For pre-existing designers, red carpet coverage generates sales and keeps you relevant. Things have changed because house designers are now "brands" so with everyone they dress on the red carpet they are branding themselves - trying to brand their name to become the next Michael Kors or Ralph Lauren.
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Awards Season is growing into an equally important opportunity for designers to present their creative vision for the first time, or revive a lagging career. While missteps in red carpet style place designers in a precarious position, the real intrigue occurs when a new designer bursts onto the scene by dressing a star in something unforgettable. We can't wait for the next Georgina Chapman or Prabal Gurung to debut a truly novel couture creation on the red carpet this Sunday.