With the Oscar red carpet serving as the world's top fashion runway, designers aren't leaving who wears what to chance.
It's a given nowadays that stars get to keep the outfits they wear — some worth thousands of dollars. But the new buzz is that some companies, especially those late to the celebrity dressing game, will offer cash to ensure that stars wear their label. And others are linking Oscar clothes to modeling gigs, luxury travel or complete wardrobes.
"Organic" fashion moments, like when Uma Thurman wore a loose lilac Prada gown to the 1995 Oscars or Gwyneth Paltrow's 1999 princesslike pink Ralph Lauren, would be unlikely to happen today, said one celebrity liaison.
"It has become about money," said the liaison, who lines up boldface names to wear top designers. "Stars might intend to be loyal to a designer at first, when they are so excited to be offered such beautiful clothes, but after you've been dressed in beautiful dresses often enough, you look for some other incentive."
Added the liaison, who didn't want his name used because he needs to maintain relations with stars and stylists: "Celebrities make their big money in Japanese Pepsi commercials and fragrance contracts, not from independent movies."
Nicole Kidman, for example, models for a Chanel fragrance and Charlize Theron is the face of Christian Dior's J'adore perfume. Hilary Swank is a Calvin Klein lingerie model — and guess which fashion house designed the dress she wore earlier this year when she picked up her Golden Globe?
At least her chocolate brown Calvin tank gown was sleek and sophisticated, the right look for Swank. There was one gown that did not win rave reviews at the Globes — and the liaison said the star was forced to wear it.
The liaison said his employer won't pay cash but will "wardrobe" celebrities for lesser occasions, expecting them to choose the label when it comes to the big awards shows.
Robert Triefus, Armani's executive vice president of communications, said Armani relies on personal relationships — a luxury it can afford because Giorgio Armani himself has enjoyed a long history with the entertainment industry, with movie credits ranging from "American Gigolo" to "De-Lovely."
"When Mr. Armani works with someone in Hollywood, it's because he enjoys what they do as an actor or director and they enjoy what he does as a designer," he said.
Armani can afford to pay a star to don one of his signature looks, but Triefus said that's too high a price to pay for compromising the company's integrity.
Same goes for the celebrity liaison's employer, he said. But the designer does indeed pay the liaison, who doesn't work cheap.
An up-and-coming designer like Roland Mouret, who designed Scarlett Johansson's architectural coral taffeta Golden Globes gown, couldn't afford a wrangler or to cut a check, so he has to simply hope that his clothes will catch the eye of stars or stylists.
But just as a new designer can benefit from clothing the right star, a starlet can get a lot of mileage from the right dress: Emmy Rossum gained more exposure from her flawless Globes appearance in a Ralph Lauren gown and Harry Winston diamonds than from her film "The Phantom of the Opera."
Carol Brodie, Winston's global director of communications, said she expects the jeweler to dress Rossum, who is also a paying client, for many years to come. "She believes in her heart that Harry Winston has the most beautiful jewelry in the world. ... Some stars that we previously dressed now have agreements with somebody else. That's OK. There's a lot of stars, a lot of jewelry and a lot of clothes out there."
At some point, Brodie acknowledged, Winston might have to reconsider its policy of not compensating stars or letting them keep red carpet jewelry.
"Ultimately the celebrity factor has so much power in the world of publishing, Internet and the broadcast media," she said, "that at some point every brand will be associated with a celebrity via a contractual agreement."
Hairdresser Frederic Fekkai has some clients who come to him for every occasion but Oscar night. "An actress talked to me about doing hair but realized that she has to fill obligation with a brand," said Fekkai, whose had longtime associations with Debra Messing, Jessica Lange and Meryl Streep.
Fekkai said the celebrities who do visit his salon during Oscar week trust he'll make them look their best, even if the style isn't a trend that would land him a credit in a magazine.
Fekkai doesn't use a celebrity spokesmodel because he's not fully convinced it will get paying customers to buy his products — "The consumer is very smart. You're not going to trick someone to buy things just because you can get celebrity," he said — but he's also not willing to give up the whole red-carpet frenzy.
"We haven't thought about not doing it but we're trying to find an angle to do something different," he said. "It's become too much of the same thing, too expected, too commercial."
By Samantha Critchell