Now that the 83rd Annual Academy Awards have been handed out, it would be easy to give a sharp-tongued critique of whose stars came crashing down on the red carpet. But this is going to be different than other reviews. Instead, this is a constructive commentary about the red carpet fashions, which will attempt to explain why people are poor at self-assessing themselves, and why it’s possible everyone else sees what is so obviously wrong or out of place.
Whose looks do I celebrate above all others, and why? Maybe you’ll be surprised.
First Natalie Portman looked radiant not just because she was a Best Actress nominee, but because she is expecting! She chose a Rodarte gown that looked so comfortable on her, but also made all of her skin glow. But beneath the skin, there may have been a deeper reason that Portman made this choice. She is the face of a Dior fragrance, and in very recent days Dior’s designer John Galliano has been accused of making anti-Semetic remarks in Paris’ renowned Jewish and gay district. Portman, who is Jewish, was reportedly intending to wear a Dior gown. True to her personal principles she distanced herself from controversy and with very little time between the firestorm and the Academy Awards. In the end, she managed to wear something as brilliant as her smile.
My other favorite is Helena Bonham Carter’s specially made costume by Colleen Atwood. Bonham Carter is a true creative force of nature, and her whole spirit is wrapped up in this outfit. Purely non-conformist, it’s exactly why it strikes up conversation and controversy. But from my point of view as a maker of personal brands and images, this makes total sense. If you don’t like it, that may be because it doesn’t suit your taste. But if you can appreciate her spirit and that she’s wearing it and not you, you will love it as much as I do. It’s cheeky fun, and it’s great that she brought so much spirit and dark whimsy to the red carpet.
I give Anne Hathaway a lot of credit for pulling off eight gown and hair changes, and kudos for putting on a tuxedo, too – all during this year’s Oscarcast. Clearly she understands fashion, loves glamour, and poured over hundreds of looks with Hollywood stylist Rachel Zoe. Hathaway won’t single out a favorite look, rather deferring to the coterie of supporting designers who made it all possible. But on the basis of what she wore, you can’t be certain who the real Anne is, or which styles best support her personality. This is what happens when we judge. We bring our own feelings and senses to the experience of observing others. This is perfectly normal human behavior.
What might Anne Hathaway’s mirror be telling her? Well, based on my many years’ experience in dealing with super confident people, she [with her stylist’s support] may think she can do it all, and wear it all. She could have worn a Wonder Woman costume to prove the point. But seriously, there was no rhythm to what she wore; collectively the pieces weren’t curated like they could be in her “awards show closet” because the messages were inconsistent. This was great marketing for the designers, but not the best marketing for Ms. Hathaway.
Super confident people aren’t very good at assessing themselves and seeing the true picture. This is why it has become an armchair sport to go after the shortcomings of large personalities on many a red carpet. If only a personality, whether a Hollywood star, a star in business, or a socialite, would have the humility to seek more knowledge about their true core strengths, they would wear clothes that align with their image from the inside out, and their appearance would speak at a visual volume that is consistent with their personality and physicality.
When people ask me for a “once over,” it is with this set of ideas in mind that I make judgment calls. If you can’t assess yourself, seek help from someone proficient and expert in making the correct assessment.
Here are some great lessons and examples straight from the red carpet:
Look at Anne Hathaway wearing vintage Valentino Haute Couture, and Jennifer Hudson wearing Atelier Versace. The Valentino gown seems to be a good choice with Hathaway’s light skin, but seems disagreeable with her hair, allowing the gown to enter before she does. Even her lip color appears overdone, creating a further distraction. Contrast this with Hudson’s blood-orange look. Your eye can naturally rest on Hudson’s total look. She wore red the right way and looked like a glamorous star!
Helen Mirren and Annette Bening are like Hollywood royalty. As they weren’t recently hatched from the egg, they make a reasonably good comparison. Mirren looks stunning and vivacious in a modern hairstyle that shows off the shape of her head and face. The simple but strong elegance continues into her Vivienne Westwood gown. Not everyone pulls off puffy shoulders, but Mirren does, giving her strength, femininity and shape. Bening’s beauty is muted by this version of platinum, designed by Naeem Khan. Its straight vertical and diagonal lines point away from Bening’s beautiful face and gorgeously coiffed hair. As a result, her physique seemed suppressed and her natural radiance depleted of energy.
I love statement dressing, especially when it makes the right statement! Reese Witherspoon, wearing Armani Privé and a Barbie-meets-Stepford Wife hair-do [more like a hair-don’t], looks as if she’s on the set of Legally Blonde III. I see the look as a film character only. To the haters who don’t like my point and are protective of dear Reese, yes, she wore the look, but just because she did doesn’t mean it was successful. Contrast that with Gweneth Paltrow wearing Calvin Klein Collection and you see a woman who is present in her own skin, and accoutrements. In theory, both looks appear to be rooted in minimalism, but there’s nothing paltry about Paltrow’s style here. Her low-contrast color choice keeps our eyes coming back to her face, no matter where we are looking on her body, and this successfully celebrates her personal character.
Hair is a huge part of your physical persona. This is valid for all women and men. Though I’m not showing a photo of a man here, remember how Christian Bale looked in his slicked back hair and overgrown facial hair. I’m all for well-groomed hair – facial and otherwise – on men. But if it’s not done well, it wrecks a favorable visual impression. As for the ladies, I’ve got a match-up between Scar-Jo in one corner and Shar-Sto in the other. Sharon Stone is a beautiful woman and takes great care of her body. But this Ivana Trump-like hair-don’t seemed to add years to a woman who tends to defy age. Her Christian Dior gown wasn’t strong enough to overcome that condominium tower hair. Scarlett Johansson’s hair seemed a bit interruptive to her look, too. However, her gorgeous Dolce & Gabanna lace gown required texture in the hair, so I see where the stylists were headed. She looked sensuous and pretty. The color and makeup was stunning on her.
Halle Berry and Cate Blanchett are two of Hollywood’s more gorgeous actresses. Berry’s pale Marchesa gown is an example of flawlessness. Note how the texture of her hair is repeated in the gown. Most comments about Halle Berry are usually about her body. Not that this gown hides it in any way, but she looks totally present – sexy, dominant, and still imbued with feminine energy. Blanchett’s Givenchy Haute Couture gown, on the other hand, should have some of the same qualities, but the attempt left me contemplating a dartboard over a shirt form instead. Many commentators loved this, but there’s something very standoffish about the stiffness up top. Funny enough, the backside was far more interesting, but not enough to make it a winner, by any means.
As you can see, making judgment calls of others is a lot easier than making a self-assessment. Maybe a billion people won’t be watching you when you walk out your door. But an honest self-assessment is worth having because people are always waiting, watching, and judging.
Joseph Rosenfeld helps high-profile individuals revitalize, manage, and be secure in their personal visual brand. Visit JosephRosenfeld.com for details.