In just under two weeks, Hollywood A-listers will close out awards season by walking what is arguably the most important red carpet of the year (the Oscars, duh) and the CFDA hopes to, maybe, influence what they'll wear.
On Tuesday in Los Angeles, fresh off of New York Fashion Week, the organization held a luncheon at the Chateau Marmont in partnership with Variety and WWD to celebrate a new "Runway to Red Carpet" initiative, which includes a temporary showroom at Fred Segal. Top-tier stylists Cristina Ehrlich, Elizabeth Stewart, Karla Welch and Law Roach hosted alongside designer Vera Wang, who shared tidbits about her own red carpet dressing experiences in an on-stage conversation with WWD West Coast Bureau Chief Marcy Medina.
Wang recalled a, conveniently, WWD quote about a red carpet from the beginning of her design career: "They wrote, 'Everywhere we looked we saw Chanel, Armani, Versace, Valentino and, dot, dot, dot...Vera Wang?' Like that. Like, who is she?" she said. It was a time when, as she put it, "Europe pretty much controlled the red carpet." But have things really changed that much? Aside from the big names like Wang and Oscar de la Renta, American designers are seen much less frequently than European ones at the big awards shows. Prabal Gurung and Christian Siriano have their moments — but not as frequently as, say, Dior and Elie Saab, it seems. And that's to say nothing of more up-and-coming names like Rosie Assoulin, Monse and Tome.
"For a long time now, I thought how unrepresented American fashion designers had been on the red carpet," explained CFDA president Steven Kolb on Tuesday. "The big names are there that have the know-how, the connections and the relationships, but a lot of brands who are part of the CFDA and are very talented and have something to offer just haven't had that opportunity." The CFDA brought those brands to LA to create a temporary showroom from which stylists can come in and pull through March 3.
The CFDA already had a partnership with Fred Segal, so it was a natural home for the private showroom, which opened Tuesday. Walls covered in ivy (a nod to the original Fred Segal?) conceal the circular space, which is filled with racks of gowns and cocktail dresses surrounding velvet green couches and glass tables. A mix of past and Fall 2018 season items from labels including Brock Collection, Brother Vellies, Chloe Gosselin, Christian Siriano, Cushnie et Ochs, David Hart, Fleur du Mal, Jennifer Fisher, Juan Carlos Obando, Rosie Assoulin, Sachin & Babi and Tome can be found. The inventory ranges from Oscars-worthy glam to casual-chic press junket attire. Many of the brands present do not have PR representation in LA.
"It's always easier when we get to see the clothes in person and get to touch it and see the way it moves before we take it to our clients," Roach told me at the luncheon. "I built my entire career, for the most part, using emerging designers, and a lot of American designers and smaller brands, and I think that's really, really important because you just never know who the next Marc Jacobs will be or the next Vera Wang or the next DVF."
The Runway to Red Carpet initiative is part of a stronger focus the CFDA has brought to LA recently: The organization began holding biannual membership meetings here and doing more programming, like last November's panel discussion with celebrity stylists, in which they discussed how much power there is in a celebrity placement, comparing them to more traditional avenues of fashion promotion like magazines.
It was hard not to think about the importance of celebrity placements in comparison with showing at Fashion Week, which ended stateside just last week. Wang noted that, at the beginning of her career, celebrity dressing was her main focus. "Red carpet dressing was already something I realized was very, very necessary to get your message across. I also didn't have any money for a fashion show and, because of that, I felt I was more going to think about who I dressed than even the shows," she said, followed by a joke-y, "Steven, you don't wanna hear that."
To many editors, last week felt sparse, with only very few shows seeming to warrant their time and attention. And while a red carpet moment may not deliver immediate sales conversion or be right for every designer, it can make a big impact for an up-and-coming brand, particularly when reporters ask celebrities what they're wearing.
Bottom line, the red carpet is something worth taking seriously, and given that the CFDA hopes to host this showroom annually, that's exactly what it's doing.