[Originally posted on Forbes.com.]
Pleasure and entertainment are probably the main reasons people tuned in to the Golden Globes and its red carpet pre-show on Sunday. It’s safely sanctioned, free fun to see the fashion and hairstyles and the reactions to them. But these events are also fascinating as trend barometers, pointing out what’s new and likely next—and not just in the realm of style.
People generally don’t literally copy the outfits they’re seeing (how many of us really have occasion to dress to the nines like that?), but the red carpet is at least as influential as the runway when it comes to prom gowns, bridesmaid dresses and eveningwear. The whole spectacle is uniquely American (bleachers for viewing, limos, open bars), a vehicle for dreaming and seeking cues about how to dress and carry ourselves. It also sets a tone for wannabe creatives—for aspiring fashion designers and makeup artists, yes, but also for anyone in Anytown, USA, who has a Pinterest board or Polyvore account.
Likewise, in our age of personal branding, it’s not the stylists who are holding the most influence. The actors and other stars who glide down the red carpet aren’t mere mannequins: The way they decide to present themselves (whether choosing their own looks or borrowing jewelry and letting others dress them) reveals the way they want to define themselves and have audiences know them.
The people who have the most right to be influencers are those who have accomplished real achievements and command respect. “Today” host Savannah Guthrie (who came up through the ranks as a lawyer and legal analyst for NBC and won broadcast awards of her own) cemented her status as a new influencer as a co-host of NBC’s red carpet coverage. By showing up in an aubergine Badgley Mischka draped-jersey dress, she’s adding to the buzz around all shades of purple, a color I keep spotting on red carpets. Guthrie’s brand is definitely “Smart (brainy) is sexy.”
Bradley Cooper is another big influencer this year. His nuanced performance in Silver Linings Playbook helped him emerge as an Honest Abe actor, true to his Philly-area hometown, with a Georgetown education and enormous acting prowess. People’s Sexiest Man Alive turned out to be so much more than mere beefcake, and people paid attention. Brand? Bradley Cooper: American dream.
And love played a huge role on the red carpet, too, both familial—like Jack Black leading his mom down the carpet, reinforcing the parents-as-heroes trend—and romantic. Power couples were powerfully present this year: Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban were up for three awards between them, plus Claire Danes and Hugh Dancy, Carey Lowell and Richard Gere, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber, and more.
So many influencers now are multi-hyphenates. This turned out to be the year of the crossover, with performers, artists, entrepreneurs and creative projects proving to be incredibly versatile. Lincoln sounded like a boring high school history class come to life, yet it became a critical and box-office triumph. Writer–director–actor–executive producer Lena Dunham became, at age 26, the sensation whom everyone was talking about, leaping from small bits and a small indie film to the HBO smash “Girls” by being unafraid to bare it (not-size-2) all. Her brand is uninhibitedness and, arguably, a lack of branding—and she’s being hailed as the voice of her generation.
That’s what makes the most influential stars appealing overall: their lack of packaging when they talk extemporaneously about the pressure of winning. Those people seemed to be more grateful to be included than anxious to haul home statues, and many said they were there to celebrate their writers but had no intention of winning (“Just grateful to be here…”). Even Jimmy Fallon joked that cheers of “Jimmy” were for late-night rival Kimmel.
Of course, they knew the awards ceremony was a performance in itself, and they made sartorial choices that reinforced their personal brands, as well as the brands of the designers they chose to wear. Glamour was back in a big way, with men dressing like Don Draper and women going for retro sex appeal. And 180 degrees from that, body art was still big. I think tattoo artists will see their business grow this year just because so many of the women had interesting, sexy, glamorous body art on display.
Uptown and downtown met again and again, in what turned out to be a schizophrenic year. Women wore their hair down (often with deep side parts) and kept their makeup minimal. They went rebellious with ear cuffs. They showed lots of skin, with plunging necklines or cut-to-there leg slits … or they went demure, as seen in the high necklines on Kristen Bell, Kate Hudson and Giuliana Rancic.
And next year, or even at the next red carpet event, I bet many of the stars’ looks will be completely different. Being a bit of a chameleon—being unafraid to experiment or to take risks, or simply having a little fun with fashion—is a personal brand in itself. No one wants to be pigeonholed or seen as static or stuck in a rut. The best brands are those that leave themselves room to play and evolve.
[photo: creativecommons.org/Josh Jensen]