History was made at the Golden Globes. On Monday night, we television viewers gasped as the unthinkable unfurled before our eyes: Hollywood, it would appear, has abandoned its lefty point of view and gone totally, shockingly and utterly Republican! Never in the history of the red carpet have we ever witnessed such a turgid parade—sleek red frock after sleek red frock—of ultra-conservative gowns. I’m talking about you, Laura Linney, and you, Scarlett Johansson, and you, Geena Davis!
Why are these celebs—with their unlimited access to all that is freaky and fabulous in the world of fashion—dressing as if they were headed for a Saturday night at a red-state country club? How did we get to the point where the anti-Bush movie stars are playing it so safe that they end up resembling the very people they most revile? These burning questions can only be answered by taking a quick trip down fashion memory lane.
A brief history lesson: Back in the old days, movie celebs used to be a lot more fun. By “fun,” I do, in fact, mean “funny-looking,” as in goofy and unstylish. I’ll never forget the first time I attended a “Hollywood Party.” The year was 1978. The place: the Paramount back lot on Melrose Avenue. It was a very Zsa Zsa/Merv/Sue Mengers/floppy hat/feather boa kind of evening, if you know what I mean. The attendees in their canary-yellow chiffons and teal Quianas (and that was just the men) were so delightfully out of it that they fairly took my breath away.
As the 1980’s dawned, everything began to change: Hollywood discovered hip, and vice versa. Gusts of Armani, Montana and Mugler blew into town like so much modish flatulence. Ere long, those gusts became a tornado of Prada and Gucci and Helmut. By the mid-90’s—the arrival of Barneys, bonjour!—L.A. had actually become trendier than New York.
The collision of fashion and entertainment provided some unforgettable red-carpet visuals: Juliette Binoche in Gaultier and Björk in Marjan Pejoski’s swan dress, to name but two. We couch potatoes loved the spectacle, and so did the tabloids. With their populist point of view, it wasn’t long before the tabs began to skewer these Tinseltown fashionistas by collaging them into endless what-the-hell-were-they-thinking? double-page spreads.
Unamused by their repeated appearances on the “Worst Look of the Week” page in the Star, the celebs have become gun-shy. On pain of death, their stylists—Robert Verdi, Phillip Bloch, Jessica Paster et al.—are mandated to rid their red-carpet drag of the kind of creative flourishes which might expose their clients to any negative comment. The results? Monday night’s horribly neutered version of style, which was about as risky and fashion-forward as Laura Bush’s inauguration gown. Quel grand irony!
Watching the G.G.’s with a shrink friend compensated for the lack of onscreen entertainment. When E! channel host Isaac Mizrahi, having found the frocks unremarkable, resorted to inquiring whether various stars had shaved and/or dyed their pubic hair, my pal—who tends the severely mentally ill at a New York area psychiatric facility—let out a little shriek of recognition. Apparently, one of her chronically ill patients had asked her that very same question only the week prior.
Though the hamstrung fashion parade which pranced down the red carpet at Monday night’s Globes had all the verve and excitement of a second-tier Palm Beach fund-raiser, there were a few bright spots (e.g., Sarah Jessica Parker in Rochas, Vanessa Paradis in Chanel and—most fab of all—Gwyneth’s Shakespearean Balenciaga maternity number. Best Supporting Actress winner Rachel Weisz, also knocked up, looked intriguingly ghoulish in her gold Donna Karan. Expect to see all four pilloried in next week’s Us Weekly.
As I scanned the crowd searching for moments of stylish idiosyncrasy, I found myself looking beyond the celebs and fixating on the flacks. Yes, I’m talking about that sea of agitated, headset-wearing publicity drones—mostly female, mostly chunky and mostly wearing black crêpe pantsuits—who usher and cajole their taller, thinner charges down the runway. Next to the sleek and boringly appropriate movie stars, these hard-working lasses appeared positively edgy and enigmatic, recalling a private army in a bad Bond movie.
Like the black-clad performers at a Japanese bunraku performance, the crêpe-wearing flacks are ultimately more fascinating than the gussied-up puppets that they are charged to manipulate. As of last Monday, I have become totally obsessed by them. I’m dying to understand the perverse psychology that would compel somebody to embrace such a strangely anonymous but celebrity-adjacent career: so near the blazing spotlight, and yet so far. Where do they live? Are they lesbians? Do they hang out together? Do they have a softball team? Are they part of a union? Who is their boss? I imagine some cruel Rosa Klebb–ish figure issuing strict edicts about trouser lengths and where they can shop while handing out 10 percent discount cards to Eileen Fisher or the Loft.
It can only end in tears. I predict that, as the celebs become more boring and less flamboyant, the already massive pressure on the flacks to increase their anonymity and “dress down” will continue to increase. The Oscars are looming. It can only be a matter of time before a few of them snap under the strain. I have alerted my pal at the loony bin to prepare for an influx of pant-suited patients.