The dress in which Emma Watson attended Sunday’s Golden Globes would not have been up to my childhood standards. The fact that it wasn’t pale pink was the least of its deficiencies. Designed by Dior, the tomato-tinged creation also failed to billow dramatically, lacked sequins, and did not arrive on the arm of a Ken doll. In place of a train, Watson accessorized with a pair of cropped pants and a single pearl in her left lobe. Defying my ten-year-old self’s expectations, she did not wear a diamond choker.
Still, despite these obvious shortcomings, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. In a sea of strapless necklines, ballooning skirts, and miraculously creaseless silk, Watson’s backless, ballsy choice reinvigorated the predictable pageantry of the red carpet. Even if it didn’t quite belong there.
“Oh, I loved it,” said the friend to whom I’d voiced my gushing admiration of it. “It was so refreshingly not a ball gown.”
Devoid of the fussiness that once seemed a prerequisite of high-minded fashion, the outfit appeals — at least to me — precisely for its pared-down, perfectly articulated aesthetic. No sooner had Watson appeared at the Beverly Hilton Hotel than I demanded to know who designed it. Finally, I thought, a garment that could not be mistaken for the one worn by Nancy O’Dell.
It’s no surprise that the majority of the red carpet is uniform in aesthetic. While risk-taking is exulted on the runway, award-show attendees tend to limit experimentation to the confines of their nail beds. Perhaps the prevalence of such convention explains our almost yearlong anticipation of the Met Gala. There, every ensemble is meant to be as much a credit to the woman wearing it as it is to the artist responsible for it.
This week, in a candid interview with The Cut, Barneys’ creative ambassador-at-large Simon Doonan confessed his sheer inability to understand “how people can get it up for gowns.” With characteristic forthrightness, he explained:
See, to me, fashion is people like Martin Margiela, Dries Van Noten, Stella — it’s creative people — Gaultier, Comme des Garçons, just not gowns. To me, fashion is not gowns. It can be gowns, I suppose, but it doesn’t begin and end with gowns. I think it’s a bit strange that with most people, their understanding of fashion is all celebrities and gowns.
Later, he dismissed gowns as not truly representative of the designers who craft them. Of the red carpet, he said, “I’m worried that people are going to think that that’s what fashion is.”
For regular visitors of Style.com, the view Doonan pronounces is nothing new. We all grow up and redefine the terms of our fashion fantasies in the process. Mine, for example, are made of considerably less tulle than they once were. Instead, I now find myself lusting after leather and shearling and vertiginous heels whose acquisition all but require a down payment. These items may remain as out of reach as the Atelier Versace number that Penélope Cruz wore to the Academy Awards in 2007, but they are also more technically realistic. I no longer dream about designer dresses. Instead, I crave $22,000 backpacks.
If “fashion is not gowns,” as Doonan claims, then what defines it? Is an element of fantasy still a condition of great fashion? Are we meant to seek the equally fabulous and outlandish sartorial inspiration that awards season once seemed to provide? Or should we stop expecting anything from a collection of borrowed dresses that, as in the Cinderella myth, return to their showrooms at the end of a long, overproduced evening?
In honor of this morning’s Oscar nominations announcement, let’s talk about it.
Images via E! Online