It’s February, and the chill winds are blowing – except, that is, in one place where it is always summer: the red carpet. What else to think as actress after actress appears during awards season, which stretches from January to the end of this month, clad in nothing more than spaghetti-strap this and back-baring that? And not just in the sunny climes of Los Angeles, but in wintry New York and freezing London where the Baftas will be held this weekend. When did the red carpet become a coat-free zone? And why?
“It began with Liz Hurley in the Versace safety-pin dress at the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral,” says Dave Benett, a London-based celebrity photographer. That photo became the shot seen around the world, and Hurley was catapulted to global fame – all because of her dress. Suddenly every other actress wanted to take the same shortcut, and the dress became a crucial part of their arsenal. As long as it could be seen.
Livia Firth, for example, has been highly visible on the red carpet in the past two years due to her husband Colin’s multiple award nominations, and has used her position to publicise sustainable clothing. Firth says that the dress is very important: “Wearing a coat would be like covering a beautiful painting!”
This is especially true for stars who have “ambassadorial” relationships with fashion houses that involve wearing their dresses at widely-watched events. At last year’s Oscars, Natalie Portman, who had recently become the face of Miss Dior perfume, was expected to wear Dior – until designer John Galliano was dismissed, charged with making anti-Semitic comments. She wore Rodarte instead, and everyone knew because everyone was looking at her dress. Covering up just obscures the message.
Still, the decision to wear a dress, and a dress alone, is not always about business, according to New York-based stylist Katharina Trappe. “Some people don’t wear a coat because they feel their body looks better in the dress,” she says.
Nevertheless, things may be changing. Angelina Jolie shocked the world – and still made many best-dressed lists – by wearing a long grey Michael Kors wrap-coat with tie-belt at the Washington opening of her directorial debut film In The Land of Blood and Honey. Meryl Streep, meanwhile, wore a Thatcher-blue, Lindsey Thornburg wool cloak with an attached black scarf to the London premiere of The Iron Lady in January.
“Coats can have as powerful an effect as a dress,” says designer Allegra Hicks. “And you end up with two outfits instead of one.”
“Period coats make a very glamorous statement. It’s the combination of the cut, the mix of fabrics like velvet and lamé, and the colours,” says Virginia Bates of Virginia Antiques in west London, where everyone from Paris designers to Kate Moss comes to find sartorial treasures. For example: a Poiret-shaped 1920s coat and a cut velvet shawl in a symphony of pinks, both in mint condition. “Can you imagine Angelina Jolie with that shawl dripping down her back?” Bates says.
There’s something particularly elegant about a woman in an evening-tailored jacket or coat. Alexander McQueen certainly thought as much, mastering the craft during his training on Savile Row and including numerous evening coats in each of his women’s wear collections; current creative director Sarah Burton has continued this tradition. Similarly, Yves Saint Laurent introduced the first smoking-jacket for women in 1966, and the style has become a female black-tie basic and a YSL perennial.
This season the spring/summer collections were rife with red-carpet-ready coats. Prada’s satin duster coats, some encrusted with costume jewels, others covered in lace, were one of the season’s most striking pieces, while Dolce & Gabbana’s beaded black opera coat with elbow-length sleeves offered high glamour. Metallics were prominent, too, on Christopher Kane’s 1960s-style floral coats for day or evening and Giambattista Valli’s neat tunic shapes.
So will any of them appear on Bafta day? Dave Benett is not convinced. “You’ll be taking a chance on the red carpet if you’re wearing a coat,” he says. “Unless you’re an über A-lister, that is. Then you’ll be photographed no matter how covered you are.”
However, Italian actress Monica Bellucci says: “Something odd happens to you when you’re on the red carpet: you’re never cold! I suppose it’s all the adrenaline – it’s an emotional thing. That said, I often wear something over my shoulders, and I have worn coats in winter. If a coat is well cut, it bestows so much elegance on a person and it’s just as stunning as a dress.”
“An evening coat is incredibly glamorous,” says Bates. “It offers a more finished, more chic look, adding mystery to the woman wearing it.” That’s true whether you’re a celebrity or just a woman intelligent enough to keep warm.
It’s not only dresses that actresses want to display on the red carpet; one of the most-buzzed about pieces being considered for Oscar night is a dramatic Romanov necklace recreated by jeweller Fabergé from an 1885 sketch. The lace-like collar is made from a trellis of 2,225 emeralds, white diamonds and rose diamonds, writes Carola Long.
According to creative director Katharina Flohr, the company has had “various requests from stylists for the Oscars”. She says: “It would look good on Angelina Jolie, she loves emeralds and she has inquired about the Gemfields emeralds used on the necklace because she likes the fact that they are ethically mined.”
The necklace was a collaboration with the Gemfields gem sourcing business, owned by Pallinghurst, the company that acquired Fabergé in 2007. It specialises in ethically- and ecologically-sourced emeralds though providing 79 emeralds of consistent quality, all from one Zambian mine, was no mean feat. Flohr, who selected the stones in the rough at auction, says: “With a lot of these projects, you can plan it and then, later, you can’t get the stones.”
Flohr says the emeralds had “a look and feel that reminded us of the original emeralds of the Ural mountains, and of the time of Catherine the Great and the Romanovs”.
In 1951, the Fabergé family lost the right to create jewellery under the name but when Pallinghurst bought the company, the family and the name were reunited and the brand relaunched in 2009.
Although Flohr denies that the necklace is a marketing tool, an ambitious piece of high jewellery is a good way to boost the prestige of a reinvigorated house.
This necklace is a modern interpretation of the original, and the lower part can be detached to convert it into a choker. Flohr says: “We saw a lot of collars this season, at Louis Vuitton for example, so somehow the collar lent itself to that and would look magnificent with a strapless dress.”
If by chance the necklace, which Flohr says costs “in the million dollars range”, doesn’t make it to the Oscars on February 26, there may be a very good reason. “If a client wants to see it, that is a priority,” says Flohr.