This story first appeared in the Feb. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
At the Golden Globes on Jan. 13, Amanda Seyfried beautifully graced the red carpet in a lace sartorial confection. "This is Givenchy," the Les Miserables star said of her blush-toned gown. "And I get to keep it, apparently."
While stars like Seyfried have the best fashion houses and stylists on speed dial, independent filmmakers and actors doing the awards-show circuit for the first time don't quite have the type of cred that can garner $20,000 gowns, gratis. "If you're not a star, no major designer is going to loan to you. Labels don't do it to be nice. They do it to get press," says E! Fashion Police host and A-list stylist George Kotsiopoulos.
So what's a nominee to do without a styling team or, in some cases, even a clue? The task at hand: finding the perfect ensemble on her own without going broke. And, lo and behold, a surprising number of relatively anonymous nominees actually have been able to nab a loaner frock. No matter that said loaners aren't coming from Valentino. Others rent.
"So far it's just me surfing Rent the Runway," says producer Cori Shepherd Stern, whose Open Heart is up for a documentary short Oscar. A filmmaker whose subject centers on Rwandan children seeking open-heart surgery isn't likely to win favors from Prada. So RentTheRunway.com, a popular website that offers short-term rentals, is a plausible solution; a four-day rental of, say, a cream Calvin Klein keyhole gown is $225.
The Sessions producer Judi Levine finds the red carpet "terribly stressful," recalling last year's Australians in Film Awards where she wore the same Nordstrom-bought gown as another attendee. For the Globes, where the film's stars Helen Hunt and John Hawkes were nominated, Levine persuaded distributor Fox Searchlight to hire her a stylist, Nicole Schneider, who has worked with Kelly Clarkson. Levine loved the silk Gemy Maalouf loaner Schneider found her. (Maalouf gowns start at $500.) "It was really fun to have someone walk into my house with 10 dresses," says Levine.
Veteran Ann Dowd, up for a supporting actress Independent Spirit Award on Feb. 23 for Compliance, "went into numb panic" at the thought of navigating the carpet. "I wore a lot of Eileen Fisher in Steven Soderbergh's film," she says of Side Effects, her next project, out Feb. 8. The brand ended up giving her a slew of simple, drapey dresses to wear this season.
Beasts of the Southern Wild scribe Lucy Alibar (who had to sell homemade gelato to help finance her flight to Cannes last year) also lucked out. Alibar, up for an adapted screenplay Oscar, doesn't give much thought to awards dressing. She was getting so much use out of the same few pieces, a Fox Searchlight rep asked if she owned any other outfits. Her manager negotiated the use of a black Tory Burch dress for a press event.
No studio or fashion company to beg for favors? No problem. "Vintage is always good," says stylist Rob Zangardi, who, with partner Mariel Haenn, dresses Gwen Stefani. "The key is to tailor the piece for a perfect fit." Zangardi suggests The Way We Wore (334 S. La Brea Ave.) and Shareen Vintage (1721 N. Spring St.) for frocks in the $500 range.
For new dresses, stylist Anita Patrickson (clients include Emma Watson) cites Alexander Wang, Zimmermann, Rag & Bone, Michael by Michael Kors and Alice Temperley's diffusion line, Alice, for lower-priced goods (less than $1,000). She also cites TheOutnet.com as a fave. "You shouldn't be paying off your credit card for six months to buy a dress," she says.
Not all wallet-friendly wares are created equal. "Avoid synthetic fabrics or anything too shiny; the imperfections can be blaring," says Zangardi. Ditch the bells and whistles, too. Lace, for example, tends to look like it came from a mall kiosk unless it, uh, didn't. Instead, go the uncomplicated, timeless route and dress it up with accessories. If you can afford it, says Zangardi, "splurge on Louboutin pumps you'll have for long after."
For men, buying a tux from a major designer (which easily can run $2,000) can break the bank. While many think of renting one, if they are going to more than one black-tie event, that can add up, with one-time rentals costing as much as $160. As an alternative, Zara and H&M have decent tuxes and evening-wear suits for about $300. "Just make sure you don't cheap out too much on the shoe, then," says Patrickson. Vintage shops Wasteland (7428 Melrose Ave.) and Consignmen (7264 Melrose Ave.) sometimes have nearly new tuxes by the likes of Rag & Bone and Helmut Lang that can then be tailored.
You don't have to be Brad Pitt to nail a free tux, either. Montreal radio personality Yan England, whose Henry earned a live-action short Oscar nom, never has worn a penguin suit but will sport one by Canadian bespoke suitmaker Sartorialto to the Dolby Theatre. "A friend called them and asked them to make me one, and he surprised me with the news on the radio."
In 2012, the directors of the Oscar-winning documentary Undefeated, Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, reached out to a stylist friend, Lawren Sample, who works with Christina Hendricks. Sample connected them with Brooks Brothers, which gave each of the directors, neither of whom owned black tie, a Black Fleece-label tux (starting at $1,475) for the big night. "I'd never worn that amount of money on me before," says Martin. Recalls Lindsay, "You're broke because you can't take any other jobs because you're doing so much press. The morning of the Oscars, I was getting ready in my tiny Koreatown apartment. It was an incongruous experience."
Most carpet newcomers do have to fend for themselves in the awards-season wilds, but, says Kotsiopoulos, "brands need to remember that Jennifer Lawrence was at Sundance at one point, too."
Emayatzy Corinealdi, the striking star of Middle of Nowhere, has a Gotham Award for breakthrough actor and is up for best actress at the Indie Spirits. Although Prada, Max Mara and Kevan Hall have come calling, she dressed herself for the Gothams. "I love clothes. Even if I have someone offering me dresses, I like the idea of picking my own things and styling myself."
Even when it comes to finding the type of double-stick tape required to prevent a tabloid money shot? Corinealdi, who looks forward to having a stylist one day, says with a laughs, "I guess it would be nice to not have to worry about that."