Cannes: Why Major Fashion Designers Vie for Prime Festival Spots

Festival Designers Festival Spots - H 2013
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Festival Designers Festival Spots - H 2013

The annual fest has become a key global marketing platform for brands such as Elie Saab, Valentino and L'Oreal as style steals the film fest spotlight.

This story first appeared in the May 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

If you think Cannes is just about movies, you’ve been hiding under the Croisette. While the Oscars and Met Ball were the fashion ne plus ultras for years, Cannes now gives those sartorial tentpoles a run for their euros. “Cannes is like two weeks of the Oscars,” says Sahar Sanjar of La Chambre, which represents Palais-steps mainstay Elie Saab. Adds Carlos Souza of Valentino: “Red carpets now rule the day — and the red carpet at Cannes is truly for the entire world.”

More than even the Oscars, the fest connects brands to a global audience — including the Asian retail market — with ambassadors such as China’s Fan Bingbing and Li Bingbing and India’s Aishwarya Rai, Sonam Kapoor and Freida Pinto. To reach a broad swath of markets, brands like L’Oreal, a festival sponsor, send as many multiculti ambassadors as they can; Fan, Rai, Pinto and Ines de la Fressange went to the festival last year.

Wearing the best beads and ball gowns on the Palais steps, these stars cause the cameras to go wild, contributing to a riviera of fashion impressions, which can include coverage of the luxury brand suites at Hotel Martinez. Says Sanjar: “There are actually more requests this year from international journalists to cover fashion suites” — by Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Jimmy Choo and Bulgari. Actresses and their stylists circulate among them to make selections for soirees and photo ops. Saab, who in 2011 dressed Dutch model Doutzen Kroes, will be taking a larger suite this year.

PHOTOS: Cannes 2012: Fashion Highs and Lows on the Red Carpet

The list of fashion parties grows longer than the gown trains: Giorgio Armani throws one nearly every year, including its 2012 black-tie blowout in honor of Sean Penn’s Haiti charity. Gucci throws major parties with Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, and for two years running, Calvin Klein has hosted its Women in Film soiree, attended last year by Jessica Chastain and Naomi Watts.

The annual amfAR ball on the fest’s final night brings out the most eye-popping displays of posh pulchritude. “It’s the ultimate international fashion spectacle,” says Sandra Choi, Jimmy Choo creative director. “There is such a wealth of talent in one place, making it a platform to showcase dynamic looks” — as well as scout for ambassadors who can make your stilettos look to-die-for for buyers in China. as well as scout for suitable celebrity ambassadors who can make your product look to-die-for with buyers in China. “The wide array of actresses I've been privileged to meet sparkle in front of the cameras in one-of-a-kind high jewelry creations,” confirms Caroline Scheufele, co-president and artistic director of Chopard.

The fashion presence hit a pinnacle last year with Jean Paul Gaultier sitting on the Cannes jury. This year, Raf Simons will show the Dior 2013 resort collection in nearby Monaco on May 18, which will bring out Marion Cotillard (who stars in partner Guillaume Canet’s Blood Ties, showing at the fest) and likely her fellow Dior faces Charlize Theron and Natalie Portman. Add in 10 days’ and nights’ worth of spectacular wardrobes for Cannes jurors Uma Thurman, Diane Kruger and Nicole Kidman in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively, and you’ve got a veritable fashion circus. “Not only does Cannes create worldwide awareness, it actually affects sales. Trust me on that,” says Sanjar. “All the brands want to be there.”