Recession Brings New Dress Drought to Red Carpet

~By Jordan Shakeshaft~

In preparation for the this year’s Academy Awards, celebrity stylists like Rachel Zoe scrambled to dress their A-List clients despite the so-called recession-induced “dress drought.” It seemed that designers were producing far fewer of the red carpet dress contenders—because they were just that—mere contenders. Why invest the time and money, designers asked, to create an Oscar-worthy dress that a star wasn’t even guaranteed to select?

During the awards season, as fashion houses began to rebound from economic uncertainty, the red carpet saw only the slightest jolt of innovation. A-Listers (or their stylists) were forced to pick primarily from the runways for their Oscar looks, proving that truly custom-made gowns have become something of a distant memory even for Hollywood’s elite.

If you thought the Avatar actress Zoe Saldana’s lavender ruffled gown looked familiar, it’s because it was. Team Saldana plucked the Givenchy Couture gown directly from the Spring 2010 runway show in Paris.

Atelier Versace also managed to get double play out of their looks, with presenter Elizabeth Banks in a gray strapless gown with cascading ruffles that previously showed on the Spring 2009 runway. Actress Demi Moore also wore a familiar Atelier Versace gown in blush.

The list goes on.

Some designers did, however, invest in the redesign of dresses from their collections. And in these few instances, the risk paid off.

Dries Van Noten restructured Maggie Gyllenhaal’s gown from the Fall 2010 runway to resemble the sleek, strapless silhouette of the sentimental newlywed’s recent wedding gown. (And to complete the picture of marital bliss, Gyllenhaal’s husband, Peter Sarsgaard, wore his wedding tuxedo.)

Carey Mulligan, too, made an old look fresh again. The Prada Pre-Fall 2009 dress was edited down to feature only its most striking elements: the asymmetrical hemline, and the tiny jeweled adornments in the unexpected shapes of forks, spoons and scissors.

No one can predict what fashions next year’s award season will hold. We can only hope that as business picks up, designers will regain the power to innovate, and splash the red carpet with a few more fresh ideas.