At first it seemed impossible to imagine: No more red carpets! No more photos of movie stars and names to watch in fabulous gowns blanketing the internet. Could “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” be the last gasp of that marketing Valhalla of fashion and film that was the modern premiere — at least for the foreseeable future?
At least, that is, until the SAG-AFTRA actor’s strike, announced July 14, is resolved. For the moment, actors, from the unknown to the most celebrated, are banned by their union from engaging in any promotional activities. That means big openings. That means magazine covers touting new movies. That means film festivals with all their associated dressing and posing opportunities. That means social media pics of them getting dressed for premieres.
And what that means for fashion, an industry that has become increasingly intertwined with the denizens of Lalaland in a mutually beneficial ecosystem of influence and outfits — and as important, what it means for the public’s understanding of fashion, much of which is received through the lens of celebrity — is potentially enormous.
Actors sign contracts that can be worth millions, negotiated by agents and managers, to be brand ambassadors, appearing in some combination of advertisements, front rows, store openings and red carpets, dressed by stylists, generating coverage, desire and, most of all, publicity for everyone involved.
Their work may form their substance, but fashion is the grease that sends them viral (and that has bolstered their bank accounts at a time when the economics of movies are shifting — part of the reason for the strike). Timothée Chalamet on the red carpet in Venice in a crimson Haider Ackermann halter top and Florence Pugh in a sheer pink Valentino “revenge dress” are images that put those actors and those brands at the center of social media for days.
Alison Bringé, the chief marketing officer at Launchmetrics, a data analytics and software company, wrote in an email that Margot Robbie’s appearance in Schiaparelli at the film’s Los Angeles premiere “generated over $2.1 million in media impact value in just 24 hours, which is more than half of what Schiaparelli’s fall 2023 show amassed overall.”
With all of that grinding to a halt, along with studio productions themselves, what happens? And who are most at risk? Actors and studios are not the only ones with a stake in this game.
At the moment, agents and talent seem to be holding their breath and swiveling their heads to see what everyone else is doing. The brands themselves are staying mum. Louis Vuitton, whose ambassadors include Jennifer Connelly, Michelle Williams and Ana de Armas, declined to comment. Versace, which works with Anne Hathaway, ditto. Prada, ditto. Gucci, ditto. Dior did not respond to requests for comment.
In theory, all fashion promotional work (as opposed to movie promotional work) can continue. Commercial appearances are not prohibited, according to the strike guidelines. And there are myriad such opportunities that have nothing to do with premieres. Recently Wimbledon turned into a catwalk of sorts for celebrities including Emma Corrin and Brad Pitt.
Much has been made of the fact that the first big red carpet victim will be the Venice Film Festival, scheduled for Aug. 30 to Sept. 9, and the de facto start of awards season, with all the fashion fanfare that implies.
This year the films rumored to be showing star Zendaya, a Louis Vuitton ambassador (Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers”); Jessica Chastain, who works with Gucci (Michael Franco’s “Memory”); Emma Stone, also a Louis Vuitton ambassador (Yorgos Lanthimos’s “Poor Things”); and Penélope Cruz, who works with Chanel (Michael Mann’s “Ferrari”). All of them will most likely be absent.
Yet, as it happens, early September is also New York Fashion Week, and the start of the whole fashion season. That’s four weeks of potential for appearances and events.
Even more pointedly, brands themselves have increasingly tiptoed into the content arena, making short films, especially during the pandemic. What sorts of non-studio videos could they cook up? Entirely independent films are allowed under strike guidelines. YSL even has its own film production division. The studios would look selfless — supporting talent — and the talent would look, well, good. When given lemons. …
Indeed, the strike may make brand relationships even more important, both as a source of income and as a creative outlet. “The first writers strike, our teams were busier than ever, because a lot of the actors had to do more promotional appearances to subsidize for any slowing in their main vocation,” said Brooke Wall, the founder of the Wall Group, a talent agency for stylists that is part of the Endeavor group.
That’s one way of looking at it. The issue is thornier, however, because of the morality and optics involved. Even if SAG-AFTRA members are allowed by the rules to continue their outside work, will it not seem gauche to do so? Given the glitz and champagne associated with fashion, it could seem a bit like partying while Rome burns.
Fran Drescher, the SAG-AFTRA president and face of the strike, received vociferous blowback when she attended the Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda couture extravaganza/junket in Puglia, Italy, just before the strike was announced, even though a spokeswoman for the union told The Hollywood Reporter that it knew about the trip, and it was fine. Add in the fact that it is often the most boldface names in the industry who have snagged the biggest outside contracts — exactly that layer of Hollywood that does not necessarily need work during a stoppage — and the situation gets even more complicated.
On the other hand, there is a whole substratum of talent who are not at the negotiating table and yet are seriously affected by the red carpet suspension: the stylists and hair and makeup artists who help create the image-making magic, and whose salaries are generally paid for by the studios, not the talent.
“There is no work!” said Kate Young, a stylist whose work focuses on Hollywood.
The end of movie promotion is a “massive issue,” according to the stylist Karla Welch, who said she had had four premiere tours cut short or canceled already. “Basically any stylist who works with celebs just saw all their jobs go away,” she said. “The only thing celebs’ people can do are fashion jobs, and that’s the few people who have celebs with brand deals.”
This may be partly why there has been little noise thus far about suspending brand appearances. There is a trickle-down effect at work that is not insignificant when it comes to people’s livelihoods. Still, Ms. Wall said, “this is a whole new world, so we shall see.”
Indeed, there is a scenario in which the suspension of the red carpet has the unintended but far-reaching consequence of decoupling fashion and Hollywood, or at least significantly changing the balance of power. It could prove to brands that they need celluloid celebrities less than they may think, ushering in a new era of ambassadors focused on the rest of the world and talent that has nothing to do with back lots or Oscar statuettes. Really, it has already begun.
Two names: BTS and Beyoncé.