Does the red carpet even matter anymore?

Sonam Kapoor in an Anamika Khanna sari at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.  (Getty Images )
Sonam Kapoor in an Anamika Khanna sari at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. (Getty Images )


The international red carpet season, which once shaped fashion trends, has now just become a passing, viral moment

With the 77th Cannes Film Festival underway in southeastern France, this year’s red carpet season is drawing to a close. Starting in January with the Golden Globes awards, and peaking towards the start of summer with the Met Gala and Cannes events, this period is traditionally known to create a lot of buzz, often rivalling “fashion week month" in significance. That buzz is absent this season.

Not watching the early arrivals on the red carpet used to be a big regret for me. This year, even the Cannes extravaganza has failed to excite me.

Some past fashion moments created at these events have become cultural reference points. One unforgettable moment was in 2002, when actor Halle Berry wore a mesh-embroidered, full-skirted dress by the then little-known Lebanese designer Elie Saab for the Oscars (she became the first Black female actor to win the Best Actress Oscar that year). The dress offered ample drama with its full skirt yet was dainty enough not to overpower Berry’s petite frame. Another standout moment was when Sonam A. Kapoor attended the 2014 Cannes festival, wearing an Anamika Khanna dhoti-style sari. It was understated yet dramatic, and looked so international yet inherently Indian.

The Met Gala has also produced several such iconic looks over the years, including Blake Lively’s Versace Art Deco-inspired gown, in 2022.

Blake Lively in a Versace gown at the 2022 Met Gala.
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Blake Lively in a Versace gown at the 2022 Met Gala. (Getty Images )

Looking the recent season, however, it feels like these red-carpet events no longer set the style agenda. Social media and the increase in red carpet events seem to have diluted the real impact of these occasions.

Social media has given everyone a ringside view of red carpets, removing the allure of its exclusivity. “First of all, everyone is the fashion police today," says Kalyani Chawla, founder of the silverware company Rezon and former vice-president of Dior’s communications and marketing in India. There was a time when seasoned fashion critics like André Leon Talley and Joan Rivers, who worked with reputed publications and television, commented on what celebrities wore and their red-carpet round-ups could make or break both the celebrity and the designer they were flaunting. These critics did their research, knew fashion history, and sat on the sidelines of red carpets to interview A- listers and witness the events. “Now everyone on social media is a critic, and it has taken away the significance of the red carpet and its impact on fashion," says Chawla.

Also read: Missing at the Met Gala 2024: Escapism

Only a handful of digital fashion commentators in India have nuanced insights to offer. Many work closely with corporate houses and fashion labels on collaborations, so their judgment ends up being clouded—they cannot be rude about people or brands who are paying their bills.

Social media has certainly removed the allure of the red carpet. “Now, everything is a look—from the airport to the opening of a store. People dress up for so many occasions as they want the attention of these social media fashion critics and want their look to stand out on the Instagram feed," says Chawla. This oversaturation means no single look stands out.

According to celebrity stylist Mohit Rai, co-founder of the fashion label Irth, known for its red-carpet worthy looks, “Something is always being uploaded to social media platforms for the dopamine hit. Almost every event, any wedding, especially if it’s a celebrity or a high society one, there’s just a constant influx of content, and everyone’s turning out looks and having photo shoots done in a bid to create iconic moments on social media. If everything is iconic, then nothing is iconic." While these looks receive eyeballs, the impact does not last.

With Cannes lasting for so many days (it ends on 25 May), keeping the excitement going on the red carpet is hard.

“Today, it is not just the film stars. With beauty and alcohol brands now being sponsors or working with the event and inviting so many influencers, it’s no longer about film stars only. This has impacted the event overall," says Chawla.

Stylist Rai, who started his career with fashion magazines, recalls how the Cannes red carpet would define evening wear trends for months to come. “You remember Sonam’s and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s looks from the past at Cannes as the fashion moments, but today everyone is creating those moments at press tours, at film promotions and other events," he says.

Rai notes that stars used to bring an element of their personal style to the red carpet, such as Kapoor wearing Indian jewellery, or Rai Bachchan and Deepika Padukone experimenting with labels such as Michael Cinco and Ashi Studio. “Today, everyone looks the same," says Rai.

Part of the reason for this is that many red carpet appearances are sponsored, and many celebrities wear outfits by the designer for whom they are brand ambassadors. Padukone, for instance, tends to wear Louis Vuitton. With names like Dior, Gucci and Chanel signing many A-list celebrities as brand ambassadors, what they wear has become predictable. Some Indian designers, who are now appearing on international red carpets, are rumoured to be following the same marketing tactic. In fact, at the Met Gala, designer labels buy tables (this year, the price of a table started at $350,000) and then celebrities attend as “guests" of a brand.

Brands also tie up with events directly. This year, Loewe was a sponsor of the Met Gala, which explains why so many attendees wore the brand, including Anna Wintour, Ariana Grande and Ambika Mod. Despite this, the Met Gala still is the “Holy Grail," according to Rai, as it has a costume element to it—though, this year, there were too many generic looks.

One look that did stand out was that of US-based Mona Patel in Iris van Herpen, styled by Law Roach. Patel has now become a “style icon" because of that red carpet look. “If done right the Met Gala still has this power," says Chawla.

Roach created another cultural moment with Met Gala co-chair Zendaya, who flaunted two looks at the 6 May event, she adds. The first was inspired by an archival look by John Galliano; the second, an actual archival look from, again, Galliano. “Archival dressing is going to be the next big trend of occasion dressing," says Chawla.

Despite this, there is no question that we are witnessing a stage of red-carpet boredom. A viral look does have an impact for a short span of time. In the long run, it does not serve any purpose. It might, though, result in one thing if such looks are served constantly: the death of the fashion moment on the red carpet.

Dress Sense is a monthly column on the clothes we wear every day.

Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and mindful fashion advocate.

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