On Sunday, the Emmys will attempt to answer the question many in fashion have been wrestling with: how should a red carpet look in 2020?
With major award ceremonies like the Oscars, Grammys and Golden Globes not for months, the 72nd Emmy awards will potentially lead the way in suggesting how celebrities should dress on Hollywood’s most glamorous night. The show will be held virtually, so while there will be no gawping at a distance at a Blake Lively, there will still be celebrities (nominees include Zendaya, Jennifer Aniston, Issa Rae and Kerry Washington) showing their finery off on Zoom. In fact, 140 professional cameras, set up in a variety of locations, will be able to catch all the ever so slightly time-delayed and possibly pre-recorded glamour.
And what of the outfits? Sunday night’s chosen dress code could take everyone by surprise. “The 2020 Emmys are going to be a pyjama party,” a source told US Weekly. “All the celebs are wearing high-end designer pyjamas like Dior.” It follows a report in July when the dress code was announced as “come as you are, but make an effort”. But is this what the viewers really want: a Met Gala theme as imagined by Rip Van Winkle?
Like a balloon deflating, it’s a far cry from the pageantry, exoticism and postmodernity we’ve come to expect from the red carpet. In 2020, the bar to “make an effort” has fallen considerably.
The rise of virtual ceremonies (and the fact that much of it is pre-recorded) has put a dampener on the unpredictable red carpet. The virus has affected not just the ability to produce culture to give awards to, but also the by-product industry of award shows, with mass gatherings a massive no-no.
After the Tony awards were cancelled in June, shows spluttered forward in a socially distanced way. In July, on the eve of the TV Baftas, photographer Rankin played on the concept of award shows in lockdown. Taking the nominee portraits, he matched the beautiful with the blah: actors dressed in designer suits jumping in their back gardens, or doing a jigsaw and shouting at the dog. “Our theme was ‘all dressed up with nowhere to go’,” he wrote. Which was, of course, true.
But if there was humour here, it was lacking at last month’s VMAs. Long known for its silly, postmodern sartorial japes, the evening disappointed. The ceremony – home to Lil Kim’s purple nipple pastie, Rose McGowan’s derriere revealing crystal drape dress and Lady Gaga’s meat dress – was humour free.
Even Gaga’s triumphant multiple mask appearance had a very serious undertone. The ceremony was criticised for feeling low-wattage, celebrity-wise (too many C-listers, TikTokers and YouTube influencers), tonally odd (a sombre mood pervaded, coming so quickly after Chadwick Boseman’s death) and lacking in standout style moments.
But if the red carpet is going through some sort of midlife crisis, the reasons are complex. The pandemic itself has lessened the mystique of celebrities themselves (exhibit A: that rendition of Imagine), but also in practical terms, a fashion stylist is operating under restrictions.
“Almost every aspect of my job as a stylist has gone virtual,” says Andrew Gelwicks, who has styled Emmy nominee Catherine O’Hara from Schitt’s Creek, and cast members from the nominated Pose, “(from) selecting looks from lookbooks … as well as the fitting. We are figuring it out as we go along.”
He thinks the Emmys will still be a fashion win. “I hope we will continue to see incredible, out-of-this world looks at the Emmys, even though it’s virtual,” he says. “Although many people may not be wearing gowns, there’s still a tremendous opportunity to have fun with fashion.” And the news that presenters will be wearing tuxedo Hazmat suits, designed by Katja Cahill, suggests just that. Phew.