Huge paychecks, free clothes – even plastic surgery: Bribes offered by designers to persuade A-listers to wear their gowns to the Oscars
Many an actress is this week fretting about her Oscars outfit, but behind every A-list name is an army of stylists clamouring for her attention and, more to the point, her business.
Stories of in-fighting between stylists are common – competition for the best gown is so great that many will go to extreme lengths, even stepping on the wrong side of the law, to secure a dress for a client.
The reason A great dress, seen by many millions, is arguably more powerful than winning an award, while a bad choice can overshadow even the most wonderful performances.
It's all in the gown: Halle Berry wore an Elie Saab gown to the 2002 Oscars, kicking the designer's credibility and popularity into overdrive in the process. It's no wonder that designers clamour for A-list endorsement
But the fervour goes both ways – and some designers are said to go as far as bribing stylists to persuade them to use their dresses.
According to the New York Post, there is big business in the months and weeks leading to the Oscars, and it is not all about high fashion and couture changing hands.
Stylist Philip Bloch is only too aware of a shadier side to securing gowns: 'Some stylists will take gifts from fashion houses,' he said.
'I’ve heard of them offering vouchers for liposuction and other nip/tucks. Some designers will just ask: “What do you want” I’ve never got involved in that but I always say: “I wouldn’t take a bribe, but I love a great thank-you present.”'
He says that designers even offer 'free face-lifts' and $5,000 'tokens of appreciation'.
The rewards, for designers, are lucrative – millions of dollars of free publicity and kudos that can send a fashion house into overdrive.
Ones to watch: Insiders say Rooney Mara, left, and Brnice Bejo, right, are among designers' favourites to dress at this year's Oscars
He has seen, first-hand, the power of a single dress on an actor's career and a designer's business. He chose a wine red Elie Saab dress for Halle Berry's 2002 Oscars turn – and never looked back.
'It launched the designer’s career, and it changed Halle’s life forever,' he told the paper. 'In that dress, she looked beautiful but vulnerable … it caused people to see her in a whole new light.'
'Having Anne Hathaway, Nicole Kidman or
Gwyneth Paltrow walking in your dress is worth an enormous amount of
money in terms of advertising and brand'
There have been cases of celebrities making a last-minute costume changes, despite having a couture creation perfectly fitted and days and days in the making at their disposal.
Ms Ginsberg remembers the calamity of the 1996 Oscars: 'Oh my God, talk to Vera Wang about Sharon Stone wearing a Gap turtleneck to the Oscars instead of the dress she slaved over for months.'
As such, fashion houses are no strangers to enticing celebrities directly and often pay for A-listers to agree to wear only their designs.
Merle Ginsberg, senior writer at the Hollywood Reporter, told the Post that 'Actresses are very often paid to wear a certain gown.
'Having Anne Hathaway, Nicole Kidman or Gwyneth Paltrow walking in your dress is worth an enormous amount of money in terms of advertising and brand, and the designers figured that out some time ago.'
Gap at the Oscars Sharon Stone wore a Gap turtleneck T-shirt to the 1996 Oscars – despite having a couture creation by Vera Wang ready and waiting
Smaller designers, hungry for publicity, will funnel much of their marketing budgets towards stars whose trajectories are on the rise.
'Some designers do it the subtle way — the actress gets to keep the dress, she may be flown to fashion shows in Europe and sent free clothes all year round,' said Ms Ginsberg.
She points out that Charlize Theron is paid by Dior to be a 'spokesman' while Nine Ricci and Carolina Herrera both had agreements with Reese Witherspoon.
And endorsement companies are increasingly a part of the once-simple process of picking a frock for just one evening.
'If a designer approaches a celebrity asking to dress them, this agent might say: ‘We’re looking for a deal that’s worth $200,000’ — and that figure is on the lower end.'
This year, the biggest names, closely watched by such endorsement deal-makers, are Rooney Mara, Michelle Williams, Brnice Bejo and Jessica Chastain, she told the newspaper.
'These girls can pretty much take their pick of the dresses on offer, and everyone else has to wait in line behind them.'
Stylists live in fear of their jobs, celebrities live in fear of not looking their absolute best and designers live in fear of being bumped for an alternative – god forbid, a lesser – designer at the eleventh hour.
But there is one thing that all parties dread and that is ending up on the worst-dressed list.
Come Sunday night, the red carpet will be about much, much more than the dresses.