The New Rules of Red Carpet Dressing

With awards season starting this weekend, we asked the King of the Red Carpet, Elie Saab, what to expect from eveningwear during a pandemic

There is no better runway than the red carpet, and when it comes to dressing celebrities, designers from the MENA region are a stylist’s best friend. Topping that list is Elie Saab, and it all started with Halle Berry. The Lebanese designer opened his Los Angeles showroom in 1996, and within only two years, the Academy Award-winning actress was already wearing a dress from the designer. “It was blue,” he recalls.

It was obviously love at first wear for Berry, as she chose to don Elie Saab Couture for her Oscar win in 2002. That was the moment when the Lebanese couturier became the “The King of Red Carpet.” Today the list of celebrities who have worn him is endless: from Angelina Jolie to Catherine Zeta-Jones, no awards season is complete without Elie Saab. 

Scarlett Johansson Wore Elie Saab in 2011
Scarlett Johansson wore Elie Saab in 2011

This year the red carpet season has been delayed, however it is not canceled. Tara Swennen is a leading celebrity stylist who has worked with Oscar winners Allison Janney and Kristen Stewart. She says: “We do not know what the format is, but we still want to give a nod to the glamour of the film industry even if it is an ‘at home’ red carpet. Everyone wants a distraction, to feel some hope right now.” With the Golden Globes kicking off the awards season on Sunday, we still do not know how celebrities are going to answer that famous question, “Who are you wearing?”

 “The red carpet still has a lot of meaning,” says Elie Saab. “It’s still something that is awaited, and I feel after this lockdown it could be very glamorous, as it is a way to express yourself. The red carpet has become a podium for fashion. You see regular women here, not just those with model measurements. All women can relate to it.” However, the designer cannot comment on any trends to expect, as things are so unclear. His fashion house has received many requests for dressing, and this is clearly a good sign.

Meryl Streep Red carpet dress Elie Saab
Meryl Streep in 2017 wearing Elie Saab

What we do know is that the Golden Globes are going to be held on two coasts this year, with Tina Fey in New York and her co-host Amy Poehler in Los Angeles. Presenters will be at the event, and it will be interesting to see if there is a difference between how the East and the West coasts dress. The Oscars happen in April and so far, it is an in-person event. Normally by this time, stylists would have their options ready, but not this year. “There are no rules right now,” says Tara Swennen, “it’s on each person’s comfort level. Do you remember when Sharon Stone wore that Gap shirt with the full Vera Wang skirt? That was so special. I hope to see some moments like that. As an artist I would like to push the fashion quotient. Right now people need to see beautiful things and couture is meant to take you into a dream land.”

Winnie Harlow Dress in the BRIT Awards
Winnie Harlow attends The BRIT Awards 2019 held at The O2 Arena on February 20, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)

But this uncertainty could actually mean that a new spontaneity comes back to the red carpet. “The red carpet in the past couple of years had become so commercial, with celebrities being paid to wear looks,” says Elie Saab. “It took away the whole spirit of awards dressing, as the brands were dictating what an actress wore. We have never endorsed this approach, and when someone wears Saab on the red carpet, it’s because they love the dress, our brand and what it stands for.”

Jane Fonda Dress by Elie Saab
Jane Fonda wore her red beaded Elie Saab Couture gown twice on the red carpet

One positive trend we have seen of late is celebrities repeating their looks. Last year Jane Fonda repeated her Elie Saab Couture red beaded gown that she had worn previously to the Cannes Film Festival in 2014. “I find it so flattering when a celebrity re-wears a gown on the red carpet. It also is a sign that the woman is confident – that she has both style and substance.” With fashion becoming so much more conscious since the outbreak of Covid-19, this is a trend that could become stronger during awards season this year. Of course, this Sunday, all questions on what the new rules of red carpet dressing are will be answered – making the 2021 Golden Globes one of the most anticipated awards shows ever.