c.2015 New York Times News Service

c.2015 New York Times News Service

By the time awards season rolls around each year, the inbox of anyone covering style fills up with so much pressing fashion minutiae that trepanation can suddenly seem like a desirable option.

This week, for instance, came news that, for the 26th annual Palm Springs Film Festival awards gala, British actor Eddie Redmayne was to be seen in a midnight blue stretch velvet two-button Dylan jacket with a notch lapel and a “leather detail.”

That is not all. He also chose on a mild desert evening to wear a white dress shirt, a black satin bow tie, black wool evening trousers and black patent leather shoes. The shoes were lace-ups, just so you know.

It has been eons since show people and the fashion industry first forged a fateful and slightly unholy alliance — or anyway since the Reagan era.

Writing recently from Florence, Italy, costume curator and historian Deborah Nadeoolman Landis recalled attending an awards show in the mid-80s at which two actress nominees, Sissy Spacek and Sally Field, turned up in cardigans, housedresses and glasses. Nowadays if an actor of reputation tried walking around even at home while wearing a housedress, her personal stylist would quit on the spot.

The Internet has seen to it that actors are on all the time now, never more so than during the monthslong sprint between the Toronto Film Festival in September and the Academy Awards next month.

The 66 separate events Lupita Nyong’o attended last year during a well-planned campaign for the Oscar are characteristic of the demands faced by performers. Looking good and fashionable all the time now comes with the job description. What is fascinating for even the most seasoned observer is noting how actors, the most malleable of creatures, transform themselves for the role.

This year, it’s the men in particular who bear watching, as a crop like the nominees for the Screen Actors Guild Award suddenly appear everywhere, always looking like a million bucks.

Check out Steve Carell, one-time doofus from the “The Office” and now movie star suave in Gucci or Prada; or Benedict Cumberbatch, crisply graphic as a 1920s Leyendecker illustration in white tie and tails; or Michael Keaton, impeccable and model thin at 63, in Italian wool suits with high armholes and fashionably narrow trousers; or Jake Gyllenhaal in custom-fitted Burberry; or Ethan Hawke, looking at 44 like a billboard model for Calvin Klein.

That each appears as if he could have strolled off a Milanese runway is not accidental. Just as female stars all seem now to roll off the assembly line a perfect size 2, so their male counterparts somehow got the memo that the modern male movie star is molded in one suit size, the same 38 regular fashion models wear.

“It has to do with the ever-increasing craze of Internet coverage and gossip magazines,” said Ilaria Urbinati, a celebrity stylist and a woman who has probably spent more time dressing Bradley Cooper than his mother ever did.

“There are more and more awards shows, more press than ever, more exposure and more scrutiny,” Urbinati said from Sun Valley, Idaho, where she was resting up for the coming onslaught. For major clients of Urbinati’s, like Cooper, Ryan Reynolds, Chris Evans or David Oyelowo, the job of styling extends well beyond the red carpet.

“I choose a lot of the clothes in their closets,” she said, a strategy designed to accommodate the reality that even paparazzi shots tend to be highly staged. “If you see a picture of them out walking their dog, chances are I picked out the hat and the pants.”

For Long Nguyen, the creative director of Flaunt magazine, the fluidly symbiotic relationship actors now enjoy with top designers is a far cry from the 1990s, when many actors disdained an interest in fashion, considering it a compromise of their machismo and their pact with the Muse.

“It was immensely difficult to get actors to pose for fashion photographers,” Nguyen said. “Not because they didn’t fit the clothes but because they were, well, ‘actors.'”

Now, he added, it’s hard to keep them away from the clothes rack. This is partly because, as female stars learned long ago, lucrative fashion side gigs make it possible to undertake roles in risky indie films (see: McConaughey, Matthew). But it is also because playing a professional clotheshorse is how some of the more bankable male stars began their careers.


“I suspect the influence of Channing Tatum in all this,” Jim Nelson, editor-in-chief of GQ, wrote in an email from Hawaii. Just as Redmayne did, Tatum had a thriving career as a model before taking to the boards.

“It’s a new kind of dance, a career balancing act, for young actors,” Nelson said. “These days, you’re helped by the model looks and the fashion connections, but you also have to be willing to throw your vanity away a little, as well, if you really want to break out.”

That balancing act may not be altogether new, suggested Lynn Hirschberg, editor-at-large at W magazine.

“Men in general, and actors in particular, have a very love-hate relationship with fashion, beauty and attention,” said Hirschberg, who has charted the vagaries of Hollywood celebrity intimately for decades in publications like Vanity Fair. “They don’t want to be vain or effeminate or like the girls or seem like they’re interested in anything but their craft.”

Yet, she said, while “even somebody like Bradley pretends it’s the last thing he wants to talk about,” there is evidence to the contrary wallpapering the Web.

The British “are so much better at playing this game,” she added, and without question Redmayne and his countrymen have proved to be able and even eager ambassadors for European houses like Prada, Gucci, Neil Barrett and Burberry.


“If you think about it, there wasn’t one actor 15 years ago that had a stylist, but nobody moves a finger today without a stylist,” said Italo Zucchelli, the creative director of Calvin Klein menswear. “It’s all part of a trend related to what has happened to men in general over the past 10 years.” They have become the new women, that is.

“Guys are very aware of clothes now, very educated, and they actually enjoy it,” Zucchelli said. “Actors are particularly good at communicating that enjoyment, the cool factor about fashion.”

“Whether they are really enjoying it, I don’t know,” he said. “Possibly it a can be a little bit of fake-real.”

And isn’t that, after all, what actors are paid to provide?