High-octane glamour of stars’ red-carpet style finds place in mainstream fashion

Feb 5, 2017 @ 3:05 pm

The couture will be haute at the Baftas but now celebrities’ love of occasionwear has become a high street trend for big nights out.

As the great and good of the film industry prepare to honour their peers at the Bafta awards, the pressure to achieve preened photogenic perfection for the big night out is greater than ever. And that’s not just for the leading ladies of the year’s cinematic blockbusters.

Across the country, women are agonising over wardrobe choices as they get ready for dates, dinners and drinks with the girls, pulling out all the sartorial stops in a bid to emulate the starlets who walk the red carpet during awards season. Where once a trusty little black dress might have been deemed adequate for a night on the town, a desire for ever more glamorous and accessible “occasionwear” is fuelling a boom for mass-market fashion brands.

Last week, online retailer Asos invited fashion editors to the unveiling of a new collection created for an “occasionwear hub”, due to launch on its website in mid-March. A selection of around 50 key pieces from the collection included embellished “crystal mesh” mini dresses, laser-cut prom dresses, floral floor-length gowns and evening jumpsuits designed for a new generation of glamour girls brought up on a daily diet of red-carpet images, celebrity selfies and American prom queens.

“A decade or more ago, the prom didn’t exist in Britain, but now schoolgirls here will save up for a pair of Manolos or Louboutins for their first big night out and want the statement dress to go with them,” says fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave. “Until recently you had to go to designer labels for something fabulous that was youthful and fun, because the high street didn’t cater well for that kind of evening or special occasion glamour. Now the more accessible mass-market retailers are buying into that heavily, to meet growing demand.”

With international retail sales of more than $950m last year, Asos has declared an annual sales target of $2.5bn by 2020, and is planning aggressive expansion of its ranges in a bid to meet this figure. It is pinning its hopes on the new occasionwear collection being a hit with style-savvy, budget-conscious customers.

“They admire the style of actresses like Dakota Johnson or Jennifer Lawrence, who do pretty and glam really well, in a fresh, youthful, vibrant way that our customers relate to,” says Asos head of design Leandra O’Sullivan. “This season, sales of floor-length gowns in our Salon collection were up 95% on last year, and in January embellished styles were up 51% on even their pre-Christmas peak, so we know we’re on the right track.

“We know young women love to dress up for a night on the town, a wedding, a day at the races or a work function, so we have really focused on creating accessible pieces with that ‘special occasion’ touch. Prices start at $65 and the most expensive pieces – beaded, embroidered styles in the red-carpet range – cost around $185.”

But Asos does not have the market for affordable high-octane glamour to itself. Another online boutique, Little Mistress, was founded recently to cater specifically for young women inspired by reality TV shows such as The Only Way is Essex and Made In Chelsea. It has been a runaway success.

“They sell perfect prom dresses and glitzy cocktail numbers to young women who want to ramp up the glamour,” says fashion consultant Erica Davies, a 38-year-old who buys her own occasionwear from Asos. “H&M’s limited edition Conscious collection has also quietly been making waves at fashion events and was worn on the Bafta red carpet three years ago by Hollywood A-lister Michelle Williams.”

The chattering classes’ favourite, Boden, has also expanded its portfolio of school-run staples to include some sell-out occasionwear styles, priced at a premium over its core collection. Over the festive season, it introduced floor-length, colour-blocked silk evening skirts at around $200, and its spring collection features gamine floral separates that are sure to prove popular at home counties weddings this summer.

There seems to be a direct correlation between this inclination to dress up and the more casual mood that has dominated workplace wardrobes and catwalk fashion for the past few years. Retailers are reporting soaring sales in the “loungewear” sector, with women clamouring for off-duty soft jersey harem pants and cashmere onesies, and the softening of office dress codes seems to be stimulating a desire to go for maximum impact when the opportunity arises.

And it’s not just younger fashionistas who are opting for sequins and satin; more mature shoppers are seeking a sophisticated take on occasionwear at labels such as Coast, where marketing manager Emma McKeever reports “remarkable growth in online sales over the past 12 months”.

In recent seasons, stylists on glossy magazines have fought over samples of Coast’s signature long, full evening skirt in a range of taffetas, jacquards and printed satins, and this gained the brand a profile in influential photo shoots and a platform for sales.

“The press, and customers, have fallen in love with those skirts, which we rework regularly in different fabrics,” says Coast’s creative director, Neil Hendy. “The re-emergence of the skirt as a high-fashion item gives women a foundation for her own look, teaming it with a sequin sweater, a leather jacket, a white shirt or a silk blouse. The look can be adapted for any age, from 16 to 60 and beyond, and for a range of occasions. It’s up to you how dressy you want to be, according to how you style it with accessories. We are focusing on separates as the way for women to make the occasionwear trend their own, in the way they put it together.”

Amid all the speculation over who will take home the Bafta for leading actress, the fashion world waits with bated breath to discover who will wear what on the red carpet tonight. The accolade of a place on the best-dressed lists is coveted by starlets, whose earning power and Hollywood bankability can be significantly increased by judicious wardrobe choices.

When Lupita Nyong’o won an Academy Award for her role in 12 Years A Slave last year, her acting credentials were sealed. But it was her wardrobe of pared-down, contemporary red-carpet attire that won her glossy magazine covers and lucrative advertising contracts, with Miu Miu and Lancôme.

Jennifer Lawrence famously tripped in her fairytale Dior gown at the 2013 Oscars, but the Paris fashion house turned the incident to her advantage, wooing the young actress to star in their ad campaigns.

With some high-profile British talent nominated for key awards tonight, London style watchers are hoping to see some homegrown designs on the red carpet. So far in this awards season, Felicity Jones has been wearing Dior, and Keira Knightley tends to favour Valentino and Chanel. So it could be down to Rosamund Pike to champion British-based designers such as Roksanda Ilincic, Thomas Tait, Emilia Wickstead, Mary Katrantzou or Jenny Packham.


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