LOS ANGELES, United States — On February 22, Hollywood’s elite will walk the final red carpet of the season: the 87th Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars. While dozens of television crews will ask dozens of stars all sorts of banal questions, most interviews will begin with, “What are you wearing?”
The sartorial stakes will be highest for those nominated, particularly the women, whose dresses will be critiqued across the internet and print publications for weeks to come. Last year, Best Supporting Actress winner Lupita Nyong'o cemented her place as a leading style star thanks to her sky blue Prada gown. This season, the hope is that nominees including Julianne Moore, Felicity Jones and Keira Knightley will make unique, just-daring-enough fashion choices.
To be sure, the competition to dress these women is fierce. The bigger the star, the more choices she has, and the more likely she is to change her mind at the last minute. Stylists often request that designers make custom gowns for their clients, which they don’t always end up wearing. Some brands choose to pay actresses to wear their dresses. Marion Cotillard and Jennifer Lawrence, for instance, both star in advertising campaigns for Dior, and almost exclusively wear the Raf Simons-designed label on the red carpet. But pay for play is less common than one might expect, at least when it comes to clothes.
Fine jewellers, on the other hand, are much more likely to enter into a contractual agreement with an actress. “If you look at just 10 people, six or seven of them are already taken [by fine jewellers], oftentimes with very large, lucrative contracts,” explains Alana Varel, partner at brand management and marketing agency Starworks Group. “For the three who aren’t, there’s a lot of betting and bidding going on until the day of the show.” A one-time appearance at a major event like the Oscars can earn an actress somewhere in the mid-six figures, while longer-term deals for A-listers typically start at seven figures.
A one-time appearance at a major event like the Oscars can earn an actress somewhere in the mid-six figures, while longer-term deals for A-listers typically start at seven figures.
For instance, when Charlize Theron was paid $3 million to star in an ad campaign for watchmaker Raymond Weil, she was also required to wear the watch in public. (A 2008 lawsuit brought against Theron by Weil revealed that she was also paid $200,000 to wear Chopard gems to the Academy Awards, and $50,000 to wear them to the BAFTAs.) “Today, the fee is still going to be in the mid-six figure to the low-seven figure range, with the celebrity participating in various advertising for a brand,” says Stacy Jones, president of Hollywood Branded, a consultancy.
While these sorts of deals are more prevalent now that the red carpet’s cultural significance has increased, Hollywood’s relationship with fine jewellers is as old as the entertainment industry itself, with many actresses doubling as clients. (Elizabeth Taylor’s personal gemstone collection fetched $137 million when it was auctioned off in 2011.) “We had extensive relations with key celebrities in the 1960s and 1970s,” says Piaget CEO Philippe Léopold-Metzger. “The Rat Pack, Andy Warhol, lots of very famous actresses.” Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was also a client.
But the influence of the red carpet on a global audience has made building long term relationships with A-list actresses all that more important. For instance, Geneva-based Piaget recently signed on Jessica Chastain as its international brand ambassador. The actress, who starred in four films in 2014, with three more coming in 2015, will make appearances at brand events and wear the jewels on the red carpet, although she will not star in advertising campaigns. “It was important to me to find someone who was smart and beautiful and a story, with a long future in Hollywood,” says Léopold-Metzger. “She’s recognisable, with a very distinctive look.” The contract with Chastain is the next step in an ongoing effort “to get back to Hollywood in an intelligent manner.” Eight years ago, Piaget began sponsoring the Independent Spirit Awards and in October 2014 opened a store on Rodeo Drive. “We work with [Memoirs of a Geisha actress] Gong Li in Asia, and it was important to find someone in Hollywood that would match Piaget’s values,” he says. “That’s Jessica.”
Gemfields, the London-headquartered producer of coloured gemstones, hired Mila Kunis as its global ambassador in 2013. Unlike traditional jewellery brands, Gemfields is primarily a supplier, which means Kunis wears pieces by other designers that utilise the company’s stones. At the premiere of her latest film, Jupiter Ascending, the actress wore jewellery by Miiori and Marina B featuring Gemfields’ Mozambican rubies — a particularly important category for the company, due to the scarcity of more traditional Burmese rubies. (At a Sotheby’s sale in March 2014, a 29.62-carat oval Burmese ruby and diamond ring sold for $7.3 million, the highest price ever paid for a ruby at auction.) Gemfields, which was established only in 2009 by mining industry consultant Ian Harebottle, needs to capitalise on the demand and popularity of coloured gemstones.
“For us, it’s a two-tiered approach,” explains Anna Haber, Gemfields’ director of marketing. “We’re marketing our gemstones to the jewellers and brands, and then we’re working to educate the consumer on colour gemstones overall, to get them excited about [the category].” That’s where Kunis comes in. Along with starring in the brand’s advertising campaigns, the public relations team works hard to ensure that Gemfields is credited any time a photograph of her wearing a piece is featured in an online or print publication. “We chose Mila because she’s very natural, and she knows her own mind, as well as being very beautiful,” Haber says. “[Her look] also works across many different markets. We’re not just working in America — we’re in the Middle East, India — we found that she resonates with customers globally.”
Bringing on an ambassador has become more and more common among top-tier brands, but there are some who still choose to work with celebrities on a case-by-case basis. Pascal Mouawad, co-guardian of Mouawad, the 125-year-old jeweller with headquarters in Geneva and Dubai, prefers to deal directly with stylists and managers instead of brokering a deal with an actress’ talent agency. “In 2002, we hired Heidi Klum as a brand ambassador, but now we don’t like to be associated with any particular star,” he says. “Celebrity association can be great for brand awareness, but what happens if that celebrity ends up endorsing another brand that’s not a good match with your brand? For instance, Heidi had a deal with McDonalds in Germany. We are a diamond company, and next thing we knew our ambassador was also promoting McDonalds. That’s not an association we want to have.”
Mouawad even stays away from the one-night-only deals, which preserves his marketing budget but means that placements are less predictable. “We don’t like to pay,” says the exec, who cites Amy Adams’ 2013 Oscar look as one of the house’s biggest red carpet moments. “That’s why there’s no guaranteed placement. We have spectacular pieces. But right now, I couldn’t tell you who’s going to wear my pieces because it’s too early.”
But there are few fine jewellery houses willing to risk missing the Oscars red carpet. “Oftentimes the dress is specific — it’s made for that woman, for that evening — and doesn’t have as broad an appeal as an amazing pair of diamond earrings, which are more likely to appeal to a wider range of women,” says Jim Kloiber, principal at strategy firm GCK Partners, who has worked Harry Winston and De Beers Group of Companies in the past, as well as Piaget and Gemfields. “There’s definitely a bigger opportunity from a commercial standpoint.” An Oscar winner’s look will be cemented in the minds of consumers for decades. Consider the 40-carat Harry Winston diamond necklace that Gwyneth Paltrow wore while accepting the Best Actress award at the 71st Academy Awards in 1998. Not only did Paltrow’s father buy her the necklace, but the jeweller sold several more the following week.
These appearances occasionally result in actual sales, but also allow jewellers to sometimes convert actresses into paying clients. “There is a myth that nobody owns their own jewellery anymore. You would be surprised by how many celebrities become clients of these brands,” says Kloiber. “Most of these companies will not discuss their clients and specific sales — they’ve very much about discretion. But it really does happen. If [red carpet dressing] wasn’t so effective on so many levels, it wouldn’t be happening.”
To be sure, it’s the jewellers with the most cash to spare that tend to secure the best celebrities. Not only is there the actresses’ fee, there is also the matter of security and transportation of the gems, which can run into six figures for one evening. “You’re dealing with pieces that are so expensive that there is a lot of handling from place to place. You need the infrastructure to be able to pull it off,” says Starworks’ Varel. “To play in this game you need to be able to afford it. It’s a very expensive space. Everyone gets lucky sometimes, but it’s getting harder for smaller, or newer brands. It’s too competitive.”
That’s not to say less-established houses aren’t trying. Los Angeles-based jeweller Irene Neuwirth has built an impressive red carpet presence, while other niche brands like Mouawad are benefiting from building years-long relationships with industry insiders. Forevermark, De Beers Group of Companies' branded diamond line that works with independent designers to create custom pieces, has experienced numerous red carpet wins since launching in 2008. (Gwyneth Paltrow, Michelle Williams, and Uma Thurman have also worn Forevermark.) “Millennials are looking to connect with new brands,” says Forevermark public relations director Adelaide Polk-Bauman, who is in charge of building relationships with celebrities. “We welcome the competition.”