Oscar gowns thread their way through popular culture long after the last acceptance speech. There are the immediate knock-off dresses, of course. But the lasting influence lingers in more subtle ways, in the form of shape, structure and shade.
An Oscar nominee doesn't "look good because they're wearing Oscar" de la Renta, says InStyle editor at large Hal Rubenstein. "They look good because of a certain detail," whether it's a strapless neckline or three-quarter sleeve. "Those are the elements that become influential to the consumer. Then the consumer takes it to a shop in their price point and finds some resonance."
"It's less about, 'Ooh, I want that dress from X celeb,' and more about the vibe," says Seventeen fashion director Gina Kelly.
Here's a look at how the Academy Awards red carpet has turned up in the closets of teens, twentysomethings and beyond:
Kim Basinger's now-iconic 1998 pistachio gown, worn when she nabbed the best-supporting-actress trophy, not only put Escada in the eveningwear business, says Brian Rennie, who was the label's designer at the time. Thanks to Basinger's victory, dramatically and sartorially, the company stuck its stiletto into the bridal business as well, making three versions of Basinger's dreDss in white - one in lace, one embroidered and one solid - at the request of brides. Escada stitched up the gown in about five colors and sold 30 to 35 of them at $3,500 to $4,000 each, vs. $7,000, which is about what Basinger's cost. "It was a style a lot of people could wear and be flattering," says Susan Ashbrook, who helped orchestrate the Basinger-Escada marriage.
When it comes to Gwyneth Paltrow's plethora of Oscar appearances, conventional wisdom points to her 1999 bubblegum pink Ralph Lauren dress as her fashion apex, and certainly, the fairy-tale frock spawned a swath of similar confections during the following prom seasons, says Kelly. But Rubenstein points to another big influencer: her pale Calvin Klein slip dress from 1996. "Suddenly, everyone looked overdressed," he says. That deceptively simple gown "had a lot to do with the rise of minimalism in fashion in the '90s."
David Meister's phone rang with requests after Diane Lane walked the 2008 Academy Awards carpet in a chocolate, one-shouldered jersey gown with beading at the waist. So he did a version of it for his regular line, for around $600. "If we tweak it a little" - using a similar fabric but less opulent embellishments, for instance - "we can make it a little more accessible to our customer," Meister says. His "signature" collection, on the other hand, goes for $1,500 to $5,000.
Designers are responding to the bevy of blush and the riot of red over the past two years - think of Halle Berry wrapped in Marchesa in the former and Jennifer Lawrence sheathed in Calvin Klein in the latter. "They were all wearing red, so we said, 'We have to do red,' " says Sheri Simon, who works in sales for one of the queens of the prom market, New York-based Jovani. As a result, the company ratcheted up its red repertoire from around 10 to 50 styles.
It was an even more dramatic story with blush: Jovani used to carry maybe two gowns in the subtle shade, and now it offers about 100. "That trend has really taken off," Simon says.
For its just-launched first prom collection, British-based Oasis soaked up the saturated color of, for instance, Michelle Williams' 2006 canary Vera Wang column, "which we know our customer loves - whether that be royal blue, coral pink or emerald green," says the brand's design director, Clive Reeve.
The 2010-11 Oscar red carpets provided ample altar inspiration for Dan Rentillo of David's Bridal. There was Hailee Steinfeld's Marchesa princess dress, but also Scarlett Johansson's lacy, open-back Dolce & Gabbana and Demi Moore's cascading cream Versace. "We were inspired by the soft, uneven ruffles, but in our interpretation, we wanted the skirt fuller and more bridal," Rentillo says about Moore's gown. And then there was Rachel McAdams in strapless, romantic, watercolor-patterned Elie Saab. "We thought, 'A bride in a print? Why not?' So we created a print in a more subdued shade of colors that is more bridal-appropriate. The customer loved it." Indeed, all of the aforementioned were best sellers for the company.
Sometimes, inspiration resonates more profoundly than patterns and pump styles. Take Octavia Spencer's red-carpet sweep in Tadashi Shoji last year. "She's not a fashion girl," says Rubenstein. "She's a larger-sized woman who looked beautiful, elegant and glorious the entire award season, especially at the Oscars," where she wore white gathered midwaist. "It was a great object lesson on how to dress beautiful, whether you're going to a wedding or a Christmas party," Rubenstein says. "Looking good isn't about being a size 0 or being 5-foot-10."
And there was Viola Davis, who famously doffed her wig and paired her emerald Vera Wang gown with her natural short hair. "She looked new and fresh," Rubenstein says. "The power of Viola's appearance was about not conforming to a norm. Individuality and pride are as essential to a woman's beauty as the right makeup and wardrobe."
Rubenstein calls both looks red-carpet watershed moments, "definitely."
And what about the future? What trends seen so far during this awards season will translate to next year's prom racks?
Yes, girls will continue to paint the gym "red, crimson and scarlet," says Teen Vogue's senior fashion news director, Jane Keltner de Valle. (Thank you, Lawrence, for repeating the hue in Dior Couture at this year's Golden Globes.) But Keltner de Valle also envisions a softer shade trickling down to the prom dress market: Jessica Chastain's seafoam, constructed by Calvin Klein for the Globes.
"It's a color we haven't seen for a long time, but it has a classic, timeless quality to it, and it's not as in-your-face as red. It was a favorite color of Grace Kelly's," says Keltner de Valle.
Ariel Winter's Valentino Globes dress wasn't the only winning component of her outfit: "Her styling was also spot on - the updo with a jeweled headband made the whole look sparkle and shine," says Keltner de Valle. "In terms of accessory and beauty trends, I think that's something that will translate at prom. Headbands are back in a big way."
Kelly sees girls embracing idol Taylor Swift's fishtail silhouette, created by Donna Karan Atelier for the Globes. "And the deep plum color is a nice alternative to black." Her other Globes prognostications for prom: Amanda Seyfried in Givenchy Haute Couture. "Girls love romantic lace for prom, but this shape makes it more modern." And Jessica Alba in tangerine-tinted Oscar de la Renta: "Bold citrus colors will be big."
At the Grammys? The sheer panels on Rihanna's red vintage Azzedine Alaia dress "will definitely be copied," Kelly says. "It's both demure and sexy."