With so many people packing the Oscars red carpet every year, why do we never see two actresses wearing the same dress or necklace or earrings that night?
Clout, child, clout. Clout wielded by throat-chewing personal wardrobe stylists. Clout thrown around by publicists who spend their free time filing their teeth into sharp points. And of course, the kind of clout that comes only with being a Jennifer Lawrence or Sandra Bullock — an A-list actress at the top of her game.
Most stars do not, of course, shop for an Oscar gown solo. They employ help — a small army of publicists, managers, stylists, any combination of whom might double as dress hunters come awards season. For the sake of argument, let's say it's the stylist, working in tandem with a star’s publicist. That team’s main responsibility — aside, of course, from making their client look like a princess fairy goddess on the moon — is to ensure that, whatever their client wears, it will not appear on anyone else come Oscar night.
The style team assures this by coordinating with whatever designer they finally choose for a gown.
The gist of the conversation: Hey, fancy designer? You'd better not have sent a copy of this dress to Amanda Seyfried. Because we will find you. And it will not end well.
Jewelry and style expert Michael O'Connor, who has styled folks for the Oscars, puts it to me this way: If the stylists are worth their salt, "as they're pulling certain dresses, they're saying to the designers, 'Have you made anything else like this for anyone else? Lent anything like this to anyone else? Is there a chance my client will end up on the carpet with a piece similar to someone else's?"
Ditto with jewels.
Of course many red carpet dresses literally have no match; they're one of a kind, which sounds like an advantage … unless some other actress already has the gown you want.
"I was dressing Jenna Elfman, who was hosting the Emmys," stylist Phillip Bloch once recalled to the New York Post, "and I found the perfect Elie Saab dress for her. Another stylist went in, pulled the dress out of my collection and refused to give it back. It became kind of ugly; we had this big fight on the phone and I threatened to kick her ass. The police even called my agent! It was like 'Mob Wives,' but with gowns."
Other gowns are often created just for the big night, and for only one actress in particular. Mexican designer Octavio Carlin is sewing up one such creation for an Oscars-bound actress he'd rather not name — not until after the big night, anyway.
"It's a great collaboration," Carlin told me. "There are so many designers here, and they're all just trying to do it — be here and be a part of the Oscars."
Still other dresses are one of a kind in a different way — runway samples fresh off of a plane from Paris or Milan, where they've appeared on models during a recent Fashion Week, and nowhere else … not yet, anyway.
"Looks for the Oscars are such a big deal that so many of them are one of a kind," says fashion publicist Cole Trider of Autumn Communications. "They're right from the runway. They may be similar to a look from 10 years ago, or even similar to a look from the early 2000s, but once someone has borrowed and worn a piece of couture, it usually goes back into a vault in Paris, and they never lend it again, because it's something special; it takes months and months to make. It's a piece of couture, and it's worth quarter of a million dollars."
Tune in to Yahoo's live Oscars pre-show this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT, and then watch the big show on ABC.
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Leslie Gornstein is an entertainment writer and the host of the weekly Hollywood gossip podcast The Fame Fatale.
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