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Can the Oscars red carpet ever be sustainable?


When the British Academy of Film and Television Arts announced a sustainable dress code for its equivalent of the Oscars held last week, activists hoped to have an impact similar to the Time’s Up movement’s showing at the 2018 Golden Globes — when nearly all female attendees donned black to call attention to sexual harassment and abuse. A week and a half before the event, the BAFTAs sent out a sustainability guide, urging stars to re-wear an outfit, don vintage or at the very least support an eco-friendly designer, such as Stella McCartney or Gabriela Hearst.

That didn’t exactly happen.

Sure, a few stars followed the green mandate. Kate Middleton recycled a cream-and-gold Alexander McQueen dress that she had originally worn in 2012. Best Actress Oscar and BAFTA nominee Saoirse Ronan commissioned a Gucci gown made of discarded satin scraps. Best Actor Oscar and BAFTA nominee Joaquin Phoenix wore the same Stella McCartney tux he thriftily promised to rock all awards season.

At the 2020 BAFTAs, Kate Middleton wore an Alexander McQueen dress she'd worn before in 2012.
At the 2020 BAFTAs, Kate Middleton wore an Alexander McQueen dress she’d worn before in 2012.BACKGRID

But overall, the celeb response was unenthusiastic — despite the environment being one of Hollywood’s biggest causes and fashion, a climate-change culprit.

It certainly didn’t help that wearing the same outfit twice has long been seen as a red-carpet faux pas.

“Part of the reason we have this horrible habit now of burning through our clothes — the average garment is worn seven times before it’s chucked — is because actresses on the carpet have made it not just cool but enviable,” says Dana Thomas, author of “Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes.”

“They did not do this intentionally, but this habit of celebrating women [for] wearing something once and never being seen in it again has trickled down to internet influencers and micro-influencers — and now my teenage daughter.”

Elizabeth Stewart, who styles actresses such as Cate Blanchett and Julia Roberts, says that she feels culpable in this disposable attitude toward fashion.

“There’s these norms that have been established in my world, like you don’t wear the same thing twice or you don’t wear the same thing another person wore,” Stewart says. “And when you stop and think about it, it’s crazy.”

Lately, she’s been encouraging her clients to re-wear certain items they love. When Blanchett donned a black lace Armani PrivĂ© at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018 that she had worn several years before to the Golden Globes, both actress and stylist received lots of plaudits.

“It does trickle down to the general public, in terms of just being conscious and aware of waste,” Stewart says.

Cate Blanchett wore this Armani gown at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and at the 2014 Golden Globes.
Cate Blanchett wore this Armani gown at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and at the 2014 Golden Globes.Corbis via Getty Images

In 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency reported that Americans sent 10.5 million tons of textiles — most of which were clothes — to landfills. And most materials used aren’t sustainable: Even something as basic as a cotton T-shirt takes about 700 gallons of water to produce.

“It’s a conundrum,” says Sara Kozlowski, director of education and professional development at the Council of Fashion Designers of America. “Sometimes a material has gone around the world three times before reaching the showroom. So there are all these factors you have to consider.”

Still, she notes that designers such as McCartney, Hearst and Maria Cornejo have been at the forefront of using biodegradable and biotech materials, such as fiber made out of orange peels and cruelty-free silk.

Livia Firth, a film producer who 10 years ago started the Green Carpet Challenge — which asked celebrities to wear sustainable designs at high-profile events like the Oscars and the Met Gala — believes the televised red carpet is an ideal place to showcase these kinds of environmental innovations.

“For actresses, the red carpet is the biggest communication platform [they] have,” she tells The Post.

But reducing waste is not just about the fabric, it’s also about the overall preparation for the event itself. Assistants might take dozens of cabs over the course of awards season to pick up and return garments and jewels to p.r. agencies and fashion houses. Trunks of accessories have to be shipped overseas and across the country for timely arrival. And artisans and materials might be flown from Paris for a dress to be finished in LA.

Even if you’re renting a dress or wearing something made of the cleanest, upcycled materials, the carbon emissions and other environmental liabilities inherent in getting an outfit to a star “outweigh the wokeness of it,” says Cameron Silver, owner of the Los Angeles vintage boutique Decades.

Gwyneth Paltrow in vintage Valentino from 1962 at the 2019 Emmys.
Gwyneth Paltrow in vintage Valentino from 1962 at the 2019 Emmys.Fox

And stars can’t necessarily wear vintage or repeat outfits at every event.

“There’s a transactional relationship to a lot of these red-carpet collaborations, where the actresses have very clear endorsement deals and ambassador positions with design houses,” says Silver, who only rarely loans garments, requiring celebrities to purchase their vintage duds.

Most designers, however, will loan the dress — and sometimes even pay the client to wear it.

Although, as Thomas notes, the press seems to love when Middleton repeats outfits: Why not for a starlet?

“What I would love to see is an actress doing exactly what Joaquin [Phoenix] is doing and taking a really, really beautiful gown — borrowed or owned — and trotting it out to every single one of these red-carpet events but dressing it up differently,” she says.

Stewart, for one, would love to take her up on it.

“I think it’s totally doable,” she says. “That would be a very fun challenge as a stylist.”

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