Fashion designers face a business decision ahead of tonight’s Oscars: Shrug off a yearly marketing triumph in which celebrities endorse their brands before 40 million viewers—or support the sexist practice of red-carpet reporters who exclusively ask women what they are wearing while posing questions about film-making to male stars.
A campaign created by the Representation Project is asking reporters to focus more on female actors’ careers and causes, rather than the gowns they are wearing. It has attracted the supported of actor Amy Poehler and Cosmo editor Joanna Coles, who is covering the event for CNN.
The #AskHerMore push started in February 2014 and gained traction during that year’s Emmy Awards, even spurring parodies where men were asked questions typically posed to women during award shows. (Kevin Spacey’s answer about whether he is wearing Spanx is priceless).
But campaigns like this have faced an unexpected backlash.
In 2010, Ryan Seacrest tried eliminating “who are you wearing?” while covering the red carpet. His critics weren’t fans or celebrities, but instead the fashion industry, which has come to depend on celebrities generating buzz—and business—for their labels. The red carpet has become so corporate that celebrities often sign legal contracts outlining everything from what they will wear to how they will talk about it.
The Hollywood Reporter recalled a New York Times style column—headline: ”Hey Ryan, Talk to the Dress”—that detailed how designers were miffed by the oversight. “It was almost like he wasn’t that interested in the designers,” designer Nicole Miller told the Times. “He seemed more interested in the celebrities and their careers.”
A stronger view came from People editor Susan Kaufman, who said “she lost it” when Seacrest didn’t immediately ask Sandra Bullock, that year’s winner for Best Actress, about her outfit by New York fashion brand Marchesa.
This year’s screed came from fashion blog Refinery29, which defended the focus on what people are wearing in a piece asking, “Can #Askhermore and fashion Coexist?”
“Ultimately, there are scores of questions we would love to hear red-carpet reporters #askhermore about, but as far as our industry is concerned, ‘Who are you wearing?’ should be included in that mix,” fashion editor Gina Marinelli wrote.
Tonight’s awards will reveal whether the latest effort to root out sexism on the red carpet has had an impact, but “who are you wearing?” seems likely to live on so long as designers count on the awards shows to drive business.