Burning Question: How Pay-to-Wear Influences Oscar Nominee Red Carpet Looks

How are dresses and jewelry chosen by Oscar nominees for their big night?

Right about now is when the average reporter would launch into some palaver about the lifelong bonds between designers and muses, and the deep, deep honor that rising couturiers feel when an A-lister even casts her jewel-like eyes upon one of their creations. Sometimes that’s even true.

But I'm not that reporter; increasingly, the real answer is money. As in payouts. As in, stars charging six, even seven, figures worth of hard cash in exchange for wearing a diamond necklace or one-of-a-kind gown.

"In the last five years, a lot more designers are paying actors to wear their pieces," says fashion publicist Cole Trider of Autumn Communications. "Before, it was only the Armanis of the world. Now I'm seeing tons of people doing it. Stylists are now brokering deals for actors, just like a manager or agent would."

Does every single actress charge a hefty rental fee for use of her neckline or greyhound-like figure? Of course not. Many well-established names, such as jeweler Martin Katz, say they don't pay and never will. And newer or breakout ingenues don't carry the clout necessary to command such a deal.

But an established talent? Oh yes.

Jewelry: Baubles for Bucks

In the course of my reporting, I heard many, many dollar figures. Here's one: Trider told me that an A-list actress can ask for up to $1 million just to wear jewelry to a top-tier function, such as the Oscars or the Golden Globes.

"What happens behind the scenes has become very competitive, for lack of a nice word," Katz adds. Katz, who has bejeweled red-carpet lovelies ranging from Angelina Jolie to Nicole Kidman to Amy Poehler, says that even with his list of adoring clientele, he sometimes risks losing a key placement to a, shall we say, paid sponsor.

"I would say that [longtime clients] are 80 percent loyal to me," he estimated.

Based on his experiences competing for neckline space, Katz tells me that current jewelry-placement payouts range from $100,000 to $750,000 — the reported amount that Anne Hathaway earned for wearing Tiffany to the 2011 Oscars. Fellow A-lister Gwyneth Paltrow allegedly got $500,000 from Louis Vuitton to wear that house's jewelry on the same night. The following year, Paltrow's fee apparently doubled; Vanity Fair reports that Chinese jewelry designer Anna Hu paid the actress $1 million to wear a single diamond cuff to the 2012 Oscars. (Representatives for both actresses have denied the reports about the 2011 show.)

Hollywood insiders and gossip addicts know that these kinds of deals have been growing in popularity since at least the mid-2000s, when, as I recount in my book about celebrity culture, Halle Berry charged $50,000 to wear Bulgari to the Oscars.

Katz himself first noticed the phenomenon in 2005.

"Someone from an international jewelry house said, 'Which celebrities are you paying to wear your jewelry?' I said, 'I have relationship with these people. I've have grown up with these people. I don't pay people to wear my jewelry,' and I laughed. I thought he was joking.

"And that's when I realized, 'Oh my God, he’s paying somebody.'"

Some body parts are worth more than others, per a report in this month's Vanity Fair: "Since most photographs tend to be close-ups of a star's face, a star would be paid, say, $125,000 for wearing earrings, $75,000 for wearing a necklace, $50,000 for wearing a bracelet, and $25,000 for wearing a ring."

Red Carpet Gowns: A Contractual Obligation 

Some actresses also get paid to wear certain designer gowns on big awards nights. But those deals tend to be more complicated. It's no secret that Jennifer Lawrence, for example, fronts the Dior brand as a face for their clothing and handbags. Such endorsement contracts often call for the talent to show up at a certain number of top-tier events wearing the label's clothes. Hence, we've seen Lawrence in Dior at the Golden Globes; film premieres; the Toronto Film Festival and other style parades.

To that end, and actress such as Lawrence wouldn't necessarily charge a separate fee to wear Dior at this year's Oscars; instead, she might wear the label to honor an existing — albeit multimillion-dollar — deal.

"Being the face means she doesn't have to wear the designer, but she really should," celebrity wardrobe stylist Maria Divaris tells me. "The Oscars are the ultimate, the best of the best from both the entertainment and fashion industries, so, chances are she's agreed to wear one designer, confident her options will be the best possible. But there will always be choices."

(How many millions are we talking, by the way? How about $15 million to $20 million over the course of three years?)

In other cases, the deal may be more straightforward. After Helen Hunt wore H&M to last year's Oscars, a New York Times reporter asked Ann-Sofie Johansson, the label's head of design, whether money had changed hands.

"We had an agreement, and both parties were satisfied, but as a business matter we will not give details," she replied.

Make of that what you will.

With all those dollars flying around, it's a wonder that fledging designers even stand a chance during Oscar season. Turns out, they do… if they have the money to hire a publicist. Take Mexican designer Octavio Carlin. He doesn't have the budget to buy an A-list actress. But he has retained a representative to help boost his profile among fashion reporters and stylists. Carlin was recently contacted by an actress who will be attending the Oscars. The offer: Design a dress for her on spec, at his own expense, and pray that she wears it.

"We jumped at the opportunity," Carlin tells me. "This is a collaboration, and once all is said and done, it's just my pleasure to make the gown, to be in Los Angeles, to participate in something like this, being here and being a part of it."

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Leslie Gornstein is an entertainment writer and the host of the weekly Hollywood gossip podcast The Fame Fatale.