The Fashion Eclipse in Cannes

Inside the fashion industry’s takeover of the prestigious film festival

Cory Michael Smith, Julianne Moore in Louis Vuitton, Todd Haynes, Natalie Portman in vintage Dior couture and Charles Melton attend the "May December" red carpet
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Once upon a less woke time, Cannes was thick with topless beach babes who got attention for taking off their clothes, not wearing them. 

Now it’s the clothes that compel attention – attracting social posts, press, obsessive comment. And once upon a less greedy time, designers cast stars whose images aligned with theirs. Now it’s everything, everyone, all at once.

Case in point: most A-list actresses did double duty at this year’s festival: promoting films while fulfilling contracts as the faces of luxury brands. It’s pay-for-sashay for stars who covet what one Oscar-winning actress euphemistically referred to as “Kardashian money! You can’t make that in movies anymore!” But you can inch closer with a fat Louis Vuitton, Dior or Chanel contract.

Natalie Portman’s vintage Dior couture replica got more press than her new Todd Haynes movie. That other Dior diva, Jennifer Lawrence (Bread and Roses) followed suit, in Dior eye-popping lipstick red (with precedent smashing flip flops!). The face of Louis Vuitton – Cate Blanchett – switched up LV black and white numbers for different premieres. Marion Cotillard just tossed on a Chanel mini tweed coatdress. And why wouldn’t she? She’s the current face of Chanel No. 5. 

Chanel is only one example of how naked (no pun intended) the piggybacking of fashion is in Cannes. Chanel boldly promotes its A-list roster of Cotillard, Margot Robbie, Kristen Stewart, Lily-Rose Depp and Margaret Qualley.  No wonder a social media campaign to get Margot Robbie out of what fans called “frumpy” (Chanel) went nowhere.

Jennifer Lawrence in Dior attends the "Anatomie D'une Chute (Anatomy Of A Fall)" red carpet.
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Julianne Moore, the rare talent without a European luxury brand contract, chose a bottle green Louis Vuitton gown and an LV daytime look for May/December. Synergy? Could she be diving for a deal? Scarlett Johannson, the face of Prada’s Galleria bag, didn’t coincidentally pick Prada for every Asteroid City photo opp. Few major stars remain without designer deals: Anne Hathaway’s on Versace bus ads, Florence Pugh’s hyping for Valentino; Zendaya models for almost everyone. Fashion/movie star alliances no longer tarnish a “serious actress” brand. And as big paydays have faded in the movie business, it’s an important source of income for the actor – and their business entourage. 

Scarlett Johansson in Prada attends the "Asteroid City" red carpet
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* Elle Fanning, in her fest-best gold tulle McQueen ballgown –maintained perfect princess prim despite getting paid to play dress up by Paco Rabanne, as face of their new Fame fragrance. 

* Only one model scored Chanel or Valentino: Naomi Campbell. (15 million Instagram followers can’t hurt.) 

* Poor Gigi Hadid wound up with an oddly shaped Zac Posen; it was downhill from there. 

* Sultry Russian supermodel/Bradley Cooper ex Irina Shayk managed to shock in over-the-top (or under the dress) lingerie looks by London-based Mowalola Ogunlisi: a mesh bikini bra, panties and a sheer chiffon piece with heels; a red leather bandeau stretched like an X over her boobs and a low slung leather skirt. Come on. With a 22 million followers, Shayk did not need to go there. (Though maybe that’s how she got them in the first place.)

Irina Shayk in Mowalola Ogunlisi attends the "Firebrand (Le Jeu De La Reine)" red carpet.
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As major Cannes fest underwriters, L’Oreal and Chopard have for years imported international beauties of all stripe (Jane Fonda, Eva Longoria, Lana Del Rey) to help move the merch. 

Hotel Martinez served as glam ground zero, with luxe brand suites, professional hair and make-up salons, fine jewelry showrooms, stylists and stars running in between. Imagine what L’Oreal – parent company to Lancome, Maybelline, Saint Laurent Beaute’- shelled out to fly in this year’s “ambassadors” Dame Helen Mirren and Viola Davis. Apparently they’re “worth it” – L’Oreal’s ad line hook for years. 

HIT: Celine

Celine’s mercurial Hedi Slimane hosted his candlelight dinner for his target group: youthful hipsters. Prada co-hosted Vanity Fair’s fete, dressing Asteroid City’s Scarlett Johannsen and Maya Hawke in on-brand almost-awkward quirky pastel satins. British Vogue’s dinner with EIC Edward Enninful – and, who else, Chopard – was packed with even more models in even more desire-fusing dresses than many other not-quite mere mortal moments.

MISS: Saint Laurent

But Saint Laurent’s Anthony Vacarello – known for short sharp dresses/edgy skinny suits – costuming Pedro Almodovar’s Strange Way of Life did not  compute. Outfitting its young hot male cast for the premier – sure. But costume designing a gay period piece cowboy western? Not so much. It’s all part of the brand’s brand newSaint Laurent Productions, which is behind the short film – and upcoming indies by David Cronenberg, Abel Ferrara, Wong Kar Wai, Gaspar Noe’, Jim Jarmusch. Vacarello’s flexing his newfound fashion muscle: planning to costume design all of them. Stretching out his brand – or diluting it? Either way, expect to see more luxury brands jumping all the way into actual filmmaking. These two co-habitated in sin for years – seems time to make it official.

Despite the glam glad-handing, the wheeling dealing, real fashion trends triumphed: by golly, ballgowns are back! Voluminous wraps, mostly red (Uma Thurman, Jennifer Lawrence); the mainstream rise of opera gloves, feathers, tulle, black and white, black tie mini’s, less visible peekaboo bra’s – and more hip, thigh, cleavage, side boob and waistline cut out reveals than a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. Worn by some of the same models, along with actual movie stars. Sure, fashion and movie stars hype each other – but sex? It always sells.

Merle Ginsberg is a fashion writer and television personality who was one of the judges on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in the first two seasons of the show. She is also an award winning journalist and writer, and a NY Times bestselling author. She started her long media career in NY at the Village Voice, MTV and Rolling Stone. Then, moving to L.A., she wrote for People, Us, L.A. Times and W Magazine and Women’s Wear Daily, where she presided over the West Coast bureau for 12 years, also contributing to L.A. Magazine, Jane and Details.