Dressing For Oscar

The Oscars cap another glitzy awards season and the masses may be less concerned about who will win what, and more focused on who will wear whom. Among the winners Sunday night -- designers whose gowns adorn the stars, never mind Oscar-winning ones.

“Hollywood sets trends,” said Susan Ashbrook, head of Film Fashion, a PR agency that links its designer clients with celebrities. “This is a form of entertainment. They want to see what people are wearing and how much things cost.”

Film Fashion's clients range from well-known designers to smaller firms, including Ralph Lauren, Escada, Herve Leger, Monique Lhuillier and jewelry designer Chopard.

Celebrity clients include Geena Davis, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears.

With some 40 million viewers tuning in to the Oscars, that’s a lot of eyeballs. For designers, red carpet exposure is worth more than any advertisement or contrived campaign, because the images have lasting power. That quadruples if the celebrity you’re dressing wins an award. Celebrity designer Randolph Duke saw a surge in his brand's popularity after he dressed Hillary Swank the year she won her Oscar for "Boys Don't Cry" and Marcia Gay Harden when she won for "Pollock."

And these creations are not cheap. Red carpet gowns can range from $5,000 to $15,000, and even up to $50,000 for couture. Tuxedos made by couture designer Domenico Vacca start at $5,000.

Red carpet exposure especially boosts business for lesser-known designers like Pamela Roland. Though Neiman Marcus and Saks carry her collections, Roland says building a celebrity following “is very profitable.” But it’s not easy since the competition is stiff and many big fashion houses are paying stars to wear their labels.

“I’d like to think our biggest draw is our beautiful clothing,” Roland says.