Carolyn Moore is from Dublin. She ran her own label for Topshop before turning her hand to creating a fashion website The Dress Down. She is also editor of monthly style magazine Like.
What inspired you to start The Dress Down?
My obsession with the burgeoning industry of celebrity styling, and how important an element fashion has become in mapping out the career plans and establishing the brands of female celebrities. It’s a huge and fascinating industry, and I think a lot of people still don’t realise or accept the machinations at work behind the scenes. When done well it should appear absolutely effortless, and we shouldn’t be able to guess that Reese Witherspoon has chosen a particular dress because she’s trying to rehabilitate her image after a drunken rant at a police officer. That’s something I think is worth exploring, and most of my fashion posts will have a dress choice put in the context of the news or gossip about that celebrity, and beyond saying “this is good or bad”, and why, I’ll try to look at how it works for them or against them in other ways. Most of my posts also run to or over 1000 words, because I think there’s room out there for fashion critiques and celebrity dress downs that are a little more in depth. I’m sick of falling for click bate that takes me to a twenty word article or a ten image slide show on “The Best Looks from the Oscars.” So many teams of people put so much work into constructing dozens of looks for the Oscars’ red carpet, you can’t do that industry justice in a slide show!
Iconic fashion brands are courting celebrities to sell product, but at
the detriment to their heritage. What are your thoughts?
I was in Paris during (but not for) fashion week, and I went to see an incredible exhibition of couture from 1947 to ‘57. Dior, Lanvin, Balmain, Balenciaga, Givenchy... all the greats were represented, and some of the pieces on display were just staggeringly beautiful. And in stark contrast to all this beautiful, elegant fashion, my newsfeeds were awash with Kim Kardashian sitting front row at Lanvin, Givenchy, Balmain, her presence completely overshadowing the collections, her chronic lack of style and taste doing such a disservice to the image and the heritage of those brands. And why are the brands aligning themselves with someone who seems so utterly off-brand? The answer is simply that the business, branding and marketing of fashion has become more important than the clothes or the creativity. They’re looking to new markets like Russia and China and they’re using Kim because she has (inexplicably!) an international appeal and relevance. That she can’t dress herself and is constantly derided for her bad style is irrelevant... if she can make some Oligarch’s mistress decide to buy Givenchy that’s the only thing that matters. I mean Lindsay Lohan wore Givenchy at the opening night of Speed the Plough... why are they loaning a brand that used to be synonymous with Audrey Hepburn to Lindsay Lohan? Why are they giving away the prestige their predecessors worked so hard to obtain? With the death of De La Renta I worry that an appreciation for classic elegance will die too, and I hope his successors will remain true to his vision.
Which celebrity gets it right on the red carpet and who gets it wrong?
There are a few that fall into each category, but I think if you consistently bring something exciting and interesting to the red carpet you’re allowed the occasional fail, because at least you tried! If you always play it safe, fine, you’re technically not “getting it wrong”, but you’re not taking a chance, you’re not embracing the opportunity that’s been afforded to you to sample the most beautiful fashion in the world, and that’s a shame. For me, Cate Blanchett is one of the all-time greats. She understands the game and she knows how to play it to her advantage, making choices that cement her public image as someone who is smart, classy and adventurous. One of the first articles I wrote was in praise of Lupita Nyong’o and her rapid ascent up the style ranks. She understood from the word go that fashion was going to play a vital part in her Oscar campaign strategy and she used it to leverage maximum exposure and secure her future in an industry that’s notoriously tough for black actresses. I’m also a fan of Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams, Kiernan Shipka, Kiera Knightly, Diane Kruger, Mindy Kaling... basically anyone who’s happy to play the fashion game. The ones who get it wrong either won’t acknowledge that the fashion game can potentially change the course of their careers - like Shailene Woodley, who hates fashion and must be a stylist’s nightmare as she tries to underplay all of her red carpet appearances - or just won’t take chances. Allison Williams and Blake Lively spring to mind. So much potential, so much access, but they just play it safe and the result is bland. There’s always room on the top tier of fashion girls for one more, and if you don’t use fashion to set yourself apart, the second tier is a crowded place to be.
Who controls the celebrities: The stylist or the brand?
It seems to depend on the celebrity and whether they simply have an ongoing relationship with a brand or they’re an official, paid “face” of the brand. Look at Jennifer Lawrence, who has been shackled to Dior for a couple of years now even though they don’t know what do with her. Her stylist is Rachel Zoe, who has a lot of clout in the industry, but seemingly not enough to either buy Jennifer Lawrence a few Dior-less appearances a year, or secure for her a decent red carpet dress from Dior. In that instance the brand has the power. The night after Oscar de la Renta’s death Jennifer Lawrence did an appearance in an Oscar de la Renta dress, which she can get away with because it would be tacky of Dior to complain that she paid that little tribute to him, but asides from that, so long as she’s a paid brand ambassador she’s stuck wearing one below-par Dior after another. Other celebrities have more casual relationships that allow for flexibility. Angelina Jolie is loyal to Versace but can deviate when it suits her. Lupita Nyong’o was almost certainly going to wear Prada to the Oscars because she was the face of Miu Miu’s spring summer campaign, but by that time her stylist, Micaela Erlanger, had done such a stellar job styling her that she was given significant input into the design of the Oscar dress. So I think that varies on a case by case basis, but never underestimate the power of the celebrity stylist.
Which celebrities are overexposed?
I think any celebrity that becomes over-exposed can start to grate, like at the moment I definitely have Beyoncé fatigue! Her response to the infamous elevator incident was badly judged, and instead of retaining the mystique and control over her own image that she usually displays, she’s trying too hard to prove that everything’s golden in the kingdom of Bey. It’s both a case of “the lady doth protest too much!” and a case of “You again?? Jesus, just go away for while!” Pretentious short films with Jay Z, photoshopped Instagram pics, that obnoxious private tour of the Louvre... She’s trying too hard, and she used to make her self-publicity seem so effortless. It’s a bad strategy that’s having the opposite of the desired effect. From a red-carpet perspective, I get irritated by Nicole Kidman and her tendency to infantalise herself on the red carpet. Hair twirling and lip biting are below a woman of her intelligence and ability, and she seems to have lost her way sartorially since L’Wren Scott passed away. But I think most celebrity watchers and gossip aficionados are fairly fickle. You’re only one great dress or stellar PR move from being back in our good books.