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Fashion statement: The red carpet is unforgiving

By Booth Moore, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — With a lifetime of red carpet misses ranging from uncomfortably busty Guinevere gowns to something reminiscent of Grandma’s doily tablecloth, Disney princess Miley Cyrus hasn’t exactly been fashion It Girl material. Until now.

The sleek and chic futuristic white dress Cyrus wore to the People’s Choice Awards on Jan. 11 was so well-received that it could single-handedly turn the star’s fashion fortunes around. The dress was by David Koma, a designer who hails from Georgia, shows in London and is so new to the fashion scene that his website is still under construction.

When it comes to the red carpet, it’s easy to think that a beautiful dress is just that: a beautiful dress. But the right dress can be a game changer when it comes to how a celebrity is perceived and the career opportunities that follow. And the wrong dress can mean this year’s fresh young thing is forgotten by the time the Oscars red carpet is rolled up.

Some people get it. Rooney Mara, for instance, has been appearing on red carpets in tough-and-sexy black gowns by Nina Ricci and Roksanda Ilincic that have more than a hint of her Lisbeth Salander character in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Berenice Bejo, on the other hand, has been blending into the background, wearing a series of blue gowns by Gucci and Elie Saab, each one indistinguishable from the last, and missing an opportunity to stand out, either on her own behalf or on behalf of her hit film “The Artist.”

“Some actresses don’t understand that a great dress on the red carpet does have an impact,” says Hal Rubenstein, In Style fashion director and author of the new book “100 Unforgettable Dresses.”

“They are just looking for the pretty dress, not the right dress.”

Compare Bejo to Marion Cotillard, another French ingenue who was a relative unknown when she burst on the awards show scene in 2007. Nominated for several film awards for playing Edith Piaf in the film “La Vie En Rose,” Cotillard was on a red carpet merry-go-round similar to Bejo, who has been nominated for several awards for “The Artist.”

“When Cotillard was nominated, she wore one distinctive dress after another,” Rubenstein says. “‘La Vie En Rose’ wasn’t a film that was going to be a big hit, yet she looked so distinctive, even the public who didn’t see the film was asking who is this woman. Berenice Bejo is a lovely actress and a lovely woman, but her clothing is generic. So consequently, we’re not noticing her.”

Emma Stone pulled off a red carpet coup at last year’s Golden Globe Awards when she showed up in a simple coral Calvin Klein gown and white-blond hair and upstaged everyone.

“She was a brand new girl who had an unexpected hit in the kids’ film ‘Easy A,’” Rubenstein says. “And when she showed up, it was like someone opened a window. She was so striking, it introduced her to an adult audience.” In the year since, Stone has become a Hollywood and fashion world darling. In 2011, she racked up Glamour, Elle, Teen Vogue and Vanity Fair magazine covers.

The dress Cyrus chose for the People’s Choice Awards speaks volumes about where she would like her career to go. For the first time, she came across less as a hard-partying, trash-talking, peace sign-flashing teen and more as a sophisticated, well-dressed, refined young woman. And as it turns out, that’s what her stylist intended.

“She’s gotten a bad rap in the press,” says Simone Harouche, who has worked with Cyrus for three years. “And I was sick of it. So I decided I was going to show people she is capable of being fashionable and grown up, not just this cutesy person.”

Convincing designers to lend clothing to Cyrus hasn’t always been easy, Harouche says. So for this event, instead of pulling clothes from the usual Los Angeles showrooms, Harouche turned to London, known for its edgy fashion scene. After seeing runway photographs online, she pulled several pieces from Koma’s spring 2012 collection, which was inspired by tribal body art, underwater scenes and the work of contemporary artist Kim Joon.

“Koma’s designs are very interesting, modern and sexy at the same time. This dress has deep, plunging neck and side panels, but they have mesh insets. So it isn’t in-your-face sexy. And the iridescent beading looked very cool under the lights. There was a lot going on but it was sleek,” Harouche says.

When Harouche took the dress to Cyrus for a fitting, they both knew the style was “risky,” but that it was a “step forward” for the star.

The gamble paid off. The Huffington Post praised Cyrus for “turning over a new couture leaf,” and the London Sun newspaper said she “topped the stakes.” Meanwhile, E! Online said the dress was “surprisingly chic and fashion forward.”

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