Has fashion become the best advertisement for a movie?

Let’s talk red-carpet-as-promotion

From archive to custom-made, fashion and film have long worked together. With the art of theme dressing being present in many recent press tours such as Barbie, Dune, The Hunger Games (2023) and now in the new film Challengers, we see this trend in genres such as action, superhero, sci-fi, fantasy and even in sports films. 

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Anya Taylor Joy in Paco Rabanne Couture SS96 for Furiosa Australia premiere

Fashion plays such a crucial role in advertising during the lead-up to public releases. Within these moments of promo, movie marketing extends into pop culture, creating buzz among viewers. Fashion law student and enthusiast Xander “Kea” Cauwelier agrees that cinema is now more than one-dimensional.

“Many movies rely on the stardom of their main actors to boost the notoriety – and ultimately – the sales of the film,” he says. “Fashion is a very visible and easy way of leveraging this fame. You want the general public to think of the movie when they see the actor, at the very least during the time of the press tour. Dressing the celebrity in accordance with the theme of the movie is the ideal way to do so. Fashion enthusiasts will be intrigued and talk about the movie, and people who generally don’t care too much about fashion will also recognise the nod to the film. Having the actor speak about the project helps a lot, but them looking like the project is way more in your face.”

And while the celebrity who leads the film meets the eye of the public and media gaze, their significance in star power increases. Already seen by Zendaya, the intersection of fame, fashion and film is notably huge.

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Zendaya in custom Valentino for Spider-Man: No Way Home Los Angeles premiere

Cauwelier states that in the age of social media star power is invaluable. Celebrities who are gaining millions of followers with their social media attract the fashion and film industry into wanting to be featured alongside it, boosting visibility and fanbase to the project.

“The celebrity not only supports the project, they are the project.”

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Hunter Schafer in Schiaparelli for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Berlin Premiere

So what is the impact of an amazing stylist and a good network? And why does it matter when promoting a movie? In retrospect, stylists Law Roach and Andrew Mukamal have set the perfect example of great advertising. 

“[They] both strongly succeeded in keeping the connection with the movie visible at all times, while also showcasing a wide variety of surprising and interesting looks,” Cauwelier says. “It’s hard to make dressing-on-theme look both authentic and exciting, but both of them did so with flying colours. It makes the celebrity stand out at events and interviews, while also extending the film’s story outside of the borders of its runtime.”

Law and Zendaya have been working together since 2011, and while he declared retirement last year, Law is still Z’s right-hand man orchestrating runway and custom looks to the carpet.

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With them leading the way, we see more of this trend, for instance, the Barbie press tour. Margot Robbie’s stylist Andrew Mukamal took over from ‘Chanel enthusiast’ Kate Young, which led to the star’s rise in chic looks defining Barbie in all her 64 years of glory.

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Margot Robbie in Vivienne Westwood inspired by ‘Enchanted Evening’ 1960 Barbie

We now expect to see high fashion looks from stars on the red carpet, all trying to think of what designer or archival look will be featured next. With helping to elevate those who become the movie stars of our time, there’s no doubt that stylists are making cinema fun again, with fashion creating a spectacle in the film industry.

Fashion houses are even participating as well, with Loewe’s Jonathan Anderson becoming the costume designer for Challengers and involved in the film promo.

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Zendaya wearing Louis Vuitton by Marc Jacobs Spring/Summer 2013

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Louis Vuitton Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2013

The product placement of the Spanish house popped up on the screen, including the £225 t-shirt “I Told Ya” that is now being sold on the website. Fashion houses partaking in costume design is not new, going back to when Yves Saint Laurent designed costume pieces for the 1967 film Belle De Jour.

Fashion brands continue to integrate within films, thus driving up the search. Last year, Chanel overtook the market share of searches with an 851% increase since Barbie premiered. The increasing consumer demand shown in marketing highlights the effectiveness of PR across industries. 

“I definitely see more ‘Barbie Pink’ on the runways since the release of Gerwig’s 2023 summer blockbuster,” says Cauwelier. “The magic doesn’t have to end when the movie does. An outing to the movies becomes so much more fun when the audience follows a dress code.” 

And now the audience is more active than ever before. Viewers are increasingly engaging and taking part rather than being passive observers. This movement has led to the influencing of micro-trends, evolving into ‘cores’ such as ‘Barbiecore’ from last year and now ‘Tennis core’. Law Roach recently proposed that everyone dons this sporty attire while watching the movie Challengers, given its central theme.

“The audience gets involved in the story and the vision extends outside of the frame. Not only does it help the movie’s presence on social media, but it turns movie watching into an experience!” Cauwelier says. “In a world of streaming, this might just be exactly what physical cinemas need.” 

And now it seems that retail brands Reserved and Asos have already jumped on the bandwagon for fast-fashion brands to follow.

This conversation leaves the question for the future of fashion and film: what other press tours and potential fashion looks should we be excited about? Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo have already started their promo looks following Wicked, which is due in cinemas later this year.

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