Cannes’ Dirty Little Fashion Designer Secret

Zhang Ziyi at Cannes in Carolina Herrera

Zhang Ziyi at Cannes in Carolina Herrera

The Cannes Film Festival has come and gone, with several behind-the-scenes fashion designer stories coming to light. My favorite is the one where fashion designers decide who gets to wear the best clothes, because it reiterates something I’ve been preaching for years: image counts. Here’s why you need to keep your image as polished as your skill set, whether you’re in the movie business, the fashion business, or any business at all.

Let’s start with a look at film festivals.

Film festivals are to the movie industry what fashion weeks are to the fashion industry: a marketplace to buy and sell products. Film makers screen their movies in the hope of attracting distributors who can get those movies into theaters around the globe. There are thousands of film festivals each year, but only a few attract the big name stars, including:

Sundance Film Festival
Park City, Utah

Cannes Film Festival
Cannes, France

Venice Film Festival
Venice, Italy

Toronto Film Festival
Toronto, Canada

So why do movie stars flock to these venues, particularly when most of the movies they’re promoting already have distribution deals? To see and be seen, of course. Whenever there is a large gathering of cameras and reporters, it behooves celebrities to be involved. That’s why you see so many of them at fashion week, schmoozing with fashion designers.

Why stars go to film festivals

One of the many perks of starring in a big budget movie is that the studio pays for all promotional activities, including film festivals, television interviews, press junkets, movie premieres, and awards season (if the film is nominated). That means the studio picks up the tab on all the travel, food, and accommodations required by the stars promoting the movie. This may also include hiring a stylist for each event, with access to fashion designer clothes.

The Fashion Designer Secret

Once the star has her promotion schedule, her stylist (or publicist) will start calling designers, trying to borrow clothes. The fashion designers are happy to lend them, so long as the star announces who she’s wearing on the red carpet or in interviews. It’s a win-win combination that has sold millions of dollars in clothes over the years.

Now here comes the dirty little secret I talked about: fashion designers don’t lend clothes to just anybody. In fact, according to this article on, they’re becoming more and more selective as reality TV stars in the midst their fifteen minutes have starting demanding the same perks as movie stars who have built their career over years.

Aishwarya Rai in Elie Saab at Cannes

Aishwarya Rai in Elie Saab at Cannes

Here’s how fashion designer Elie Saab’s Communication Director, Emilie Legendre, explains the process for choosing whom they dressed at Cannes in the article:

“When the selection of movies is made official [about two months before the festival], we start to receive requests. Then I evaluate them to decide which we’ll say ‘yes’ to and which we’ll say ‘no’ to.”

Who gets a ‘yes’?

“It all boils down to the image of the actress,” says Legendre. “Who she is in terms of her career and as a person. We have to remember our customers and make sure they won’t be offended if we dress a certain type of celebrity.”


I read that and thought about the uproar earlier this month when Vogue editor Anna Wintour banned Kim Kardashian (and all the Real Housewives) from attending the Met Gala. Boyfriend Kanye West went to Anna to plead on Kim’s behalf and got the editor to reverse her decision. But then Kim showed up in this:

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West at the Met Gala

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West at the Met Gala

All the pictures on only show Kanye; Kim is edited out:

Kayne West wearing Givenchy

Kayne West wearing Givenchy

Kim didn’t make it to my best dressed reality stars list, either, so I totally understand why Anna Wintour was reluctant to admit her to the “Oscars of Fashion” that is the Met Gala. What’s more, I firmly believe Elie Saab and all the other designers are smart to protect their brands by being picky with whom they associate.

One of my readers said it best in an email she wrote me back in 2007:

Bad interviews“I spent the last week interviewing candidates for an Office Manager position at my clinic. The ranges of people coming in was astounding. “I got to the point that when I went out to the reception area to greet them, I immediately knew whether I’d just get the interview over as quickly as possible or if I’d spend the time to interview the candidate seriously.

“Two candidates really sabotaged themselves by their appearance. One was a very bright young woman who had all the right credentials and spoke well but looked completely inappropriate. She had long ” fake” blonde hair with way too much gel in it, overdone eye makeup and big dangly hoop earrings. The other was well dressed but had so much perfume on that by the end of the interview I had a real headache. Although both may have had the skills I was looking for, I just didn’t want to have to take on the prospect of having to approach them about their appearance. “I did find an appropriate candidate who was dressed in ‘true’ business casual, appropriate for our clinic and also had all the skills I was looking for. I just wish more women would figure out that appearance is really important and can really help or hinder your work prospects.”

-K. (name withheld by request), Toronto

Fashion Designer Houses Are Like Employers

I’m sharing this email for two reasons:

1. K. is a physiotherapist in Toronto. If she can tell by how someone looks that they’re not right for the job, it’s easy to see how fashion editors and designers can come to the same conclusion. The fashion designer’s “dirty little” secret is, in fact, the same secret most employers use: bring me the finished product. No one wants a “project” that might adversely impact their brand.

2. When K. signed up for my ezine back in 2006, she was a self-confessed “crunchy granola-type” who wore t-shirts, jeans, and Birkenstocks to work – just like most of her peers. But she wanted to move ahead, so she signed up for my ezine, bought all my ebooks, and followed the advice to the letter. Since then, she’s been promoted (which is why she was looking for a replacement), interviewed on television, spoken at conferences, and has become well-known in her industry. In 2013, she opened her own physiotherapy clinic. Oh – and she’s been invited to the Toronto Film Festival several times, where she’s rubbed elbows with the likes of Susan Sarandon, Gabriel Byrne, Christopher Plummer, and Max von Sydow.

Which brings me back to the Cannes Film Festival.

In the end, as glamorous as it is, the movie business is just that: a business. Those who dress appropriately for work soon find themselves with offers for things like product endorsements, fashion designer contracts, and bigger and better movie deals.

Those outside the entertainment industry who dress well for work also enjoy similar perks: promotions, speaking engagements, and occasionally, invites to hang out with celebrities.

It boils down to this: as crazy as life can be at times, and as hard as the economy has hit some people in recent years, the reality is, you still have more control over your life than you think. You may not be able to change a lot of things, but you can change your clothes (fashion designer label optional) to create a polished image that marks you as “the finished product.” As both the article and K.’s email attest, dressing well puts you in rare company and immediately moves you to the top of the list. Always has, always will.

Try it yourself and see!

Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton-Sikes is an image consultant and author of Wardrobe Magic, an ebook that shows you how to dress for you body, budget, and lifestyle. Want to move to the front of the line every time? Start building a head-turning wardrobe by reading Wardrobe Magic.

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