The biggest kerfuffle in Cannes has been the dress code and the shocking revelation that many women (of a certain age, to some observers) were turned away from the red carpet because they were not wearing high heeled shoes.
As many know, the evening screenings of the films in competition at Cannes are formal affairs. Tickets state dress code as tenue de soiree, that is, evening dress and smoking, as in a tuxedo. And everyone who has a ticket (or invitation, as they are delicately called here) has to walk the red carpet and climb the steps up to the Lumière Theater. The carpet is monitored by security who appear to be the original fashion police: if you are not dressed up to code, they will turn you away, invitation or non.
This correspondent has been witness to such tragedies: in one of my first years at Cannes, I saw a man, impeccably dressed in a chocolate Armani suit which fit him like a glove. Everything matched, from his tie to his shoes. But because the shoes were brown and the tie was not a bow tie, he was expelled from the line in short order. It should be noted that I witnessed this close up: I was standing right behind him in wide black “palazzo” pants, shiny only because they were old, and was wearing flats - yes flats - they had holes in the back (they were hand-me-downs), but big rhinestones on the front. I was quickly shown the way to the red carpet. Go figure.
I have always held that women could play it a bit faster and looser in the evening wear department. Men had to have that bow tie, while women could get away with cocktail length dresses, nice pants and, yes, flats. I have seen some quite inelegant outfits parade down the carpet. But let’s face it, many of the people walking these carpets are working stiffs - journalists, film programmers and the like. Many of them are dressed up because the evening screening is the only one they can attend, so they do the bare minimum.
Back on this year’s carpet, some men were also getting refused because of their shoes. One producer had silver sparkly loafers (very of the moment). But he was almost refused entry until a well-known distributor vouched for him. Another angle to this is that if you are with a film, it is difficult for security to turn you away - Christine Vachon, of Killer Films and producer of Todd Haynes’ film Carol in the competition, posted a photo of the big, black, bulky boots she wore to the film’s red carpet premiere last week.
The festival brass said this was not really a big problem (and Festival director Thierry Fremaux finally said definitely that heels are not required for the red carpet). But even the cast of Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario - Emily Bunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro - had to comment. Blunt decried that women should just wear flats (although she showed up on the carpet in heels), while the menfolk threatened to wear heels themselves on the red carpet (never happened). This was the faux pas that would not go away.
In fact, I like getting dressed up for the movies. For a long time, opening night of the New York Film Festival was black tie and it seemed to bestow a certain respect on the films and the filmmakers: you and your film are valuable, are worthy. But we can’t be fanatics about it. May years ago in New York, the film commission from one the Carolinas threw a black tie party for the New York Film Festival at the Russian Tea Room. Very fancy. I helped at the door since the people from down South didn’t know who most (ok, all) of the guests where. A guy showed up in black jeans, black turtleneck, black leather jacket, says hi to me and walks in. The film commission rep was about to run after him and throw in out (no tuxedo). I had to point out to him that the transgressor was filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. I think he’s cool enough!
Times change, and so do styles. If, in fact, you (as in a festival’s administration) decide that the highest elegant standards must be upheld, then do two things: Distribute a VERY detailed fact sheet for festival attendees - with visual aids - telling them what they can and cannot wear on the carpet (caveat: flats MUST be permitted). And on the carpet itself, don’t have security be the style arbiter - have actual stylists at all the entries to give a thumbs up or thumbs down!
Okay, that’s a bit tongue in cheek (especially the stylist part). But it seemed that the protocol office didn’t know whether or not there was a “no flats” policy. Here at the 68th Cannes Film Festival, one would hope that the entire staff was on the same page. After all, they’ve had 68 years to practice.