Without Rivers, it’s going to be a sad red-carpet season

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First Posted: 9/6/2014

Joan Rivers was legendary when it came to the caustic celebrity put-down: “I can’t wait for Britney Spears to lose her job so she can serve me coffee at 7-Eleven.”

No one out there admitted to as many cosmetic procedures: “I’ve had so much plastic surgery, when I die, they will donate my body to Tupperware,” she once joked.

And sales of her eponymous collection of jewelry, apparel and cosmetics, selling for 24 years on West Chester-based QVC, reached a total of more than $1 billion this year.

But fashionistas can be most grateful to Rivers, who died Thursday at 81, for revolutionizing the way we watch the celebrity red carpet. With the coining of this phrase — “Who are you wearing?” — the answers transformed unknown designers into household names, and the celebrity stylist was born.

Not only did Rivers’ preshow fashion coverage with daughter Melissa — from the Emmys in August to the Oscars in March — become the central attraction for champagne-flowing parties in America’s living rooms, every major news station now feels compelled to send a well-dressed reporter or two to Hollywood on awards nights. The rest of us who are couch-bound, including me, often tweet based on the information she gathers.

“She’s our fairy godmother,” said Tom Fitzgerald, one-half the Philadelphia-based fashion blog Tom + Lorenzo. Fitzgerald said that when the two were working last year on their book, Everyone Wants to Be Me, Or Do Me, their agent sent them Rivers’ memoir, I Hate Everyone … Starting With Me.

“She single-handedly created red carpet commentary and spawned an entire red-carpet industry by virtue of her own wit and cynical commentary,” Fitzgerald said. “We wouldn’t have a Perez Hilton, a TMZ, or the Fug girls if it wasn’t for her.”

Nor would we have Fashion Police, Rivers’ E! Entertainment Television show that launched in 2010 to satisfy our obsession with labels and the celebrities wearing them. The hour-long commentary also turned the purple-haired Kelly Osbourne and the softer-spoken Giuliana Rancic into on-air fashion personalities in their own right.

With Rivers gone, it’s going to be a sad red carpet season.

Rivers was funny and classy, sharp and tough, and always appropriately dressed, albeit dripping in gems. Her eyes wide open — probably from too much Botox — and her voice gravelly, she poked as much fun at herself as she did the celebrities on the wrong end of her razor-sharp tongue.

She was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn, and her career took her from Broadway to The Tonight Show to her own The Joan Rivers Show, which won her a daytime Emmy in 1990. She also forged a career as an entrepreneur in fashion and beauty products sold on QVC, and wrote more than 10 books.

In 1994, E! was looking for a host to report on the then somewhat grungy, slightly thrift-store-chic red carpet scene. Her daughter, Melissa, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, had friends at E! and suggested her mother for the gig — as a joke, nonetheless.

Enter her next career: Rivers ended up hosting that year’s Golden Globes and was joined by her daughter at the next Academy Awards. The duo were chatty, spontaneous, and funny. Celebrities may have been nervous about their big night, but the Rivers team calmed them down with the seeming frivolity of fashion.

When Nicole Kidman arrived at the 1997 Academy Awards in a lime-green Dior gown courtesy of the label’s young designer John Galliano, Rivers called the stunner “ugly.”

And we became addicted to her dish.

Over the years, A-list celebrities from Denzel Washington to Julia Roberts publicly asked for Rivers’ approval of their red-carpet wear. She was tough at a time when the industry was barely taking designers to task for bad creations.

“She was one of the few people who would call something out as crap,” Fitzgerald said. “If these celebrities were going to stand in a $30 million dress and $60 million worth of jewelry, then they’d better get it right.”

In 2009, E! introduced the GlamCam 360 to scrutinize every well-placed slit, sparkle — and bulge — of a celebrity dress or Tom Ford suit. And last year came the mani-cam, as much a testament to Rivers and crew as it was the importance of nail fashion.

During the weekend, Rivers’ supporters, from Jane Lynch to Laverne Cox, tweeted out prayers for the red carpet doyenne.

But the most telling was from Girls’ creator and star Lena Dunham.

In Rivers’ latest book, Diary of a Mad Diva, Rivers called Dunham the “first fat girl naked on television” and credited her with changing the way Americans view TV — with their hands over their eyes.


Dunham tweeted: “We can’t lose Joan … being ripped a new one by you is an honor to be treasured.”