Before the 2020 Baftas, organisers asked attendees to choose a red-carpet look with eco credentials. They went so far as to send out a guide from the London College of Fashion’s Centre for Sustainability describing different ways the stars might conform to the dress code, from re-wearing a favourite look from the past to selecting a new outfit from a sustainable fashion brand.
No doubt a few participants in this year’s Awards would have welcomed similar guidance. In contrast to last year’s fairly straightforward production, the 2021 event was a most unusual awards ceremony. First, it was almost fully virtual. Presenters and performers appeared in person at the Royal Albert Hall, while winners accepted their prizes virtually, from home. Second, it was international, with a handful of presenters beaming in from Los Angeles. And third, it was split across two nights, with production awards bestowed on Saturday and acting honours given at the main event on Sunday evening.
That made for a sparsely attended red carpet and a practically empty venue on Sunday (the 5,900-capacity Royal Albert Hall must have echoed). It can’t have been easy to decide what to wear for such a siloed event, and participants took different approaches.
The most eye-catching red-carpet look came from Priyanka Chopra Jonas. The actress, author and producer arrived at the awards wearing a heavily embroidered red split-front jacket and white harem trousers by Spanish fashion house Pertegaz.
The jacket, though long-sleeved and high-necked, was anything but covered-up; split from the sternum down, it revealed a considerable swathe of skin (and a Bulgari high jewellery tassel necklace). The presenter for best animated film also wore Bulgari high jewellery earrings and Serpenti collection rings.
On the more sedate end of the spectrum was Phoebe Dynevor. The breakout star of Bridgerton wore a custom-made one-sleeved black silk Louis Vuitton gown with diamond and emerald drop earrings from Vuitton’s high jewellery collection.
Fellow presenters Felicity Jones and Sophie Cookson also chose black gowns (Jones wore hers beaded Valentino with Cartier diamonds), while Clara Amfo, who hosted the Saturday night portion of the awards, opted for a black fringed suit.
The train of black outfits struck a sombre note on a night when the death of the Duke of Edinburgh cast a long shadow. Prince William, Bafta president, withdrew from his planned participation in the awards after the death of his grandfather on Friday.
There were still moments of lightness. And bling, most notably from presenters Cynthia Erivo and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Erivo, star of Genius: Aretha, wore a silver and gold beaded minidress from Louis Vuitton’s autumn-winter 2021 collection, while Mbatha-Raw chose a glass-beaded midi dress with Old Hollywood polish, also from Vuitton.
Other memorable looks included Corinne Bailey Rae in a black and purple lamé floral midi dress by Duro Olowu, Anna Kendrick (calling from LA) in a metallic plissé Zuhair Murad gown, and Renée Zellweger, also in LA, in a custom Giorgio Armani Privé v-neckline strapless cocktail dress.
Of course, the presenters and performers were only part of the story. Many of the nominees and winners who made fleeting video-call appearances also embraced the chance to dress up. But – as with every other event in a year of waist-up dressing – only small portions of their looks were visible in the video-call windows.
Promising Young Women director (and newly minted Bafta winner) Emerald Fennell wore a custom white Roland Mouret gown, with Piferi shoes and jewellery by her father, Theo Fennell. Best supporting actress nominee Kosar Ali also wore white – an ivory Alexander McQueen ensemble with matching headscarf.
Best actress nominee Vanessa Kirby wore a thigh-split Versace gown. Best supporting actress nominee Ashley Madekwe stood out in a canary-yellow cutout gown by Louis Vuitton and Pomellato jewels. Maria Bakalova sparkled in Giorgio Armani.
The perils of a dressing for a Zoom-in awards show became clear when Chloé Zhao, best director for Nomadland, filled the screen wearing a plaid flannel shirt and what looked like dungarees. She was like the cool girl who shows up to the school dance in ripped jeans – in an instant, everyone who made an effort looked overly keen, just for playing along.
What cut through the artifice of so many people dressing up for a nonexistent red carpet was the real emotion. While the at-home audience could only see the very top of Rocks star Bukky Bakray’s strapless mauve satin Prada gown, the elation on her face when she won the rising star award required no credit. It was all her own.