It’s been 13 years since Björk laid an egg at the Academy Awards. And if the Oscars’, Emmys’, and Golden Globes’ red carpets are the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Gowns, that’s nearly 40 nights of appropriate and borrowed, jewel-toned and fish-tailed, corporate-sponsored parade floats accessorized with diamonds, security guards, and phonetically spelled designer names for E! Entertainment’s “mani cam” (MOH-neek Luh-HOO-lee-ay).
As award show arrivals have morphed into a shameless interstate billboard—stars can earn a cool million for their jewelry choices alone—red carpet fashion has in turn become a bland gated community filled with highly rehearsed Vanna Whites pretending they actually picked out their clothes. Nominees always look so…nice.
Then Lena Dunham arrived at the Emmys.
The actress, Girls creator, and author showed up in a blushing flotsam of Giambattista Valli tulle that Dunham described as both “cake” and “sweatpants.” We’ll go with cake. Frosted. Layered. Highly caloric and gloriously messy.
Both verified and unverified fashion critics pounced. The best: “an inside out Muppet.” The worst: “Gwen Stefani’s wedding dress.” And while “best-dressed” honors that night went to Kerry Washington and Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery—“simply chic,” everyone seemed to sigh—Dunham’s magic-carpet ride brought back a sense of recklessness, fearlessness, and (depending on one’s relationship with pink and red) color blindness to awards shows that actually made watching people get of cars fun. Let’s face it: In two-and-a-half hours of stars walking in dresses, don’t you need some surprises?
However rebellious, genius, gorgeous, or hideous—take your pick—Dunham’s choices may be, they are no doubt her own. And for that, madam, you win.