Why Musician Tems’ Extravagant Oscars Look Went Viral

Written by Lea Dolan, CNN

At the 95th Annual Academy Awards this Sunday, stars were widely celebrated for their daring fashion choices. On the red carpet and after parties, there were barely there bandeau tops, salmon satin tuxedos, a surprising proliferation of capes and at least one googly-eyed bow tie on parade. It was the Oscars, after all.

Nominated this year in the category of Best Original Song, Nigerian musician and producer Temilade Openiyi, also known as Tems, debuted one of the most extravagant looks of the evening: a voluminous dress from the label Lever Couture based in Los Angeles. The dress featured a sculptural flourish of pleated, boned strips of fabric that curved across the bodice and around the head, seemingly frozen in space, and a skirt so full it spilled over the surrounding seats.

The bridal style design was widely described as ethereal and angelic; it was high on many social media users’ best-dressed lists, but others, however, took issue with its sheer scale.

Tems takes to the Dolby Theater for the 95th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday in Hollywood. Credit: Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

With a tweet now liked tens of thousands of times, writer Jarrett Bellini called the look “obstructing the view”stratus cloud“, in empathy with the one who was assigned the seat just behind.
“Tems to this lady fighting for her life,” another Twitter user wrote with a Video clip of a woman, apparently seated at this precise spot, craning her neck to look around and see the scene. (None of those who sat in Tems’ orbit appear to have publicly commented on the fashion moment or its impact, however.)

In a digital landscape that increasingly rewards trendy fashion and values ​​fast-paced viral moments, extravagant second-hand outfits are becoming more and more common. Just last week, at the Fall/Winter 2023 fashion shows in Paris, a guest made headlines after sitting front row in pajamas, a face mask and a full set of bedding – blocking sight of at least three people.

But even before social media made stunting on the red carpet such a requirement, ensembles designed for a jaw-dropping moment ran the risk of getting in the way of their neighbors’ style, figuratively and literally. At the 1986 Oscars, for example, Cher wore an ostentatious and playful feathered headpiece. And Lady Gaga – long known for her theatrical costumes – has regularly emphasized the “bigger” in larger-than-life looks. At the 2009 Grammy Awards, Gaga wore a starry outfit that included a particularly prominent geometric helmet that jutted out into space; a year later, at the Brit Awards, she wore a tiered Francesco Scognamiglio wig that reportedly reached half a meter in height. Recounting your experience in a seat behind one of these sets, you might say you sat next to a diva, but not much else.
Tems' Oscar look was not to be overlooked.

Tems’ Oscar look was not to be overlooked. Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Although the tone of the online debate was largely jovial, some commenters suggested that some of the musician’s criticism may have been mixed with racial bias – too focused on the space her dress takes up, compared to the space in which she lived. Kelechi Okafor, the black British author and presenter, argued the criticism leveled at Tems felt “loaded” and coming from “a certain demographic group”. Others replied that this should inspire her to come up with an even bigger look for her next awards show.

Tems, meanwhile, has yet to address the conversation herself — hopefully because she made the most of her Oscar night even without a win to celebrate. And besides, cocooned as she was in her dress, it is quite possible that the controversy completely missed her.


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