Charles Finch on 15 Years of Pre-Oscars Parties With Chanel

“Obviously, when Chanel came in, it became a whole lot more glamorous,” Charles Finch says of hosting his annual pre-Oscars party with the luxury house, which has welcomed a who’s who of Hollywood and beyond over the years, including Kristen Stewart, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Tom Cruise, Mick Jagger, Al Pacino and many, many more.

Saturday’s soiree at the Polo Lounge will mark the 15th anniversary of their partnership. But the British brand builder, publisher and filmmaker (most recently producer of “Priscilla,” the Sofia Coppola film about Priscilla Presley that was supported by Chanel) has really been hosting the party for 30 years.

More from WWD

“When I first came to L.A., there was nothing really on Saturday night, it was sort of prohibited for anybody to do a party. And I didn’t really know many people anyway, but who I did know was all the people that lived in my house, which belonged to Damian Harris. There was Rupert Everett and John Malkovich and all these sorts of people who were also part of that group,” he remembers of arriving in the ’90s as a young writer-director, the son of Peter Finch, who won the best actor Oscar for being mad as hell in “Network” (1976). “And Mr. Chow, Michael Chow, was working on a script with me, and in exchange for working on the script he said you can eat in my restaurant.”

Chow let Finch host a pre-Oscar dinner for “a mix of people who were pretty much penniless like me, and Al Pacino showed up and David Hockney, in part because they knew Mr. Chow,” he recalls.

The biggest difference between then and now? “That party went till 3 in the morning.”

Chanel came calling after PR director Jo Allison read an article about Karl Lagerfeld making costumes for Finch’s 1991 movie “Where Sleeping Dogs Lie.” (He’d asked the designer to do so after meeting him on an airplane.) “They said, ‘why don’t we help sponsor your London party,’ which was at Annabel’s,” says Finch of his pre-BAFTAs dinner, which has been going strong for 24 years.

“They were the first big fashion house to really have this Hollywood history apart from Armani,” he says of Chanel, whose legacy stretches from Coco Chanel being invited by studio mogul Samuel Goldwyn to design film costumes for his United Artists studio in 1931, to Lionel Richie’s youngest daughter, Sophia Richie, setting Gen Z social media on fire with her Chanel wedding trousseau last year, to Chanel working on costumes for “Jeanne du Barry,” which opens in the U.S. May 2.

Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Kristen Stewart

“They didn’t really interfere at all, they were just happy to help me,” he says of the brand’s support of the party. “Of course, the business has changed. The challenge now is that friends of mine who now have deals with other brands are not allowed to come to my party because Chanel is my partner. I think it’s absurd and it actually does harm for all the brands to be that ruthless with their contracts. Of course I also feel partly responsible, because I made a lot of those introductions from the fashion world to the entertainment world.” (Finch worked previously as head of international operations in London at William Morris Agency.)

Beatrice Grannò
Beatrice Grannò performing at the 2023 party.

So what of fashion’s increasingly cozy relationship with Hollywood, with Kering’s Artémis acquisition of Creative Artists Agency, and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton launching 22 Montaigne Entertainment?

“I think it’s fine if it becomes a genuine, philanthropic, respectful relationship where you’re trying to help movies get made that might not otherwise be made by the studios,” said Finch, who has a magazine called A Rabbit’s Foot about film and culture, and soon will launch a publishing wing called A Rabbit’s Hole.

“I sit on the board of [streaming platform] Mubi, and if they want to support what we’re doing, for example, which is arthouse cinema, it’s an amazing thing. But if it’s just a sort of cynical play…,” he drifts off, talking about the number of people who have come to Hollywood and crashed and burned.

Time will tell.

In the meantime, in advance of this year’s party, Finch shares a few hosting tips.

On bad behavior:

“If somebody makes a fuss about where they’re sitting and in the room you have from the business world Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, and at the other end of this room you have Robert De Niro and Sofia Coppola and you’re unhappy where you’re sitting, I will probably throw you out…Occasionally, you get the kind of people who are there for the wrong reason because their publicist said you have to go. And that’s not what this is about to me. If it becomes about that, I will go back to doing a much smaller dinner.”

Rashida Jones
Rashida Jones at the 2023 party.

Dream guests:

“Michelle Obama — and Barack Obama. I love also Hillary Clinton, who always writes me a lovely note. I think she’s amazing…You know, I’ve met everybody one would think one would want to meet and represented many of the biggest stars. What remains most important to me is collaborating and doing good work. So it’s more about having people who I really want to make films with, like David O. Russell and Jonathan Glazer is coming, too, who made the most extraordinary film this year, ‘The Zone of Interest.'”

Ruth NeggaCharles Finch and Chanel annual pre-Oscar awards dinner, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, USA - 25 Feb 2017Charles Finch and Chanel host the ninth annual pre-oscar awards dinner in Beverly Hills. Actors, actresses, directors, producers, writers and Hollywood influencers gather for a dinner at legendary Madeo in Beverly Hills to celebrate an evening of fashion and film.
Ruth Negga at the 2022 party.

Most glamorous:

“Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman…This year, I invited Sofia Vergara, who I have never met before but I loved in ‘Griselda.’ She doesn’t know me so I don’t know if she’ll come, but she is amazing. Nicole Avant, who is a former ambassador to the Bahamas [and married to Netflix chief executive officer Ted Sarandos], is enormously interesting and presents both power and glamour. Anne Hathaway has an enormous presence and in her own way, Sofia Coppola, too.”

Chanel and Charles Finch 2016 Pre-Oscars Dinner
Helen Lasichanh and Pharrell Williams at the 2016 party.

The young ones:

“Timothée Chalamet is impeccably behaved and really grateful. The younger stars are actually pretty well behaved….In the old days, people were much freer. They had more fun and they were less scared. Whereas we live in a society now where one wrong move can really end your career. And so consequently, the power of image control is self enforcing. Unfortunately, I think it’s also quite negative in the sense of artistic control and censorship. I think trying to control artists by putting them under heavy contracts is the wrong way to do this as well. It’s one thing to support, it’s another thing to prohibit.”

The secret to a great night:

“Number one, if you want to have a party and not an event, it has to be intimate. Number two, if you’re inviting all these people to come to your party, you should introduce yourself when they arrive, and actually take the hosting responsibility seriously. Also, the nerves, especially now because of what we’ve discussed, the scrutiny and everything else are quite intense. But it’s important just to remember that it’s a party.”

Percy Gibson and Joan Collins
Percy Gibson and Joan Collins at the 2020 party.

Party uniform:
“A blue suit from my tailor in Naples and a white shirt and some handmade shoes.”

Never invited:

“Donald Trump. I sort of feel a bit bad even saying that because I have only met Donald Trump a couple of times, and he was actually quite amiable. It’s just that we are in such polarized times…I also wouldn’t invite Boris Johnson. I’d rather have the spirit of bringing people together. Anyone where the ambition is so profound, that it’s so visible, and the vulgarity is so extreme, I don’t want them in my temporary home for the night, which is wherever I give a party.”

Best of WWD