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Designers save a few fashion surprises for Oscars

Big films. Big stars. Big Fashion. When the red carpet rolls out for the Oscars Sunday night, it won't only be the biggest night in Hollywood, it will be a major night for celebrity designers.
/ Source: Reuters

Big films. Big stars. Big Fashion. When the red carpet rolls out for the Oscars Sunday night, it won't only be the biggest night in Hollywood, it will be a major night for celebrity designers.

The long parade of women in glamorous gowns and expensive jewelry that starts in January at the Critics Choice, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards finally ends with the Oscars. The best looks, experts say, have been saved for last.

Colorful gowns that show some skin and classical looks from Hollywood's Golden Age will again be de rigueur, with perhaps a white dress or two. Recent fashion shows in New York and Paris will bring out fresh looks, and while eyes will be on Angelina Jolie, as always, new fashions are in town with names like Rooney Mara and Viola Davis.

"The Oscars are the biggest fashion show on the planet," said designer Marc Bouwer.

His is no understatement. Unlike catwalks in New York and Paris, Oscar's red carpet walk-up to the world's top movie honors is televised live and seen by tens of millions of people around the world. Photographs and videos of the celebrities appear in newspapers, magazines, the Web and are sent on mobile phones to fans and friends. One slip up, and it's curtains for the stars.

"If you're wearing bright colors, you'll pop more and that's important in a photograph," said designer David Meister. "This is the night where the cosmetic and jewelry companies are looking for their next women, their next big contracts. You want to look beautiful, pretty and sexy."

While some gowns this year on Hollywood red carpets have featured long, luxurious sleeves, actresses need to exhibit sex appeal, too, and show a touch of skin, "a bare back or plunging neckline," he said.

Bouwer sees more white, ivory and silver.

At last month's Golden Globes, Angelina Jolie showed up in a white satin Versace dress with a slash of red for color, and it made a splash with fashions everywhere.

"It sort of shocked everybody into realizing that white can look so well on the red carpet if it's done right," said Bouwer.


Old Hollywood glamour has been showcased this season, but In Style Magazine's Hal Rubenstein said designs at Paris' couture shows in January and New York's recent Fashion Week could creep onto the carpet because they have not yet shown up elsewhere.

And the right dress can certainly make all the difference.

"A dress can make the celebrity, but the celebrity cannot make the dress," said fashion designer Allen B. Schwartz. "An ugly dress will be ugly on anyone. A gorgeous dress will make that actress look that much more exciting."

The normally stylish Gwyneth Paltrow learned her lesson in 2002 in an embarrassingly sheer black Alexander McQueen gown. On the other side, risk taker Cate Blanchett will always be remembered for her 1999 Oscar Jean Paul Gaultier sheath dress whose back was embroidered with flowers and a hummingbird.

While Angelina Jolie has been flawless on the carpet all season, Rooney Mara has been turning heads, too, with an often dark look that seems fitting for her Oscar-nominated role as Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Bouwer is a fan of Mara, calling her "major fashion player" this season.

But Mara is not the only one who has been a standout this season. Rubenstein says the "The Help" stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer - nominated in the best actress and best supporting actress categories, respectively - have emerged as unexpected fashion plates.

"You don't normally think of Viola and Octavia as fashion girls," Rubenstein said. "But Viola has both an extraordinary fashion presence on and off the screen. She radiates womanliness and power. And Octavia proved beauty is not about being a size 2, it's about looking your best and she's been looking her best for every single red carpet occasion."