By  on March 8, 2005

LOS ANGELES — The Oscars knockoff derby — the race to replicate gowns worn by the Hollywood elite and reach a sliver of the 42.1 million people who saw the show on television — has fewer players competing for the potential rewards.

Designers such as Eletra Casadei and Victor Costa have bowed out in the last few years. Casadei stopped two years ago even though she had quickly built the side project to a $1 million enterprise. In the last year, she has concentrated on the sportswear end of the business rather than on eveningwear.

“I decided to do it because it was a press-worthy event, but it went against the grain of being a designer and running around looking like everyone else,” said the Los Angeles-based designer. 

Even Costa, whose modus operandi for his almost five-decade career has been crafting accessible versions of couture fashions, said the event smacks of too much crassness. He stopped making knockoffs three years ago.

“Oscar knockoffs have become something of a cheap prom dress item, and that’s just not my customer,” said Costa, who said he is focusing on his Victor Costa Collection business for the QVC shopping channel.

Their exits have left the prospective sales bonanza wide open for A.B.S. by Allen Schwartz, considered one of the copycat kings who has worked the Oscars angle for about 15 years. His take on the re-creations business? It’s a win-win for retailers and consumers: “I’m into marketing and making money and this makes money for the stores and me, and generates amazing buzz,” Schwartz said.

And a publicity machine it is.

Schwartz said last week was a blur of media interviews with Katie Couric on NBC’s “Today” show, as well as appearances on “ET,” “Access Hollywood” and other programs. His assessment of this year’s affair was glowing — a glam slam, replete with elegant, understated looks.

The solemnity of a nation at war helped keep the looks in modest check, he said. In addition, new and emerging style icons, including Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman and Emmy Rossum, enhanced the ladylike nature of the evening.“They represent a contemporary mix of good taste and glamour — it’s not about T&A or selling sex,” Schwartz said. “The whole thing about being appropriate and showing respect is more important than ever.”

He chose six designs for his adaptations: Cate Blanchett’s yellow, one-shouldered look (Valentino), Charlize Theron’s strapless aqua blue gown with tiered netting (Dior Couture by John Galliano), Portman’s Grecian number (Lanvin), Halle Berry’s one-shouldered, champagne-colored gown (Atelier Versace), Rossum’s strapless dress (Ralph Lauren) and Gwyneth Paltrow’s pale pink strapless gown (Stella McCartney). To give them consumer appeal, he’ll doctor them by removing the trains, toning down the colors and shrinking the bustles.

The line of replicas will ship in May and June and will wholesale from $150 to $200 in fabrics such as satin, velvet and taffeta.

Schwartz’s least favorite dress was the backless body-skimmer with a high front designed by Guy Laroche and worn by best-actress winner Hilary Swank.

“It was restricting — it looked like Lauren Bacall should have worn it,” he said.

Another Oscars watcher and reinterpreter is L.A.-based WWW Collections, whose wholesale price points range from $49 to $149. The colors and drama of this year’s event are what caught the eye of WWW Collections’ sales manager, David Bershad.

“The ruffling, the jeweled trims and the brooches — the gowns looked so rich,” he said.

Topping his list of salable fashions were the frothy looks worn by Theron and Ziyi Zhang, who donned a Monique Lhuillier gown adorned in ruffles. Bershad plans to co-opt the designs in skirt looks using stretch taffeta and silk organza for June shipments.

“Our whole existence in the past four years has focused on evening separates,” he said.

While most designers applauded the design concoctions displayed at the Oscars, some rued the perfection of it all. Juniors’ dress doyenne Jessica McClintock was hoping for a little more fashion derring-do.

“Something had been diminished about it,” she said. “I saw beautiful women…timeless pieces, but how many times can I see a timeless piece?”McClintock said the glamour of the show was in step with requests from her teenage consumers shopping for prom this year, from the netting and lace on Theron’s gown to the stretch charmeuse, jewel-encrusted pizzazz of Kate Winslet’s dress designed by Badgley Mischka.

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