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Red-Carpet Blackout: Stars Shun Glamour Gowns in Favor of War-Appropriate Attire

Many of the best-dressed ladies of the silver screen, such as Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, Renée Zellweger, Jennifer Lopez, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Salma Hayek, are rethinking their red-carpet dresses due to the impending war, as are Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Julianne Moore, Meg Ryan, Meryl Streep and Diane Lane. None of them wants to be seen frivolously twirling her way into parties looking too glamorous and too concerned about what she is wearing. The world’s top designers, including Giorgio Armani, Karl Lagerfeld, Miuccia Prada and Tom Ford, as well as New York’s and Hollywood’s top stylists, have all had frantic calls asking for subdued and beautiful choices for Hollywood’s big night. That means less bosom-baring and no gold lamé.

This story first appeared in the March 19, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

It was going to be all about color, beads and layers and layers of chiffon, but that is all changing as of this moment. Stars who chose bright colors are going to black. All those who went for neutrals, yellow, cream, beige or white are sticking with their choices. When it comes to jewelry, the big houses like Harry Winston are getting requests for more subtle pieces. But don’t you worry, Hollywood will still razzle-dazzle you one way or another.

Renée Zellweger, for one, is starting to show signs of Oscar fashion fatigue. She says she has already worn 40 outfits in three weeks in the marathon of interviews and parties on two continents for “Chicago” and is due to wear at least 20 more this week, including, of course, the big one Sunday night for which she looked at more than 100 choices — including vintage gowns from almost as many designers. What she says somewhat endearingly is: “I’m sick of talking about myself. In fact, I’m sick of talking.”

What she and the rest of the stars choose to wear on Oscar night is always a big question made even more difficult by current events. In 2001, the Emmys were postponed due to Sept. 11, and a more dressed-down version of the usual glamorous doings took place two months later. At this point, it looks as if the show will go on. But we will have to wait and see what happens in the best-dressed battle in Hollywood this year.

Running neck and neck with Renée in the fashion sweepstakes and the contest for Best Actress is Nicole Kidman who has let go of the Los Angeles mansion she shared with Tom Cruise. Nicole loves gray skies and rain and therefore London town. So, she’s said to be shopping for a house there. And it’s not just the weather she’s fond of, but the people and their humor, so much so that she wants to make fun of herself in a comedy on the West End.

Nicole has a lot of close girlfriends ready to catch her if she falls, the same ones who helped her get over her marriage breakup with Tom, the ones who are constant. “Men,” she says, “they come and go. But girls, they stay.” For Oscar night, she’s leaning toward black and she’s been on the phone to Karl Lagerfeld, for one. Karl designed the beautiful pink pleated Chanel she wore to great acclaim at last year’s Oscars.

Richard Gere is tapping into his “Chicago” success as a hoofer to land the role opposite Jennifer Lopez in a remake of the Japanese ballroom-dancing film, “Shall We Dance?” — to be produced by Miramax and directed by Peter Chelsom. Richard would play a bored middle-aged accountant who lights up his life by taking dance lessons from a hot instructor, played by, well, you guess. Meanwhile, Renée Zellweger — yes, she’s everywhere — wants to hit Broadway. She’s thrilled that the strike has ended and is supposed to be looking for a show to call her very own.

Every year, the Metropolitan Opera gives a big glittering dinner dance right on the Met’s huge stage. The guests, many of them philanthropic corporate giants and their ladies, dine sumptuously and dance the best way they can, right in the middle of that enormous expanse amidst scenery taken from one of the company’s famous productions. This night is the Met’s biggest fundraiser. It’s called “On Stage at the Met.” And this particular party the other night raised almost $1.5 million. That’s an awful lot of arias.

In a burst of corporate celebration, the guest of honor was William B. Harrison Jr., the chairman and ceo of J.P. Morgan Chase, and the dinner chairmen who saluted him were Robert Effner, chairman, president and ceo of Wyeth; Maurice R. Greenberg, chairman and ceo of American International Group, Inc., and David J. O’Reilly, chairman and ceo of Chevron Texaco Corp. — all generous donors, you may be sure.

They and 596 others more or less like them, surrounded by the magnificent scenery from the Met’s new production, “Les Troyens,” sat down to a fine dinner, purveyed by Glorious Food, of lobster with Louis sauce, beef tournedos and warm chocolate soufflé with fresh raspberries, pistachio ice cream and orange sorbet. The tables, covered in shades of mango, lemon and orange, were draped with mango-colored organza overlays and centered with tiered glass bowls holding floating rose petals and candles, all the work of Bill Tansey. During diner, the famous American bass Samuel Ramey sang “Ole Man River” and merely brought down the house. The Michael Carney Orchestra provided the evening’s music.

Everywhere you looked in the crowd, you saw the King and Queen of Spain’s daughter, HRH the Infanta Elena and her husband, the Duke of Lugo; the British Ambassador to the U.N. Jeremy Greenstock and Lady Greenstock; Mary and Mike Wallace; Beverly Sills; Catherine and David Hamilton from Chicago; Judy and Ed Ney; the diva, Anna Moffo; Karen and Peter John Goulandris; Carol and George McFadden; Dwane Croft and Ainhoa Arteta; Luella and Frank Bennack of the Hearst Bennacks; Mrs. Samuel (Lindsay) Ramey — the Rameys are expecting a child next month — Susan Braddock (she is the Met Guild president); Wendy and Bill Luers; Mrs. William R. (Ann) Harrison Jr.; Georgette Mosbacher; the Raymond Gilmartins of Merck; Shirley and Abe Rosenthal and last but never least, the Met’s dynamic vice chairman, Cécile Zilkha, there with her proud husband, Ezra. Does everyone know that Cécile, the benefit chairman of the evening, organizes all the Met’s dazzling benefit programs and raises millions for the opera company? Well, just about everyone. She is the Met’s wonder woman.

The actor William H. Macy is the United Cerebral Palsy of New York City’s chairman of its 48th annual awards dinner on April 23 at the Marriott Marquis. Henry Kissinger and Rupert Murdoch are on the executive committee and Meredith Viera will be the mistress of ceremonies. Two weeks later, Hearst’s Cathleen Black will serve as the honorary chairman of UCP’s next big to-do at the Regent Wall Street on May 8 honoring Marlo Thomas, Helen Gurley Brown, Marie Wilson and Madeline Boyd. Among the special guests Cathleen promises to produce are Diane Sawyer and Catherine Crier.

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