THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL

Byline: Merle Ginsberg and Louise Farr

And the winner is…the fashion business.
Though it was probably the schmaltziest Oscar show in years, at least New York, Paris and Milan were well-represented. Giorgio Armani, Prada, John Galliano, Gianni Versace, Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and a bizarre take on the Dior New Look took over the Oscars, while models, all of them described as “super” — but most of them looking considerably less than that — showed how goofy fashion animals can be when they’re torn from their natural habitat.
The big news was that Belle du Jour hair, complicated up-dos, regal trains, corseted bodices and diamond chokers replaced the slipdresses and minimalism of recent years. Cleavage, as always, was in your face, with fainthearted actresses shivering, their poor little arms over their bare shoulders in the chilly air.
“It’s a fashion show, no?” asked “Il Postino’s” Maria Grazia Cucinotta.
But how could Gwyneth Paltrow in her simple Calvin Klein sheath or Angela Bassett in draped black Escada compete with professional quick-change artists Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell? They arrived in Valentino and Galliano, respectively, then both switched into Versace numbers to hand out the best costume award.
Others could have used a change of outfit.
Presenter Alicia Silverstone really did look clueless in an ice blue Vera Wang and last season’s strung-out makeup. And her plump little arms need more than a matching sheer shawl to cover them. Mare Winningham’s chartreuse Vera Wang lent an unfortunate green tinge to her skin, while Halle Berry, in lavender Valentino, looked overly voluptous. “My stylist brought me thirteen dresses to choose from and I picked this one last night,” she announced proudly. “How can anybody look bad when there are all those free clothes available?” asked Meryl Streep, who was wearing black Donna Karan. “Donna’s going to kill me. I put a hole in the dress. But it’s her fault. It’s too long.”
Susan Sarandon’s pouffy, low-cut Dolce & Gabbana gown was a winner to some, a loser to others. But she left everyone wondering if the russet-colored dress was dyed to match her spiky hair — or vice versa. And now that she’s finally won an Oscar, maybe Sarandon can leave the cleavage at home.
Winona Ryder, on the other hand, must have the hippest stylist in town. She looked like something from this week’s New York runway, with her beaded, mocha-colored flapper dress from Badgley Mischka and marcelled hair.
The other great debate of the night: Nicole Kidman’s Empire-waisted purple Prada. Some thought it looked great, others thought it made her look chunky — but no one thought it looked quite as good as Uma’s last year.
Restoration-style, bosom-enhancing necklines were everywhere. But Kate Winslet claimed she wasn’t worried that anything would break free. “It’s all so strapped in,” she said about the pink Vivienne Westwood she admitted no one wanted her to wear.
“She’s usually so wacky and zany,” said Winslet. “Then she designed this.”
Elisabeth Shue actually tried to buy her cream satin Felicia Farrar at Les Habitudes on Robertson Boulevard. “Then I needed a bigger size,” she said, “and the designer insisted I take it for free!”
Sharon Stone, for a change, didn’t wear any free clothes. Instead of the expected Vera Wang or Valentino, she took to the stage in a black Gap turtleneck and a skirt she dragged from her closet at the last minute. She added Van Cleef & Arpels diamond earrings. By the time she appeared, however, it was clear Stone had forgotten one thing — a bra. Thirty-eight is 38, even when you’re a sex symbol.
Some stars mourned the loss of feeling in their feet, with Whoopi Goldberg and Patricia Arquette kicking off their shoes at the Governor’s Ball.
“My dogs are killing me. Why can’t Manolo Blahnik team up with Birkenstock?” asked Arquette, though the shoes couldn’t have been any tighter than her blue Herve Leger bandage dress.
By 2:30 a.m., a blonder, tanner and more-glamorous-than-usual Emma Thompson was also padding around in bare feet and a cream-colored cardigan suit at the Columbia-Tri-Star party.”I’m not that fashion-conscious,” she confessed.
“Susan Sarandon looked regal, and rightfully so,” Thompson added. “I felt comfortable. You know — Armani.”
By that hour, after a weeks-long clothes vigil, most people were just plum fashioned-out. “Restoration’s” best costume design winner James Acheson summed it up best: “Oh,” he sighed. “It’s only frocks.”

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