Byline: Kavita Daswani

As soon as the nominations were announced, Giannina Facio knew who to call. An actress who appeared in the Oscar-nominated film “Gladiator,” directed by her husband, Ridley Scott, Facio went to the man she has relied on in the past, Roberto Cavalli.
The designer and a team of five flew in from Italy last week to tend to clients old and new. For Facio, Cavalli designed couture, sewn on her body for a perfect fit. Tiny beads cover the black dress, giving it a silvery sheen.
Facio represents an aspect of the Oscars that’s often overlooked, given the media’s frenzied reporting of what a handful of headliners are wearing: The average woman attending the ceremony and parties wants to look good, too. Some, like Facio, are accompanying a nominee or other Hollywood powerbroker.
For these hundreds of other women, the red carpet demands no less preparation than what a Best Actress nominee might require. All eyes may have been on Julia Roberts and Kate Hudson yesterday, but anyone holding a ticket wanted to feel and look like a star.
“I’m female,” said Facio. “They’re going to look at how I’m dressed.”
“It’s definitely a night you want to look nice for,” said Susannah Grant, Best Screenplay nominee for “Erin Brockovich.” The only woman nominated in her category, Grant noted the big dress question almost always followed the initial congratulations.
“It’s the first thing anybody asks. But that’s okay, because I can be a girlie girl too,” she quipped. Five months pregnant, she shopped around some for the right dress, going by her own judgment and the tastes of friends she trusted — instead of taking on a stylist. In the end, she opted for a red beaded Badgley Mischka gown.
“I decided that if I fell in love with something and it was completely outrageous [in price], I wouldn’t get it. But this was just mildly outrageous,” she said.
Agnes Jaoui, writer and director of nominated Best Foreign Film “The Taste of Others,” is accustomed to the fashion frenzy. She has attended the Cesar awards — France’s Oscar equivalent — for the past 10 years. For the Oscars, designers readily offered her a loan, and Jaoui deliberated between Giorgio Armani and Christian Lacroix before going for “the more sober” look: a simple, black long-sleeved Armani with a square neck and a slightly Forties sensibility.
“It’s very exciting,” she said Thursday, the morning after she flew in from Paris. “It’s nice to play the princess, although at some point, I do think it’s too much.”
Given the nature of the event, many women in some way associated with the Oscars expect to be dressed gratis — simply because they will walk the red carpet.
Simon Jones, special projects manager of Richard Tyler, said at one point there was an increase in sales in the run-up to Oscar night as women rushed to buy gowns. Now, he said, expectations have broadened.
“Once the whole freebie bandwagon started up, this kind of trickled down to producers and editors and wives of directors — people who normally would have gone out and purchased. All of a sudden, they’re thinking: ‘Wait a minute. She’s getting a dress and she starred in the movie, but I made it happen; I produced it.’ Everybody wants a free dress.”
Of course, the primary reason for design houses to give away a gown worth thousands of dollars to an A-list celebrity is the promotion it receives in exchange. How does Jones handle it? “Diplomatically,” he replied.
At another design house, a representative revealed she fields daily calls from publicists pushing for their unknown client to be dressed by the designer. “Publicists will always try and sell a client, saying he or she is the next big thing, even if it’s someone we’ve never heard of. But we have to be selective. Also, we just don’t have the manpower to lend everybody something.”
A publicist may call seeking something for a male nominee — and then pitch for the companion.
“It could even be a daughter, anybody who is going with them. They are all concerned about [the way they look]. Often, the same stylist will dress the entire family.” The source said the company’s policy was, for the most part, spouses will not be loaned dresses “unless she happens to be talent” as well.
Another Rodeo Drive design house source who requested anonymity agreed. “It’s a tough call, because there are a few [celebrities] that everyone wants to dress, and then countless others who may not be as important. But something is better than nothing. We’re pretty selective, but we don’t want to be left there with nobody [wearing our dresses]. Before, a celebrity would work with one designer making two or three dresses until they got it right. Now, you’ve got 50 designers trying to dress one celebrity.”
No matter who dresses whom, the awards are invaluable for the fashion business overall. Anne Fahey, executive director of fashion public relations at Chanel, said there was a definite increase in traffic at the Rodeo Drive store, from industry people as well as tourists who want to be part of the buzz.
“There’s an upswing in tourists who come out here at this time. So it’s not just people looking for something for awards — although we sell a lot of evening bags and shoes for the luncheons and other events.”
Beyond that, she has taken calls from producer Jennifer Todd, actress Mili Avital and actress Shiva Rose (wife of “The Practice” star Dylan McDermott).
“These are people we have relationships with, people we have dressed before. These are not people calling out of the blue,” said Fahey.