Byline: with contributions from Rose Apodaca Jones / Merle Ginsberg / Marcy Medina

While the company’s official history at the Academy Awards may begin with the opening in 1989 of its Art Deco flagship on Beverly Boulevard, a Richard Tyler gown first made an appearance a decade earlier on Penelope Milford, nominated in the gold-winning “Coming Home.” “I was sewing her into it right before she got on the red carpet,” the L.A.-based designer said. “It was this very sexy, ruched chiffon dress with long gloves — very Marilyn Monroe.”
For the award show vet, the thrill has heightened in some ways and mellowed in others. “It’s grown into this big circus, once the Europeans realized what an opportunity it is to promote their dresses. It’s fabulous if someone wears your gown, of course. That’s the whole fun of it.” Which is why yesterday, Tyler, his wife and business partner Lisa Trafficante and their seven-year-old son, Edward, did what a billion others around the world were doing. “We stay home and watch it. We used to go out more. Probably if I was younger and didn’t have a child I’d still be out partying. But we love watching it and commenting on everyone.”

By Friday, the stock of precious evening bags was almost gone and the alterations room nearing capacity, with all the Oscar-bound dresses awaiting nips and tucks. And the women just kept streaming into the Badgley Mischka boutique at the famous corner of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard, their stern concentration on finding The Dress, The Shoes and The Bag interrupted by the sight of Mark Badgley on the floor.
“It’s been really fun for James and I to be here,’ said Badgley, who arrived with business partner James Mischka for last Sunday’s “Tribute to Style’ event on Rodeo. “I think people are surprised that we hang out at the store. It’s a never-ending trunk show.’
While their dresses first arrived at the venerable awards show six years ago, the pair didn’t until 1998. But their days of having hotel suites double as showrooms are over, thanks to the seven-month-old Rodeo shop. They hosted a tea there with 100 members of the Fashion Group International on Monday. And since Mischka returned to New York Tuesday to tend to the business there, Badgley has been splitting his time between the store and clients’ hotel rooms and homes, supervising fittings with head seamstress, Anna Wang — sometimes into the night.
As of Friday, he hoped to hop on a 7:20 a.m. flight Sunday and be back home in time to watch the awards. “I was going to take a later flight, but then I would have missed the show.”

For the seven-year Oscar veteran, the event represents an institution that demands a certain regard. “When I think about the Oscars, I think about Grace Kelly stepping out of the car onto the red carpet with all the cameras flashing in her face. I have to revert back to that when people come in and say, ‘I want to dress funky.’
“They should have a presence, and Grace Kelly had that presence. But Hollywood has taken a nice turnaround where people want to take the elegant route,” reflected Dennis, who set up shop at L’Ermitage last Monday, as she has each year.
In fact, she was among the very few who first serviced stylists and celebrities at the Beverly Hills hotel, now an awards-show institution in its own right. “It’s become a media circus, with camera crews from Pittsburgh, from Germany, everywhere.”
Yesterday, though, she was caught up in a circus of her own. “I think of Mario Andretti at 3:15 when everyone’s getting ready and I go from the Chateau Marmont to the Peninsula to the Four Seasons to help them get dressed.” It’s tiring and crazy, she admitted, but “I prefer to think about making people happy and making a few great relationships stick — and maybe getting a few repeat customers.”
Buoyed by dressing Joan Allen in the “Contender,” Dennis has her sights set on another Hollywood adventure: “Next time, I’m going to visit all the studios. I want to be the next Edith Head.”

The 75 couture gowns that arrived with Brian Rennie at The Peninsula Hotel earlier this month marked a significant shift for Escada. Usually only about half make it to the States. But this collection, shown on mannequins and live models in a suite, was specially earmarked for the Oscars.
“It just seemed like such a great idea to promote the couture, because this is where we get the youngest customer to the brand,” he said pointing out the Asian-inspired minidress Courtney Love wore to the recent Golden Globes.
The Scot was also there to shoot the cruise ad campaign, the imagery weighing heavy on the “fabulous side of L.A. and Las Vegas.”
But it’s the big daddy of all the awards shows that brought him to town. “It’s two weeks before the Oscars. It’s a zoo here.”
To Rennie, the event is “more important than a runway show in Paris or Milan; this is where you see the creme de la creme of the dresses. There’s no show in the world that has as many viewers as this.
“And the stars have overtaken the supermodels. Just look at the covers of the magazines.”

Tod’s dinner-and-dance bash at Moomba on March 8 will likely go down as one of the best parties of the 2001 Oscar season. Its purpose, at least officially: to christen the new Rodeo Drive flagship. Owner Diego Della Valle supped with Dennis Hopper, Rene Russo, Debra Messing and many other A-listers that evening, all friends he’s made since first arriving here. “I have been making shoes for the Oscars since 1985 when Oscar dressing was quieter, and it was about servicing the actor or actress with custom design and working directly with their wishes.”
But that was then, he noted. “I think it has become a business, more than creating the right look and style that suits the actor.”
Of course, the right look may involve more than one choice. “One year, Sharon Stone selected four different designs in different colors because she did not know what dress she was wearing. She even brought along the sketches of her dresses so we could work together.”
It didn’t end there. “We had a special person at customs in New York waiting for her shoes to arrive. And that person hand-delivered them to Ms. Stone before the Oscars. I believe this is the definition of custom couture.”

Italian designer and bon vivant Roberto Cavalli has been knocking around town for months, but his presence here during Oscar week, though quite visible, turned out to be an accident. He came on the invitation of director Ridley Scott, nominated for Best Director for “Gladiator.” “I said, ‘OK.’ I will come and I will take a chance to bring some garments for the first time,” said the designer from his suite at L’Ermitage last Tuesday, where an assistant was busy making last-minute alterations on party dresses for Bai Ling, Cindy Crawford, and Thora Birch, among others. “I didn’t expect such success. Everybody was so excited to wear my things and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I am happy!”
For the Oscars, Cavalli made dresses for friend and producer Martha DeLaurentiis — who used Cavalli’s famous zebra-print dress in a pivotal scene in “Hannibal” — as well as her two young daughters. Cavalli did his homework, and decided to shake things up a little. “I watched videos from past Oscars just to see which kind of dresses could be right. I tried to analyze these outfits and I started to see that everybody in the last few years was very classic.”
Cavalli, a former painter whose grandfather’s art hangs in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, has been inspired by painterly prints from the beginning, while his wife Eva concentrates on the cut of the clothes. “Maybe it’s the reason for my success, because many designers have become too industrial. They care too much about production and money. I don’t care. For me it’s just a pleasure to create a garment.”

Diane Von Furstenberg’s been coming out to the Oscars for four years — but not for fashion purposes. The New York designer annually cohosts a party with husband Barry Diller for Graydon Carter on the Saturday afternoon before the show; so she’s never bothered attempting to dress partygoers at the same time. This year, the designer and her right- hand woman, Leah Forrester, joined publicity firm Ted Inc.’s supersuite, which housed several other lines. They obviously were looking for buzz of some kind – but in the classically DVF, not-too-aggressive manner.
“It was really Leah who wanted to come,” said Von Furstenberg. “We do really well in L.A. I mean, actresses love the clothes. So we figured, all right, we’ll come here and make things available at the last minute or for a party.” As the best model for her own clothes, she wore a tight blue denim dress and a classic hand-printed wrap dress as a jacket.
As stylists, actresses and editors filed through the suite for a peek at the clothes — and the designer herself — it was clear it was worth the trip for DVF and company. Of course, now that she’s married to mogul Diller, Hollywood folk are even more curious about her. “Everyone’s so excited that I got married,” she said. “But nothing’s changed. It was just the right thing to do. On Oscar night, we will be watching at home and then we’ll go to parties. And I don’t know what I’ll be wearing. But obviously I have a lot of options. They’re all right here.”

The phone in room 133 hasn’t stopped ringing all week. But James Purcell and company president Barry Steinhart aren’t complaining. The pair have transformed the Standard Hotel room into a showroom since arriving a full week before, even picking up a computer. “We’re able to do research on presenters, locate publicists, look up pictures of actresses on the wire, e-mail print journalists, you name it,” said Purcell. “One disadvantage of being away from New York, of course, is we can’t oversee production. But being here [in Los Angeles] makes a big difference. It’s important to be here for your image, your marketing and your brand.”
Which is why he opted to fly out west himself instead of passing the task to a representative as he did last year. The Hollywood parties and a premiere (he has dresses in “Heartbreakers”) made the jaunt even better.
Even last Monday’s power blackout courtesy of the state’s energy crisis didn’t darken their mood. “We were about to watch ‘ET’ — [host] Jann Carl was in our dress. Then everything went out and we missed her. But everybody just went out on the deck for an hour and the hotel lit the place up with candles. It did feel like a real L.A. moment looking out over city.”

The madness started on an already-mad day for Christina Perrin. The announcement of the nominees last month coincided with her fall presentation in New York. Show or no show, the phone started ringing. “We had to get the videos of the show done overnight so [Los Angeles publicist] Susan [Ashbrook] could get them out to the stylists.”
The designer arrived in town Thursday night for her sophomore visit to the Oscars, following several grueling days of overseeing special-order requests for the weekend’s festivities. Having never been here before, she said she didn’t really have any expectations. “What’s most fun for me is going to the parties. Imagine being in a room with 200 stars and it’s like being at a party with friends.” But even some of the fun has a function. In her week here (she goes home Wednesday) she’s been making the rounds at dinners and those parties.
It’s a very different place here than home, she observed. “In New York, you have such anonymity. You don’t know who’s going to walk by you. Here in L.A., it’s all about the entertainment industry. If I walk into a room all the women look and ask ‘Are you an actress?’ If I were, I’d be competition.” And since she isn’t, she finds a lot of aspiring starlets accustomed to working that future free awards gown.

“I get a lot of, ‘Oh, isn’t that the guy who dressed Minnie Driver?”‘ Duke said about his association with the red carpet. “It can pigeonhole you as, ‘that Oscar guy.’
There’s a bit of a double-edged sword going on here. Though he might feel pigeonholed, Duke shifted even more of his focus to Hollywood this spring by showing his fall collection at the late Tony Duquette’s opulent house in Benedict Canyon and skipping the New York runway altogether. He greeted actresses and stylists in jeans and T-shirts, in a much more relaxed “LaLa” way than his red-carpet efforts in of year’s past.
“I’m less of a control freak in L.A.,” he laughed. “I’m trying to break away from the hype, the publicity and the fame. Everything’s gotten so fake. We’re in the year of the real actress. It isn’t the year of the movie star. Joan Allen and Ellen Burstyn are the stuff this business is made of. We’re back to the craft.”
It’s odd that Duke’s trying to challenge his association after years of working so hard to be there. What gives?
“Was it luck to dress so many Oscar winners? It doesn’t help your pocketbook; in fact, it can put you out of business. Hollywood’s a charity, fashion’s a big charity — it’s abusive. I’m finally putting my foot down a bit more. I’m asserting my authority and saying to actresses, ‘Trust me. If you don’t want to trust me, go to Versace.”‘