SEEING STARS

Byline: Merle Ginsburg

Vive la France!
That was the big message from the Oscar fashion front, as French houses steamrolled the once-dominant Italians in the race to dress the best and brightest for the Academy Awards. And no question, the best went haute French: Julianne Moore, in romantic black Chanel couture that took 100 hours to produce (the house’s couture atelier head, Mme. Christianne, flew into New York from Paris to work on it) and Cate Blanchett, in an ultra-chic Gaultier couture gown, also black, held together in back by heavy gold chains. Did she feel any pressure to thrill the fashionistas? “Oh, no, no pressure!” she laughed. “This is all about fun.”
Similarly, Chloe Sevigny went Gallic in a black Saint Laurent with plunging neckline and floaty skirt. “It’s Alber Elbaz for Yves Saint Laurent,” she pointed out. “I sort of just decided to wear it last night. I’m so sad Alber’s gone, and this is the only dress I could wear only to the Oscars.”
On a more controversial note, Nicole Kidman won notice-me honors in a wild asymmmetric gold lame Dior couture gown by John Galliano, her hair done up like a Greek goddess. “I talked to John about this dress a while ago,” she said. “I just don’t listen to the criticism and comments. It’s just fun. This is a soiree to totally have fun with. I’m having a lot of fun in this dress.” The jury was split on her choice, but at least she went for drama, doing what she could to offset the event’s prevailing dullness.
Would that Best Actress winner Hilary Swank had shown the same fashion gumption. Although Swank had a Dior and a Valentino ready to go, she made a last-minute switch to a strapless brown deb number by Randolph Duke. Pretty enough, but hardly memorable, until she weighted it down with a gigantic Asprey & Garrard necklace, which overpowered the dress and didn’t match her hip image.
“You know what?” Swank said. “I had so many dresses going at one point, I was overwhelmed. There were so many amazing designers who wanted to dress me. But,” she said, turning toward husband Chad Lowe in his custom Gucci suit, “when I put this dress on, my husband gasped. That’s how I made my decision.” Fashion lesson one, Hilary: There aren’t a lot of straight guys you can trust when it comes to making fashion calls.
Penelope Cruz found one — Ralph Lauren. The blue dress he made for her also had a deb thing going on, but she carried it off seamlessly and made the perfect jewelry choice — a delicate diamond choker by Casa Damiani.
Others, however, opted for a Goth motif — Angelina Jolie, for instance, who looked oddly alluring in witchy black hair extensions and a curvy dress by Donatella Versace. But what could Diane Keaton have been thinking, in something that looked like a Merchant Ivory mourning costume? Other actresses went for old-time Hollywood glamour: Charlize Theron in orange chiffon Vera Wang with Fred Leighton diamond clips, and Uma Thurman in crimson pleated chiffon by Alberta Ferretti. Also going for color were Ashley Judd in violet Valentino, Salma Hayek in a lavender Eric Gaskins gown and Lucy Liu in lipstick-red beaded Versace.
Despite the French dominance, Versace still managed to score big, swooping into town and wooing Cameron Diaz with revealing black lace, Heather Graham with Swarovski-beaded champagne, and country girl-turned-diva Faith Hill, who looked drop-dead in light blue-green sequins. Donatella also got the nod from nominee Toni Collette, who chose a V-neck black beaded sheath. “I’m doing ‘The Wild Party’ at the Public,” said Collette, “and I was trying on dresses in five-minute breaks. I must have tried on 80. But this one spoke to me.”
Vintage spoke to Winona Ryder, who wore a black Pauline Trigere black sheath with matching creme-lined shawl she said she’s had in her closet for seven years.
And as for vintage ladies, the ever-notorious Cher wore a discreet off-the-shoulder Bob Mackie, while that once-and-present babe Jane Fonda went for strapless satin Wang and matching high leather gloves. But it was her new choppy Sally Hershberger shag do that flashed back to those good old sexy “Klute” days — but modern, of course. Take that, Ted.
Not everyone went for things modern, however. Indeed, what could Mena Suvari have been thinking with her matronly foot-high stiff hair towering over her silver Escada? A can of hair spray just ain’t American Beauty.

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