Byline: Merle Ginsberg

At the Academy Awards, the drama behind the scenes is often — okay, always — more entertaining than the show itself. Sometimes the backstage hijinks take on the aura of urban myth, lasting much longer than memories of the gushing speeches, loving dedications, and even who won what.
With that in mind, here’s some insight behind the curtain of the greatest fashion show on earth.
Pre-Shoe Agreement: Since last year, many of the accessories companies spilled the beans early on who was wearing which designer. Jimmy Choo and others were forced to sign a confidentiality agreement about Hilary Swank’s dress, before they’d get a chance to make her shoes.
Big Cast: Nominee Janet McTeer was MIA in London for a while, missing fittings and appointments, until she emerged, shakily, after having broken her foot. Still, she turned up in the Jimmy Choo store in London with crutches, seeking Oscar shoes — but not finding any big enough to fit over her cast. The Choo company promptly offered her a custom cane covered with crystals. She declined.
On Call for Fashion Emergencies: Pamela Dennis, like many of the designers who took hotel suites to parade the clothes and woo the stars, was called away on any number of diva emergencies. At one point Dennis was yanked away to meet up with Mariah Carey. Later, she had to run up to Courtney Love’s house. Then, there was the conference with Diana Ross about possibly dressing the Supremes for their comeback tour.
Cate Dyed Twice: Cate Blanchett, who almost always knows what she wants to wear early on, was more of a project this year. It was logistics; she was shooting “The Gift” in Savannah, Georgia, with Keanu Reeves, and her stylist had to fly down there with a bundle of dresses. The final candidates came down to a Valentino, a Jean Paul Gaultier, and a Randolph Duke. Her hair was an even trickier challenge. She had to fly into L.A. Saturday morning and have her character’s dark brown hair dyed blonde, do countless fittings, attend the Oscars, spend twenty minutes at the Vanity Fair party, then get on a plane back to Georgia. Once there, at 6 a.m., her hair would be redyed to the character’s dark brown. Wonder what shape her hair will be in when this movie’s over?
Just the Fax: At one point, stylist Philip Bloch, who doubles as a fashion commentator on TV for Joan Rivers and others, faxed an urgent request to every designer whom he’d also been pulling clothes from for Salma Hayek. Please, would they tell him by the weekend what each actress was wearing, so he could report it on TV? He also offered to sign the ubiquitous confidentiality agreements.
Non-Commital: Twin stylists Nina and Claire Hallworth asked one luxury shoe company if they would make Vegan high heels for Drew Barrymore, since she’s a vegetarian and animal lover. Word came back from the shoe firm’s home office that they could do it, but with a great deal of trouble. Lucky for them they also asked the twins if Drew would commit to the non-leather shoes. “No way,” they were told, “Drew doesn’t commit.”
Norton Bobs and Weaves: Ed Norton sat in on most of girlfriend Salma Hayek’s Oscar gown fittings at her home, and kept knocking out all the really sexy ones. But Hayek was afraid that if she didn’t go slinky, nobody would pay attention.
Doctor’s Orders: Annette Bening was meant to present an Oscar with Kevin Spacey, but had to drop out of presenter duties at the last minute. Her doctors told the nine-month pregnant Bening to get to her seat and stay there. More doctor’s orders: Wear low heels.
Suave Envy: Warren Beatty spent more time at a fitting for his new Armani tux than most men — about two hours. His big concern? He kept asking the Armani staff, “Does this make me look like Cary Grant?”
Uma’s Way: Recent mom Uma Thurman only signed on to be a presenter at the last minute, and she still didn’t want to hire a stylist. In New York with her baby, she went up to the Aeffe showrooms herself and pulled two Alberta Ferretti gowns, one red, one blue. On Friday morning, she and her reps made the jewelry rounds after she got to L.A. Autocrats: All one had to do to spot stars in various states of pre-dress over the weekend was to hang out with the parking valets. On Friday morning, Chloe Sevigny got out of a cab in front of the Four Seasons and walked in unnoticed, while Laurence Fishburne drove up at the same moment in a big Mercedes, and was attended by four valets. Outside the L’Ermitage all weekend, stylists emerged with enormous dress bags and boxes of J.P. Tod’s new comfortable high-heeled sandals and special for-the-Oscars clutch bags. Outside of the Montrose, fans were seeking autographs from the women coming out of Randolph Duke fittings, including Shakira Caine. Meredith Viera, and even her young daughter, were swamped.
Fonda Comes Up Short: Forget the dresses. All anybody could talk about all weekend was Jane Fonda’s hair. To add to the dramatics of her Oscar appearance and so-called Hollywood comeback, she decided she would show up with her signature shoulder-length, big hair newly cut into a short, modern look by Sally Hershberger.
Poor Thora: Just a few days before the show, actress Thora Birch wasn’t even sure she was going. She pulled a single low-key dress just in case. Then suddenly, she was named a presenter on Thursday, and she was up for grabs. Every major designer was called, and she was whisked from Beverly Hills boutiques to hotel suites, and wound up with more than twenty choices. Then, after she made her final selection — a pink and white Armani — Dreamworks decided to hire her a stylist. But at that point, every dress in town was pulled.
Radio for Backup: In the end, almost every major nominee had three to five dresses fitted and ready to go, still, on Saturday night. Hilary Swank couldn’t decide between her predicted Galliano, a Valentino and a Randolph Duke. Minnie Driver had a Valentino and a Duke, also. Cate Blanchett seemed to be leaning toward Gaultier. Heather Graham, who worked with two stylists, Wendy Schecter in New York and Jessica Paster in L.A., had a Versace, a Duke, and an Armani on tap.
Start Spreading the Muse: Chloe Sevigny was so flattered by the fact that Michael Kors named her his style muse for the fall Celine show in Paris that she pulled many of the fall samples to wear to all the Oscar week dinners. Hint to designers: Make a nominated actress your muse.
Hey Jude: Jude Law and Sadie Frost came very close to missing the Miramax Oscar pre-party. They missed their flight leaving England because they had to do a last-minute television interview about a new indie movie they’ve made. But they finally did show up at the Regent Beverly Wilshire — two hours late.
On With the Shoe: Jimmy Choo kept its cobbler-to-the-stars, Jacques Zatikian, busy around the clock for a week, gluing crystals onto custom pairs. Oscar style director L’Wren Scott ordered special shoes for the Oscar girls, as she called them, with crystals inside the heels and sides, for “extra sparkle.” And everyone was impressed by the hustle demonstrated by Choo’s p.r. heavyweight, Marilyn Heston, daughter of Charlton.
A Really Big Shoe: Poor Michael Clarke Duncan. Shoe people were dying to dress him, but hardly any designer shoe company had any size 15 evening shoes around. The Jimmy Choo people were so desperate to accommodate him, they flew in some large English sizes, only to discover there’s no comparison. So, one employee sat in London by the fax machine waiting for an imprint of Michael Clarke Duncan’s foot that the actor drew himself. But there was one more problem — the fax machine didn’t have paper large enough.

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