Byline: Merle Ginsberg

Watching all the queens of the screen parading in their finery on the red carpet is like watching the pomp and vanity of a coronation. But by then, the all-important image-makers have been slaving for weeks inside the carpeted halls and track-lighted meeting rooms of hotels all over town.
In the last few weeks, every woman going to the Oscars, involved with the Oscars, covering the Oscars or even invited to parties themed by the Oscars, was swept up in the frenzy of marketing and sheer abundance of beautification and luxury, made available at suites commandeered mostly by New York and London companies.
These makeshift field headquarters started to crop up a whole month before the Oscars. The spectacle grew more intense by the day; at one point on the Friday before Oscar, feverish camera crews were salivating at the possibility of catching Uma Thurman’s bikini wax at the Estee Lauder Spa at the Four Seasons. One right turn and they might have gotten the shot.
The suites even turned into mini-Oscar commissaries, where tea and champagne flowed as furiously as the fashion gossip. Here, a sampling of one reporter’s journey into the belly of Oscar’s beast as the hours counted down to Red Carpet Time.

New York designer Heidi Weisel takes a suite at the Mondrian Hotel, stocked to the brim with her famous luxe cashmere evening sweaters, chiffon skirts and gowns from both spring and fall 2000, and little mink evening bags the designer, decked out in her own “kitten couture,” calls “schminks.”
“The last time we took an L.A. suite,” muses Weisel, “was a few years ago, and we wound up dressing maybe more nominees than Armani.” Stylists, actresses and singers wander through, laden as they are with the TV Guide Awards, SAG Awards, Soul Train Awards, IFP Awards and various talk-show appearances to dress up for.
Weisel points to a black cashmere strapless gown with leather trim. “We would love this on Julianne Moore,” she says. “She and Salma Hayek are our favorites. But who knows? It’s hard for these girls to stay loyal to a designer the way Hepburn was to Givenchy. Coming out for the Oscars for us is like an athlete going out for the Olympics. But it always winds up being worth it.”
As you exit the suite, you’re handed a little gift bag with shampoos and perfume, like a favor at a party.
John Anthony, a well-known eveningwear designer from the Seventies (he sometimes dressed Jackie O) and now a private couturier to wealthy ladies, has a suite at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, where reps are presenting one-of-a-kind, extremely elaborate gowns — purple charmeuse, lemon-lime chiffon and taffeta — for the woman who wants a lot more structure and fabric.
Escada takes a suite at the Peninsula and hosts a brunch on a Monday morning for press and the ubiquitous stylists — and even a few stars. Even though Oscar night is three weeks away, Jane Seymour and Joan Van Ark rush in breathlessly to try on gowns. (Escada brought forty — is it enough?). Is it a coincidence that Entertainment Tonight is here shooting?
The TV crews tape away as Seymour tries on various elaborate gowns, and stylists peruse the Escada sunglasses and bags dusted with Swarovski crystal. Everyone munches on “fruit sushi.” A PR rep lets slip that “American Beauty” actress Mena Suvari will be coming by to pick out her SAG and Oscar gowns, and it’s likely Seymour and Angela Bassett will be wearing Escada to Oscar parties.
Seems Hollywood is treating Oscar night like New Year’s Eve: Even the women who are dressing for parties only are going for gowns and jewels. And why not, if the clothes are this available?

Paula Abdul cruises through the suite of New York designer Douglas Hannant at the Mondrian, ducking in the next room to try on indigo leather pants and beaded evening tops. She had worn one of Hannant’s evening looks, a beaded mini, to the Grammys just a few nights before.
“This is the first time I’ve come out here and done this,” says Hannant, who has just shown his fall collection in New York and, of course, has it with him.
“We’ve never aggressively sought out celebrity clients. Now, it’s so out of hand we have to do it. Bergdorf and Neiman’s said to me, ‘Tell us who you’re dressing for the Oscars, and we’ll buy a lot of those dresses.’ You wouldn’t think women would see actresses in magazines and want the same dress they wore, but they do.
“My big question is, ‘How do you make couture modern?’ Enough of the ballgowns. I don’t want to see any more fussy evening looks.”
Later, a major stylist pops in at midnight to see some dresses. While she’s there, Jennifer Aniston phones up to see if there’s anything there she can wear to the SAG Awards.
There are stylists galore — some becoming almost as well known as the stars they dress — cruising the Valentino Boutique’s celebrity salon, equipped for the weekend with spring, fall, couture and vintage looks dating back to 1966 from the Valentino vaults. Chloe Sevigny’s just left; she was eyeing a geometric alligator print chiffon georgette from the vaults. There’s even a dress from the Fifties on a mannequin, a black and white ballgown of lace and net.
These dresses are elaborate, and the workmanship is flawless — rows of gowns with champagne beading, with matching shoes and bags all made of pailettes, a pale cucumber green panne velvet dress, a ’68 vintage number made all of chiffon and feathers. These are the gowns with the most structure, and it’s interesting to see the new ones up against the vintage ones. The structures are virtually the same, with slight variations in the shapes and styles.
The Bulgari vaults on Rodeo are flung open on a Sunday for a private visit. Cruising around town in her SUV, Angelina Jolie had not had time to get to the showings that Bulgari was having for stylists and stars the day before.
Pamela Dennis’s suite at the L’Ermitage — the Oscar hotel this season — is bursting with beaded gowns and furry tops, but Dennis herself is nowhere in sight. Mariah Carey has had a style crisis, and Dennis had to run out and tend to it. Dennis made some clothes for Carey’s current tour, and there are rumors flying around the L’Ermitage that Dennis might be dressing the regrouped Supremes for their upcoming tour.
Finally, Dennis arrives, fresh from a foot massage provided by, the Internet player that has been heavily underfoot for the whole Oscar season.
“Last year I came to L.A., I wound up dressing Whitney Houston, Brandy and Monica,” Dennis says. “So I’m going to go back to New York for a couple days with dresses needing alteration, and then coming back to L.A. It’s also good to get some clues as to what colors the big stars are wearing when we get closer to the big day. Remember how there was so much ice blue last year? That happened after everyone found out Gwyneth was wearing pink.”
Dennis is pushing gold as the color this season, and her favorite gown is a gold mesh with metallic threads and wire running through that gives it a crushed crunchy texture. “Everyone who’s come in has wanted texture,” she says. “Jennifer Tilly tried on a black turtleneck jersey with beading.”
Dennis has even brought along little crocodile backless halter tops to wear with pants. She wears one to a cocktail party she hosts a few nights later.
She’d love someone to wear it to the Oscars, but crocodile, it seems, is illegal in California. She’s wondering how the rabbit jacket will go over, too.
Actresses arrive in head-to-toe leather, but when it comes to fur, they become terrified of PETA. “The Oscars are a lot of work,” sighs Dennis. “And a lot of fun. But it’s just a lot, for one night.”

The companies Jimmy Choo and Swarovski Crystals together take a giant suite at L’Ermitage, and by pooling their efforts may be changing the rules of the competitive suites game. They host a tea that Daryl Hannah, Kim Delaney, Natasha Henstridge, Nicole Miller and Shiva Rose McDermott show up for. The guests are greeted by Tamara Mellon and Sandra Choi, co-designers of Jimmy Choo shoes, and Nadja Swarovski, who serve up an array of tea sandwiches, cookies, fruit and the most amazing shoes and bags that these female shoe and bag divas (with twenty baguettes among them) have ever seen. Jimmy Choo has created seven styles — all stiletto strappy sandals — for Oscar’s favorites, that can be hand-dyed and custom-crystalled to match the wearer’s dress. (Jacques, of Progressive Shoes on Beverly Drive, has a team of seven working round the clock up until the Oscars to dye and trim the shoes.) The bag of the season seems to be the “bracelet bag” made entirely of colored crystals, with a strap that slips around the hand to look like a bracelet. When stylist Philip Bloch rolls in, he wants to cart a box of shoes and bags off to Salma Hayek immediately. L’Wren Scott’s office sends orders over for dozens, and Allison Eastwood, Samantha Morton, Jennifer Crystal (Billy’s daughter), Marley Shelton, Famke Janssen, Gretchen Mol, Mimi Rogers, Alicia Witt and Rebecca Gayheart all drop by for their shoe fix. It would be exactly like the old-fashioned coffee klatch — but there is no coffee. There is, however, plenty of champagne.
The weekend before the Oscars, what better way to get ready than to attend one of Jennifer Klein’s girly brunches? Klein, who runs director Michael Bey’s production company (“Armageddon” and the upcoming “Pearl Harbor”) hosts monthly brunches in her home in Brentwood, where she offers her pals — female production execs and actresses like Shannon Elizabeth and Daisy Fuentes — manicures, pedicures, massages, reflexology, tarot readings and bagels, plus purses and clothes for sale.
The biggest hit are the girls from Princess Pashmina; their embroidered and sequin pink and violet numbers are flying out the door, even if the New York garmentos are saying Pashmina is over. The gossip is flying, too. If one actress is painting her toes silver, does that mean her Oscar dress is silver, too? An InStyle reporter is busy dialing her cell phone.
Part of Donna Karan’s team from New York is camped out at the Four Seasons, pinning gowns on Anjelica Houston, Winona Ryder and Erica Badu. But there’s a little anxiety in the air, since much of the team is back on Seventh Avenue and still hand-dying some badly needed specific sequin fabrics. Even over their pancake breakfast, the cell phones are ringing off the hook.

After dinner at Spago with the Harry Winston people the night before, Randolph Duke is up early in his suite at The Montrose in West Hollywood. His first fitting is with Shakira Caine, and that’s going well, but he’s waiting for a call from stylist Jessica Paster for word on when Minnie Driver will be ready for her fitting. She’s wearing a black lace strapless gown that Duke calls her “portrait gown — it’s reminiscent of John Singer Sargeant.”
Minnie’s sister Kate will also be wearing one of Duke’s designs, and in the following days, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tyra Banks, Embeth Davidtz, Elle McPherson and Kim Delaney will all drop in for their fittings, not to mention the “big” names Duke won’t mention because some stars’ made-to-order gowns arrived late and were not what they were cracked up to be.
“Dresses don’t always come in like they’re sketched,” says Duke, “That’s why I brought a lot of gowns with me. Waiting until Saturday to find a dress is wild, but it actually adds to the excitement and chaos. I’m getting used to this.”
Meanwhile, out front at the Four Seasons, all hell is breaking loose. Chloe Sevigny’s getting out of a yellow cab, while Laurence Fishburne’s pulling up in a giant Mercedes. Anthony Minghella’s car is pulled up for him. Uma Thurman’s PMK rep, Robert Garlock, is waiting for his car; he’s got to take Uma on a last-minute jewelry hunt.
Upstairs at the makeshift Estee Lauder Spa — which doesn’t actually look makeshift at all — dozens of women are partaking of all kinds of appointments. There are two of everything, parceled out in two giant suites: full makeup and hair areas, manicure stations, hot rock pedicure treatment setups and massage tables. In a facial room, Sandy, an aesthetician from the Neiman Marcus Estee Lauder Spa, is booked for twelve “mini-facials” a day.
Herve, a New Yorker who does makeup for Lauder and hair for Frederic Fekkai, is doing blow-outs and makeup and even the occasional bang-trim. “I want to see a fresh face on Oscar night,” he says. “It’s so old-fashioned to see these stars overly made up.”
The main area of the Estee Lauder Spa is so Lauder, it’s hard to believe it’s usually the Four Season’s conference room. Lauder execs laid down navy carpet, installed navy directors’ chairs and even had the outdoor terraces painted sea green, so they would be more calming and a reminiscent of the ocean and of Lauder’s summer collection of products. Elizabeth Hurley photos are up all over the place.
Chloe Sevigny comes on Friday and stays all day. She gets almost all the treatments meant for two days in one. When Star Jones arrives for her treatments, she is surprised with an impromptu birthday party — a cake and champagne.
Natasha Lyonne, Miramax execs, Uma and every New York editor who’s in town covering, will pop in over the three day period. A couple of actresses are so happy with their makeup, they rebook their Oscar appointments to have them here. Of course, huge goodie bags with products are doled out at the end.
Next door, a Lambertson Truex suite is set up, and the calls go out for any lady who needs an evening bag. After all, starting on Friday there are something like twenty parties, even before the Oscars.
Nearby, Bottega Veneta and Chopard are showing their wares. Everybody wonders what they’re giving away. With Bottega, it’s sunglasses; Chopard, unfortunately, is only lending.
Suddenly, the L’Ermitage is overrun with stylists clutching a shopping bag nobody’s yet seen during Oscar season. It turns out to be a python-style shopper filled to the hilt with Judith Leiber’s updated minaudieres.
It’s a surprise that Leiber’s sparkly jeweled clutches haven’t had a bigger impact before on the Oscar runway. This year, the styles have been updated with little metal handles, and Tyra Banks, Jane Fonda, Charlize Theron, Melissa and Joan Rivers, Anjelica Huston and even Haley Joel Osment’s mom have pulled them. You’d think the tiny dazzlers weren’t among the most expensive evening bags in the world.
The Vidal Sassoon salon is very close by to the L’Ermitage. But do Oscar attendees want to travel when they can just fall into another fun suite on the premises? Sassoon has set up shop in L’Ermitage for the weekend, and they’ve gone so far to make Suite 420 comfortable that they’ve had feng-shui master David Raney (he’s feng-shui’d the Dalai Lama), come in. He’s also working their new New York salon at 57th and Fifth. Shiva Rose McDermott is among the first clients. Dylan McDermott’s wife is not only one of L.A.’s premier fashionistas, but she has terrific waist-length black hair, and an imminent audition for the new “Hannibal” movie.
Anastasia, L.A.’s eyebrow designer to the stars, usually takes a suite at the Four Seasons on Oscar weekend, but this year, she’s holding her Oscar brow-grooming sessions in her Beverly Hills salon, so that visitors can get a peak at her new, very exclusive, makeup line.

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