Saturday, February 25, 2017

Oscar Fashion: The Best of All Time

No, you didn't miss it. The 2017 Oscar Awards Ceremony isn't until tomorrow, but in anticipation, I thought I'd post some of the most beautiful red carpet fashions ever worn to an Oscar ceremony. Here are some of my personal favorite Oscar looks of all time, in order by year. The bar has been set!

Audrey Hepburn, 1954
What better way to start this list than with one of the first fashion icons of the 20th century? And not only that, but a fashion icon who happened to have won the Best Leading Actress Oscar for Roman Holiday that year. This sleeveless white-on-white floral gown with its bateau neckline, narrow belt, and full skirt was designed for Hepburn by Givenchy and accentuated the actress's long, graceful neck and tiny waist. Hepburn had met the designer the previous year while filming Sabrina, and he became a personal friend as well as going on to design costumes for her in seven movies and many off-screen appearances. 

Grace Kelly, 1955
Perhaps one of the most recognizable Oscar gowns from the early years of the ceremony, Kelly's mint green satin with double spaghetti straps, fitted bodice, and gracefully draped skirt, paired with elbow-length white gloves was the epitome of Hollywood glamour. Edith Head commented about designing the gown for Kelly, "Some people need sequins, others don't." Kelly had actually worn the gown once before, to the New York premiere of The Country Girl, the movie for which she won the Best Leading Actress. She appeared on the cover of Life magazine wearing the gown two weeks later.

Doris Day, 1961
Day nearly always played sweet, girl-next-door types, and her two-piece, silver beaded column, paired with short white gloves, a small diamond bracelet, and topped by her signature pompadour, fits with that image. Many red carpet gowns during the 1960s were either hugely flared satin ballgowns with sharply pointed bustlines, or drab and prim jersey columns. Day's gown here is glamorous and flattering without being overbearing - much like the actress herself. The gown was designed by Irene, who had retired from costume design in 1950 to open her own fashion house, but had been convinced by Day to design costumes for Midnight Lace. Day's performance was not nominated, but Irene received a nomination for Best Costume Design for the film.

Elizabeth Taylor, 1970
Taylor wore many memorable red carpet gowns through the years, but this violet-blue satin creation by Edith Head may be the most memorable for showing off her, erm, assets. The A-line ballgown with broad v-neck and wrap belt showed off her impossibly tiny waist and generous bust, with a soft ruffle running diagonally across the skirt from waist to hem adding a feminine touch. Her trademark diamonds were here represented in a pair of small chandelier earrings and a y-shaped necklace with a large diamond pendant.

Nicole Kidman, 1997
Kidman was no newcomer to the Oscars in 1997, but she certainly made her sartorial mark when she appeared in this stunning chartreuse column with silver embroidery on the bodice and mink trim along the slit and hem, designed by John Galliano for Christian Dior. Her tall, slender, modelesque figure set off the simplicity of the gown and the unusual color set off her beautiful pale skin and blonde locks. This gown is one of the red-carpet gowns which first inspired the creation of designer knockoffs, as Alan B. Schwartz designed an acetate and rayon version (sans mink) in both chartreuse and burgundy, which was sold at Macy's for $250, along with knockoffs of Courtney Love's and Susan Sarandon's Oscar gowns from that year.

Julia Roberts, 2001
Yet another actress on this list to have added an Oscar statuette as an accessory, Roberts accepted her Best Leading Actress Oscar for Erin Brockovich in this vintage (1992) Valentino black-and-white velvet column with tulle train. Valentino himself called watching Roberts accept the Oscar wearing his design as the high point of his career. Like Kidman's 1997 Oscar gown, this gown inspired many copied versions, many of which appeared at high school proms over the next few years.

Halle Berry, 2002
Berry's gown is tame compared to many of the red carpet gowns we see 15+ years later, but at the time, the see-through bodice, with strategically-placed hand-painted flowers, was incredibly daring. The full burgundy satin train flared out from a narrow column skirt with an angled waist, highlighting Berry's slender curves. This is the first Oscar red carpet gown I ever remember noticing, and to me, it is the epitome of iconic: unusual, daring styling; gorgeous fabric and lines; and perfectly suited to the woman wearing it. Much more memorable than the gown, however, was Berry's being the first (and only, thus far) black woman to win a Best Leading Actress Oscar, for her role in Monster's Ball.

Hillary Swank, 2005
From the front, Swank's cobalt-blue gown featured beautiful criss-cross wrapping at the waist and a flared mermaid skirt with a small train. But it was the plunging back that put Guy Laroche's design on the red carpet map. The simple clinging lines of the gown accentuated Swank's decidedly feminine figure, providing an interesting contrast with her tough role in the movie for which she won the Best Leading Actress Oscar that year, Million Dollar Baby. Swank had been in discussions for several weeks with designer Francisco Costa of Calvin Klein (whose underwear she was advertising at the time) to dress her for the red carpet, but decided at the last minute to go with a completely different dress. She had made a similar last-minute switch in 2000, changing from a Christian Dior to a Randolph Duke design. She won the Oscar both times, so apparently it was the right call.

Helen Mirren, 2007
Mirren has always dressed well on the red carpet, but she really sets the bar for mature actresses on how to dress, and the Christian Lacroix gown she wore to the 2007 Oscars is a prime example. The bodice was made of beaded white lace, as was the crushed, fitted sash and the underskirt; the skirt itself was a slightly fuller overlay of white chiffon with metallic gold flowers. The gown clung to her curves and was sexy without being revealing. How very appropriate that the Queen of the Red Carpet won the Best Leading Actress Oscar for The Queen in this gown.

Nicole Kidman, 2007
Yes, Kidman makes this list twice, this time in a Balenciaga gown: a simple red column with halter neckline accented with a large fabric half-bow (the tail of which draped dramatically to the floor), and a short side-train, accessorized by diamond cuff bracelets, a small clutch bag, scarlet lips to match the gown, and long, straight hair. She didn't have any nominations that year, but she made a lot of both Best- and Worst-Dressed lists, so the publicity was worthwhile.

Anne Hathaway, 2009
Hathaway's stunning ivory column by Armani Prive had apparently appeared on the fashion runway without the jewel-encrusted band at the top of the bodice, but it was added for the red carpet. I love the diagonal bands of beading that flare at the hem into a short train, and the added band at the bodice mirrors the line of the jeweled belt beautifully. The simple lines of the gown are elegant and clean, and the tailoring is perfectly impeccable: fitted, but not tight. Hathaway's single diamond bracelet and small diamond drop earrings, along with her low chignon, are the perfect simple accessories for this gorgeous look. Her nomination as Best Actress for Rachel Getting Married did not turn into a win, but this gown certainly did.

Jennifer Lawrence, 2013
It's unfortunate that Lawrence's blush pink brocade, strapless, fitted to the hip ballgown is not remembered as much for its stunning design as it is for her fall up the stairs on her way to collect her Best Leading Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. You would think that the perfectly-fitted gown had been tailored multiple times, but the truth is that she tried it on that morning and it fit, so she wore it. Lawrence was representing Dior at the time, so she chose her gown from a number of options in the Christian Dior Couture collection by Raf Simons. Don't you wish you could just grab something from the closet and look like this?

Kate Hudson, 2014
Hudson's pure white, art deco-inspired gown by Atelier Versace had gorgeous criss-cross lines gathering in to the waist, a deeply plunging neckline, squared-off shoulders with a shawl-style capelet that fell just below the waist in back, and a flare from just above the knee that fell into a mid-length train. A hint of silvery beading added sparkle and emphasized the interesting geometric lines of the gown, and Hudson's simple wavy hair and smoky eyes were just enough detail to keep attention on her face. The gown was gorgeous from every direction, and moved beautifully. It was old-style Hollywood glamour with modern details, beautifully done.

Sandra Bullock, 2014
Bullock was nominated for her role in Gravity, and she defied a little of it in this stunning midnight blue satin gown by Alexander McQueen. The base was a strapless column with a sweetheart neckline, but the beauty of the gown was how the fabric draped from the top of one side of the bodice and the waist on the other side, crossing at the hip, then flaring at the front and cascading into a train at the side. The lines were graceful and elegant, and Bullock's long curls and simple diamond jewelry were all the accessories she needed. Not even the Oscar statuette could have improved this lovely gown.

By the way, just in case you noticed that the 1980s are not represented in this list, let you remind me that Marlee Matlin's win in 1986 represented the best of 1980s Oscar red carpet fashion...and Jessica Lange and Meryl Streep in 1983 did not represent the worst...

Let's see if the stars can do better than the 1980s this year - here's to another 2002, sartorially speaking!

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