This is not where I expected to jump back in; but then what could be more Los Angeles and more luxe than the Oscarfest red carpets? I mean all of them – from the luncheons and pre-Oscar receptions and ancillary events to the show itself, and finally to all the viewing/after-parties from the Elton John AIDS Foundation benefit to the Governors Ball to the big Vanity Fair party at the Sunset Tower. Impossible to say what would have provided the most comprehensive cross-section among the events because there were a number of trend cross-currents running through all the events; and many of the attendees at the actual Academy Awards show – especially the nominees – changed into second (but equally stylish and frequently spectacular) dresses (their own?) for the after-parties.
A few observations. First off, the diversity and relative coolness of the color palette were apparent early on. Just a week or so ago, New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn was complaining that younger New York designers’ collections were awash in gray; and I have to say the same might have been said about the red carpet wardrobe this Oscar season in L.A. But not all grays are created equal; and the range here was remarkably varied and lively – from wintry, leaden-sky shades, to pale dove grays eliding into slate and still deeper; from silvery, shimmery matte and shiny beading to gunmetal or pewter tones; from charcoal to still darker gradients shot through with hints of midnight and sapphire blues, jewel-violets and crystals or rhinestones like something woven out of a cosmic nebula. ‘Fifty shades of gray,’ indeed, and all aglow.
Ahh, we sigh smugly – there’s the difference between L.A. anything-but-black-tie gala style and New York’s black-and-white (with an emphasis on black) heavy evening palette. But hey – the Academy Awards may kick off in broad (even blinding) daylight, but it gets dark here, too. As anyone in the art world can tell you, people wear plenty of black here; and the entertainment world wears it, too – even at the risk of a less-than-thrilled television crew. There were a number of blacks and whites, but more frequently it was black-and-white, or some black (or white) offset by a white detail – a strap or section of bodice or a panel that extended into a train. (That said, there were a number of white or nearly all-white dresses that might easily have come straight from a debutante ball. E.g., Natalie Portman’s, with its single bowed black strap; or Charlize Theron’s structured column – both by Dior.)
The surprise was the variety of colors, barely-there pastels and relatively unusual colors in deep hues (e.g., Jennifer Garner in a delicious plum-coloured Gucci; or, at the Vanity Fair party, Miranda Kerr, in a gorgeously draped deep emerald-green chiffon with equally deep neckline – even (doubtless) under the sway of L.A.’s stylist hierarchy, there was a current of adventurousness that ran through some of the choices.
And finally there was First Lady Michelle Obama to trump everyone, putting her imprimatur on the silvery-gray beaded/sequinned Deco/Streamline style with her Naeem Khan dress. (You almost have to wonder if she's become the Administration's unofficial National Style Advisor. Hard to measure the scope of her influence – but there’s an undeniable authority to her style. Perhaps her only conceivable competition this Oscarfest was Gucci's Frida Giannini.)
There were at least two other notable Naeem Khan dresses on view between the Awards red carpet and the various parties, but the only one I can think of offhand is Stacy Keibler’s – also in a silvery, Deco, gunmetal gray. Khan, who has a remarkably diverse fashion heritage, has shown for some years during New York Fashion Week, but has yet to achieve the prominence that usually follows with this kind of exposure, although his (very expensive) line is carried in a number of specialty stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman-Marcus. I suspect that may change.
Before I single out some of the highlights, one other thing I took note of – another L.A. hallmark: the hair – long, short, upswept or combed out and cascading – was always perfect. Also here’s another – something a lot of people wouldn’t associate with ‘more-is-more’ L.A.: the accessories were also perfect – striking yet subtle details; spectacular, yet restrained. Even that Chopard diamond sautoir Jennifer Lawrence sported was delicately draped around her neck and down her back, evoking a style that goes back to the 1920s and expatriate heiresses in France. I’m usually the first to decry the influence of L.A.’s star stylists, but I have to say it looks like they’ve taken an industry stand to crack down on the excess with elegant results.
In this long style parade, I have to say the winners were also the style winners. Both best actress Lawrence in a bare-shouldered off-white gown eliding to the softest pink – really the color should be called blush – with a full, undulating skirt in that evoked Charles James by Dior Haute Couture, and best supporting actress Anne Hathaway in a structured column gown in the palest pink duchesse satin by Prada – the purity of the neckline undisturbed by her diamond parure which she draped down her back, offsetting the criss-crossed satin ribbons across her back. I’ve heard some criticism of the dress as being too, uh, ‘revealing.’ Oh puh-leeeze. Hathaway’s total look was flawless.
A few other flawless or nearly flawless looks: Kristin Chenoweth (at the VF party) in a black velvet bare shouldered column gown with white duchesse satin train. (Hey if you’re reading this, Kristin – need the 4-1-1 on that dress.) Marisa Tomei looked like a goddess in a dress that was like a jewel – a crystal studded, second-skin sheer gown. (Ditto.) Speaking of the goddess effect, Jessica Chastain evoked a Hollywood glamour of yore in a bare-shouldered gown by Armani Privé of sheer sequined mesh skimming over a copper-tone satin that harmonized perfectly with her skin and hair, worn with diamond clips. Breath-taking. Falling in behind the National Style directive, so to speak – Naomi Watts wore an Armani gown that looked as if it had been poured over her – a cap-sleeved, cut-out bodice flowing into a skirt in all over streaming, shimmering silvery-grey sequins. Halle Berry looked like an exquisite Archipenko statuette in a long-sleeved Versace gown in sheer black and silver-beaded gown, the plunging neckline complemented by a back that opened out toward the waist. Zoe Saldana was ethereal in a long white bare-shouldered gown by Alexis Mabille, with a luxuriantly floral/foliate embellished bodice, accented by a silver belt, descending into a subtly draped and divided skirt hem and train of silvery, slate gray and finally a defining black edge. I’m running out of room, but there were so many more: Rashida Jones looked like she’d torn her dress from a piece of the Milky Way galaxy. Jane Fonda put another spin on classic Hollywood glamour (the Columbia Pictures icon!) with her Deco-style symmetrically draped Versace in brilliant canary-yellow. Okay, Jennifer Aniston looked perfect as usual in her red Valentino…. zzzzzzzz … well it was past my bedtime, ya know.
Now having toasted this fresh note of restrained Angeleno elegance, let me tell you what I missed. The EXCESS! Oh just a bit – please…. I mean, what are the Oscars – or any award show like this – for?? If that isn’t a measure of star power, I don’t know what is – because it takes a real star to pull it off. Frankly, I think artist-stars like, say, Bjork could, too, with a bit of tweaking. But the paragon of this style has always been Cher. She has no equal – and for that matter, neither do Bob Mackie and Ray Aghayan, who designed so many of those spectacular outfits for her television and red carpet wardrobe. Where have you gone, Cher? – a style nation turns its lonely, austerity- and deficit-hawk blackened eyes to you.