Review

The Fashions

Celebs scrambled to find the appropriate balance of glamour and gravity

How do you stay fabulous in the midst of a national crisis? That was the question furrowing the Botoxed brows of the fashion set in the days leading up to the Academy Awards. Traditionally a frenzy of couture fittings, self-indulgent spa treatments, and shameless fawning from designers whose livelihoods can rise and fall with a red carpet cameo, the week before Oscar left stylists and stars wondering how to strike the right tone in a time of war.

The answer was what we saw on Oscar night: elegant, monochromatic gowns and understated jewels. ''There was an added consciousness to the process, which wasn't a bad thing,'' says Kristofer Buckle, who prettified Jennifers Connelly and Garner. ''There weren't boobs and nipples everywhere...it was just everyone celebrating their beauty.''

In the days leading up to the show, it seemed like fashion would revert back to basic black. Shoe designers such as Stuart Weitzman -- who decided to pull his perhaps-too-flashy $1.2 million ruby sandals, slated to be worn by a Chicago cast member -- were flooded with last-minute orders for dark stilettos to match the more somber backup ensembles stylists were scrambling to prepare. And while it's not uncommon for divas to dawdle until the last minute (Jennifer Lopez and Salma Hayek didn't choose their gowns until Oscar morning), this year indecision reached fever pitch, as fashion advisers tried to create what was appropriate. ''It was a little weird to get this gorgeous diamond Chris Aire watch with five time zones when there are people dying,'' says Halle Berry's stylist, Phillip Bloch.

The normally buzzy halls of luxury hotels Le Meridien and L'Ermitage in Beverly Hills (which featured suites from the likes of Ferragamo and jeweler Christian Tse) were downright subdued, with more TVs tuned in to CNN than E!. The Estee Lauder Oscar Spa at the Four Seasons, exclusively for presenters and nominees, had a rash of bookings midweek -- but celebs were seeking stress relief, not body scrubs. And the rumors flew: Nicole Kidman won't be attending! The Governors Ball is canceled! The Oscars will be postponed! And perhaps most disturbing of all...nominee Julianne Moore will be wearing a black pantsuit!

But once the Academy announced that the show would indeed go on, the beautiful people quickly resumed lining up for free stuff. Marcia Gay Harden and Angela Bassett were among those who descended on Chateau Marmont, which offered a teeth-whitening booth, self-tanning stations, massage rooms, and Vidal Sassoon's suite, while Frederic Fekkai's Rodeo Drive salon also did big Oscar-weekend business. Some believed celebs were just fulfilling their patriotic duty. ''It's their job to provide distraction,'' notes brow guru Anastasia (clients include Renee Zellweger and Kathy Bates). ''We need to support our country, and that's the way to do it...if you're a soldier you go to war, if you're an entertainer you entertain'' (especially with really nice eyebrows). And much to the relief of designers, actresses didn't show up in palazzo pants and flats. ''High heels survive everything,'' sighs Weitzman. ''Even attacks on Saddam Hussein.''

THE BEST

Nicole Kidman

IN THE NAVY Jean Paul Gaultier WHY IT WORKED Falling strap aside (maybe J. Lo should have lent her some double-sided tape on the way to the award podium) Kidman's stunning midnight blue silk jersey gown proved that dark needn't be boring. FUN FACT Kidman's Art Deco diamond-and-onyx earrings were designed (by Fred Leighton) to look like hanging flower baskets.

Halle Berry

GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY Elie Saab WHY IT WORKED With a body like Berry's it's hard to make mistakes, but the curve-hugging, gold-toned gown struck exactly the right balance of celebration and respect. FUN FACT Berry's stylist had to fill in beading on some of the dress' ''more naked places'' in order to make the fashion-forward frock more modest for the red carpet.

Diane Lane

BIT OF THE BUBBLY Oscar de la Renta WHY IT WORKED It's tough to carry off ostrich feathers and sequins, but Lane did it beautifully in this dreamy champagne confection. ''I saw the picture and I wanted it,'' she says. FUN FACT The dress was created by de la Renta especially for the star by combining two dresses from the designer's collection -- the top of one and the bottom of another.

Catherine Zeta-Jones

HOT CHOCOLATE Versace WHY IT WORKED In this draped brown-and-black chiffon frock Zeta-Jones exuded mom-to-be prettiness, and managed to avoid last year's Uma Thurman mammary mishap. FUN FACT No spa treatments for the hardworking actress -- she bunked at the unglam Renaissance Hotel and spent Oscar morning rehearsing for her Best Original Song performance.

THE WORST

Hilary Swank

PEPTO TALK Christian Dior WHY IT FLOPPED It's a little too soon after Lara Flynn Boyle's Golden Globe tutu disaster to wear frothy pink ballet-wear with dignity. FUN FACT John Galliano custom-designed the bileval dress for Swank and presented it to the actress the Wednesday before the Oscars in Charlotte, N.C., where she was performing on stage in The Miracle Worker.

J. Lo

GREEN GOBLIN Vintage Valentino WHY IT FLOPPED Lopez and fashion are usually a perfect fit, but this pistachio-colored Golden Girls-meets-Gladiator muumuu made it seem like Jenny was wearing the block. FUN FACT Perhaps to balance out the 6.1-carat pink diamond ring from Ben Affleck she sports on her left hand, Lopez wore a 13-carat Fred Leighton diamond ring on her right.

SPLIT DECISION

Julianne Moore

FLOUNCING IT Tom Ford for YSL Rive Gauche WHY IT WORKED With her fiery red hair and creamy complexion, Moore is probably the only one who could pull off this shade without looking like a refugee from St. Patty's Day. WHY IT DIDN'T The ruffles overwhelmed the actress' tiny frame. FUN FACT Moore's chandelier earrings weighed in at almost 27 carats and featured 346 emeralds.

Renee Zellweger

STUDY IN SCARLET Carolina Herrera WHY IT WORKED Head on, Zellweger's showstopping gown was everything an Oscar dress should be: dramatic, flattering, and va-va-voom red. WHY IT DIDN'T The side view revealed straps reminiscent of a figure skater's leotard. And her hair lacked Hart. FUN FACT Zellweger was jamming to the Strokes and Coldplay while primping at her home.

Originally posted Apr 04, 2003 Published in issue #703 Apr 04, 2003 Order article reprints
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