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SCREEN STYLE : Who will win the competition for the best-costume Oscar? And, a tribute to costume design. E6 : On Oscar Night, the Real Winners Are Those With a Sense of Style

March 26, 1993|ANN CONWAY and PATRICK MOTT

W ho cares about those naked gold statuettes? Give us flesh and blood dressed to the nines on Oscar Night. Come Monday, we'll be glued to our television sets, watching the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, Miranda Richardson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary McDonnell, Mercedes Ruehl--Academy Award nominees all--sweep by the whirring TV cameras in what they hope will be "winner-wear."

Meanwhile, we've cast our votes for some old looks we loved, some we loved to hate , and some we think will be on display this year. The envelopes please ...

SHE: It's a snap to rattle off the distasteful get-ups. Unfortunately, they always seem to be the most memorable. For starters: Cher, time and again, in see-through Bob Mackies; Demi Moore in spandex surfer shorts (with a flowing train, yet); Jean Kasem stem-to-stern in a waterfall of shock-lavender satin; Edy Williams in a leopard bikini with matching coat. When will they learn?

HE: They won't. Remember, this is Hollywood. More than that, it's the single most visible night of the year for anyone working in Hollywood, and the idea is not to be tasteful, or even glamorous. It is, above all, to be both seen and--the most important--remembered. Hollywood types on Oscar night subscribe to the same ethic as the moronic crew who invented the Ty-D-Bol man: It doesn't matter how revolted the audience is, as long as they remember.

Today, a Hollywood fashion statement is something so weird and wispy that the audience can see all your tattoos through the fabric. Whatever happened to a sense of true elegance?

SHE: Oh, it's still around. Pfeiffer, Deneuve and Sarandon have it. You won't see them using their bodies for publicity stunts. Ditto Anjelica Huston. Jodie Foster is another svelte dresser. "Basic Instinct's" Sharon Stone looked sleek 'n' chic last year in her sweetheart-neckline Vera Wang. But I'm afraid the days of all-out head-to-toe, dressed-to-kill star dressing are over, gone with the wind.

HE: Part of that, I think, has to do with the death many years ago of the studios' star system. It was an accepted tenet of every contract that the studios--MGM, Warner Bros., Paramount--would take stars into their stables and shepherd their careers, all the way down to what they wore every day. That's why you never saw any male star ever show up to a highly public event with one hair out of place, or any female star wearing anything that would make her appear contrary to her carefully cultivated image.

Take David Niven, my hero. A product of the star system, the guy was still pure class. Who can forget the night he showed up at the 1974 Oscars as a presenter, immaculate in black tie, and a streaker bolted across the stage? There it was, Hollywood in a nutshell: the perfectly dressed veteran and the sort of daffy person who insisted, as Niven put it at the moment, "on showing off his shortcomings."

SHE: Another reason is that dress designers have begun to market the Academy Award nominees. Giorgio Armani and Valentino, for example, pursue female stars with a passion, offering them designer duds to wear at the affair. The stars end up looking like a million, and the designers end up with a million dollars in publicity.

This year, according to Women's Wear Daily, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and Mercedes Ruehl will be in gowns by Valentino. Deneuve will wear Yves St. Laurent. And, mostly likely, we'll see Pfeiffer, Foster and Huston in Armani again.

HE: That ain't all bad. The Academy Awards have always been in the nearly unique position of showing the world, via television, how to dress properly and, of course, how not to. The stars who do it right, like the ones you mention, are able to spend a lot of time with those designers, working out what looks spectacular on them.

When they finally show up on TV in front of zillions of viewers who may lack that level of refined fashion sense, they're fulfilling the same sort of role as a model in a designer's magazine ad. They're showing what the really good stuff can look like, properly fitted and worn.

SHE: But I don't like the idea of designers advertising on the backs of Academy Award nominees. It reeks of opportunism. The whole concept is like the product advertising going on in movies. During a cozy family scene, for example, a camera cuts to the Smoothie peanut butter on the kitchen table because Smoothie has spent a bundle to put it there. It distracts, misrepresents the truth.

Give me movie stars in gowns they have chosen and paid for . I'm interested in their individuality.

HE: Are you really willing to turn them loose, unchaperoned and with a pickup truck full of money, on Rodeo Drive? The Oscars will start to look like a Flintstones/Jetsons family reunion. Which actually might not be so bad. Think of what Billy Crystal could do with all that . . ..

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