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Calendar Goes to the OSCARS : Fashion : Somber, Simple, Sincere

March 22, 1994|DEBRA GENDEL and GAILE ROBINSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Normally I don't do trains," said a preening, velvet-swathed Whoopi Goldberg. "But honey, it's the Oscars."

Despite the tiny tattoo peeking out over the top of her sweetheart neckline, Goldberg--the first woman to host the Academy Awards--set a tone of quiet good taste Monday night.

Boring .

No beaded cornrows, no rhinestone-studded sunglasses, no excess flesh.

Even glamour puss Geena Davis was understated in her Ruth Meyers slip dress, minimal makeup and stringy Saturday morning hair.

Thank God for Ellen Barkin. She looked babe-o-licious, shrink-wrapped in Gianni Versace's gold mesh gown. And for Madeleine Stowe, who shared her charms in a clingy Calvin Klein.

Hot from Lillehammer, Norway, skating dress designer Vera Wang gets credit for styling two actresses and a spokes-skater, all of whom looked better, frankly, from the rear. Holly Hunter and Nancy Kerrigan wore similar velvet, midriff-baring gowns by the designer, while Marisa Tomei was light and bright and backless.

Velvet was the somber choice of many, leaving good old Shirley MacLaine to look like the perfect Hollywood anachronism--head to toe in festive blue sequins. Nicole Kidman wore a velvet column gown with beaded bodice (Valentino) and Rosie Perez a black velvet tank (Giorgio Armani).

Hair was either tortured into waves (Sharon Stone, Joan Chen) or sausage curls (Angela Bassett, Rosie Perez), poked into beauty-school up-'dos (Laura Dern) or a complete afterthought (Geena Davis, Holly Hunter, Stockard Channing). But it was a lack of hair that prompted the most audience whispers: "I came disguised as me," Tommy Lee Jones told a tactless television reporter, who asked the actor to explain his balding pate.

Midway through the show, Goldberg changed into an Armani tuxedo dandified with fluffy bow and lacy blouse. "C'mon, you didn't think I was going to spend all night in that dress, did you?"

She wasn't the only one who tried to improve on the basic black tie. Christian Slater, Liam Neeson and Pete Postlethwaite sported black shirts beneath their black jackets. But going tieless was, by far, the easiest counterculture touch. The look, which started in force at the Grammy Awards earlier this month, has broken into the movie crowd, with actors Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas, Jeff Bridges, Johnny Depp and Gabriel Byrne trading bow ties for banded collars.

The once-ubiquitous AIDS ribbon seems to be out of favor as well. AIDS activist group ACT UP had issued an open letter to the entertainment industry last week calling on Oscar-goers to send the trademark red ribbon to President Clinton with a message of concern.

In a year of few Oscar surprises, the biggest surprise may have been Winona Ryder's ability to resist publicity-minded designers and show up in a stunning vintage slip dress.

Gaile Robinson is a Times staff writer.

* COMING WEDNESDAY

The Oscar ceremony is over, and it's party time. Among the fetes were the Governor's Ball and the Elton John AIDS Foundation benefit. All the details--in View.

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