Even with a few slips here and there, this was a drop-dead Academy Award performance.
No wonder. Never had so many designers pursued so many celebrities and stirred up so much press coverage and speculation. It was a fiercely fought competition in which actors and actresses made last-minute switcheroos.
Susan Sarandon, reportedly irritated over a pre-Oscar leak that she would be dressed by Han Feng, chose a long, black slip dress by Richard Tyler instead.
Helen Mirren had joked with friends that so many designers were in pursuit, she would go for one who wasn't: "Jacques Penney."
But she wasn't that adventurous, opting instead for Giorgio Armani. Valentino lost Sharon Stone to Vera Wang. It was a definite setback, met politely by a Valentino representative, who would say only: "As long as she's happy."
Stone was a knockout in her short, curly red hair and the Wang platinum satin ball gown that she wore pre-ceremony with a short riding jacket. Not so, Holly Hunter, who looked like a leftover from last year in a white Wang.
The snug look didn't work for everyone. Jennifer Tilly raved about her Isaac Mizrahi ink-blue sequined gown, which the designer's spokesman described as "flowing down into a pool of iridescent navy at her feet." Said Tilly: "I just love this Barbie doll dress. I love this train." But Jennifer's not Barbie.
Shawls, as worn by Andie MacDowell, for one, seemed a better choice than trains. Uma Thurman's was part of a Prada couture ensemble, matchy-matchy down to the shoes and handbag, that was still under construction late last week.
Traditional black looked beautifully austere on a number of actresses, including Ellen Barkin in a short chiffon Chanel and Sarah Jessica Parker in a Calvin Klein column. But browns were equally dramatic on Rene Russo, in an Armani empire-waisted slip dress, and Oprah Winfrey, in a Gianfranco Ferre silk and tulle gown.
The brights were better left to super-models, with Claudia Schiffer in a lavender Versace gown, and Vendela in skin-tight fuchsia by Isaac Mizrahi.
The women were impossible to upstage. But John Travolta, in a leather-collared tuxedo with a rakish tie and striped vest, and Gabriel Byrne, in a striped vest and no tie, managed to look a tad better than the average Oscar man.
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