A young Australian actress with wild red curls and porcelain skin wore a simple but short black velvet gown when she walked the Oscar carpet in 1991 on husband Tom Cruise's arm.
Three years later, Nicole Kidman was back. But she knew enough in 1994 to don a more appropriate long black Valentino gown, again clinging close to Cruise, her costar in their coolly received 1992 film, "Far and Away." But Kidman was carving out her own career with roles in "To Die For," "Batman Forever," "The Portrait of a Lady" and "The Peacemaker" with George Clooney. By 1996 she was ready to make a strong fashion statement with a lavender empire-waisted Prada gown.
Her unusual choice thrilled the fashion industry trend watchers and made her one to watch. But the dress had detractors who thought the shapeless chiffon shift would have been better left in the boudoir.
Many Oscar fashion historians say Kidman's true Style Icon status was secured in 1997 when she bravely wore a unique chartreuse-hued (dubbed absinthe in fashionese) Asian-inspired embroidered Dior couture gown by a young British designer named John Galliano. Kidman had selected the design and color after a special show Galliano held in Paris, a short flight from the London location of the controversial "Eyes Wide Shut," starring Kidman and Cruise as a troubled couple.
Stylist L'Wren Scott, who was working with the film's costume designer, Marit Allen, hooked Kidman up with Indian gold earrings from Martin Katz and a pair of 3-inch Manolo Blahnik pumps, purposely picked so the 5-foot-10-inch tall actress would not tower (too much) over Cruise. The effect of her chartreuse gown is credited with energizing the then-stuffy notion of couture, now a staple of the awards season for all young actresses. And Kidman's choice also gave Galliano, the enfant terrible of the fashion world, instant Hollywood credibility. (Her main critic that year was Joan Rivers, who snarked on-air, "What an ugly dress!")
Starting in 2000, Kidman picked diverse roles: a doomed dancer in "Moulin Rouge," a ghostly mother in "The Others," and author Virginia Woolf in "The Hours." Her marriage officially dissolved in 2001. But her fashion choices were unfaltering. At the 2000 Oscars, she again wore Dior, a slinky gold lame gown. But she chose a feminine pink Chanel gown designed by Karl Lagerfeld in 2002, the year she was nominated for "Moulin Rouge," and followed with an edgy black gown by French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier in 2003 to pick up her "Hours" Oscar.
That was also the year it was announced that she'd been selected to be the (highly paid) face of Chanel's top fragrance, No. 5. Not surprisingly, she was back at the Oscars in Chanel in 2004. The gown was a powder blue beaded creation that took a reported 400 hours to make. Finishing the look: a Bulgari diamond necklace and a Chanel clutch that expressed her self-confidence. The initials were changed from CC to NK.
Kidman continues to play the fashion field. But she has favored Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquiere for her last two Oscar strolls: a white strapless gown in 2006 and this year's red halter gown, accented with a controversial bow on one shoulder. No surprise she also wore a Balenciaga gown to her wedding to singer Keith Urban.
If the buzz for her role in writer-director Noah Baumbach's "Margot at the Wedding" builds into an Academy Award nomination, who might she wear to the ceremony? It's not an easy one to call, but whatever she chooses, you can bank on her looking fabulous.
Elizabeth Snead writes the Dish Rag blog at TheEnvelope.com.