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Looks That Said It All

On the pre-Oscar runway comes a style retrospective that shows just how the red carpet is redefined.

January 31, 2007|Elizabeth Snead | Special to The Times

THE ratings may go up and down; actors may win or lose. But no matter what happens, the Academy Awards are always the most anticipated, globally watched and talked-about fashion show in the world.

This year, the emphasis on fashion is stronger than ever, thanks to the academy's retrospective fashion show -- "A Celebration of Oscar Fashion," held on Tuesday in the academy's Grand Lobby in Beverly Hills.

Beyond a filmed retrospective, the event was to include a runway show with models in Oscar gowns worn by Elizabeth Taylor, Carol Channing, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Kim Basinger, Diane Keaton, Anjelica Huston, Barbra Streisand, Sharon Stone and Hilary Swank (the event was scheduled to take place after The Envelope went to press).

"The Oscars is first a celebration of movies, but secondly of fashion," says Laura Ziskin, the Oscar producer behind the event. "The water cooler talk is always about who won followed by who looked great and who didn't."

Historically, the academy has always produced a fashion show that tried to forecast the styles nominees would wear. Trouble was no actress in her right mind would have worn any of those styles. It's key to be a trendsetter, not a follower, when it comes to picking an Oscar gown.

"The old fashion show always got great coverage but it just never made much sense to me," Ziskin says. "We thought it would be more fun to put on a runway show with many of the spectacular dresses worn to the Oscars through the years."

That meant getting hold of about 30 or 40 gowns worn by actresses at the Oscars, powerful dresses that set trends, went into fashion history books and are still fondly remembered -- not as easy as it sounded.

"Many of these gowns had been sold at auction and so we really had to put the word out to get our hands on them." To that end, Ziskin enlisted Andre Leon Talley, Vogue editor at large, as curator.

Ziskin hopes the retrospective will spur women to be more adventurous in Oscar dressing. "I want people to have fun and express their personality with their clothing, not just take stylists' advice on how to look appropriate." Her advice: Think eye candy. "Don't be nervous.... It's wish fulfillment and aspirational."

"This could be the beginning of a really big thing," said Talley.

Elizabeth Snead writes the daily Styles & Scenes blog at

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