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Will Hollywood dim the bling for Oscar night?

The red carpet is usually all about escape -- but this year could be different. Still, as one commentator says: 'It's a recession, not an apocalypse.'

February 19, 2009|Monica Corcoran and Melissa Magsaysay

Around this time every year, accessories designer Stuart Weitzman debuts a one-of-a-kind pair of Oscar shoes festooned with $1 million worth of precious gems. It's a stunt he started in 2002, when "Mulholland Drive" actress Laura Elena Harring pranced down the red carpet in diamond-encrusted sandals. Since then, actress Regina King and singer Alison Krauss, among others, have worn the high-profile "Cinderella" slipper, and the ploy has always garnered lots of publicity.

But this year, with the economy backfiring, Weitzman won't be playing Prince Charming. Many actresses will undoubtedly adorn themselves with plenty of carats at Sunday's Academy Awards, but no one wants to be branded an out-of-touch fairy princess.

The issue of appearance is playing out all over Hollywood this week: How do you deliver the red carpet glamour expected on Oscar night, but also show some sensitivity to the state of the economy? It's a delicate balance to strike in a town not known for its restraint.

Oscar parties such as the Vanity Fair bash and Madonna's annual soiree are being scaled back considerably, but certainly not canceled. (Expect to munch on mini hamburgers instead of foie gras, and don't be surprised to see recycled decor from parties past.)

Lavish gifting suites are on the wane and there are fewer outrageous offerings like the "diamond facial" (in which tiny diamond chips are used to exfoliate the skin). But the red carpet, a factory in itself and the most public spectacle associated with awards season, is having a harder time dialing it back. Picture a prom queen being asked to skip the limo.

"Would you really want to tune in and see a bunch of women walking down the red carpet in black pantsuits?" asked Hal Rubenstein, fashion director of InStyle magazine and an Oscar fashion commentator on "Good Morning America."

"It's a recession, not an apocalypse."

Rubenstein isn't alone in defending the necessity of glamour. Many fashion stylists, jewelers and makeup artists interviewed for this article insist that the red carpet represents escapism. They say that a toned-down parade wouldn't be nearly as transporting for viewers who tune in for the Technicolor thrill of seeing their favorite stars dressed like royalty in borrowed finery.

And it's not just about the viewers. A traipse down the Oscar red carpet in the right dress can land an actress on the cover of thousands of newspapers and countless websites worldwide. Beauty endorsement deals and brand ambassadorships also are riding on a star's style quotient -- best actress nominee Kate Winslet is a Lancome ambassador; Beyonce is a face of L'Oreal.

It's not as though those in the glamour business are in denial. "You would be beyond ignorant not to be acknowledging" the economy, said celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe, whose clients include Cameron Diaz and best actress nominee Anne Hathaway.

But, Zoe added, "there are still movies and movie stars and designers doing fashion shows. My attitude is: Let's put a smile on people's faces even if it's just for an hour."

At this point, no one knows for certain whether the Oscar red carpet will be a sea of black sheaths or a rainbow of pastel hues. Stylists typically pull a few gown options from design houses and decisions are almost always made at the eleventh hour.

Right now, there are whispers of lots of metallics, and nude and taupe tones (seen in prevalence at the Golden Globes). Winslet, who wore a pale sherbet-green Valentino gown to the 2007 Oscars, has worn mostly black on the red carpet this year. Or simple, unfussy dresses like the royal blue Narciso Rodriguez she donned for the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

And it's safe to assume that cameras won't be zooming in on anything like the dark green couture Dior by Galliano gown worn by Charlize Theron in 2006, with a bow the size of a capuchin monkey on her shoulder. Excess is out, and that includes wedding cake dresses with tiers of lace and tulle and trains that require an extra set of hands.

When it comes to jewelry, the aesthetic sentiments are similar. "No one wants to be inappropriate in a time when people are struggling," said Sally Morrison, director of the New York-based Diamond Information Center. "The trend is fairly big, but fairly simple. Classic styles with sizzle that any woman can wear." Other jewelers say colored stones are also being considered over diamonds.

"Rather than making sure that you have the necklace, earrings, bracelet and ring, it's more about the one thing that can say it all," said Rebecca Selva, spokeswoman for jeweler Fred Leighton.

"People are looking for that one statement piece."

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