Carey Mulligan is radiant in a dark Prada gown and Fred Leighton earrings. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)
That annual Oscar conundrum -- how to make a fashion statement on the red carpet while honoring tradition at the same time -- was solved this year with one easy concept: texture.
The actresses who made some of the grandest entrances stuck to architectural details and dresses that looked as though they were sculpted for them.
Whether it was the black and ivory frayed chiffon camellias adorning Diane Kruger's Chanel Haute Couture gown or the layers of pleated raspberry ruffles swirling down the front of Vera Farmiga's Marchesa frock, some of the most striking dresses came in 3-D this year -- no goggles required.
The texture trend worked well for the most part, serving to streamline things for many actresses who kept the accessories and hair simple so as not to compete with all the fabric detail.
In a couple of instances, however, texture was either overworked or simply misused.
Zoë Saldana's Givenchy gown was a violet confection of ruched silk organza that started with a simple beige, crystal beaded bodice, but then sprouted out into a garden of pastel-colored, chrysanthemum-shaped poufs that gave the usually fashion-savvy star the silhouette of the traditional French wedding cake known as a croque em bouche.
Charlize Theron's amethyst and lilac Dior Couture gown was notable for its sculpted rosettes that spiraled around her chest like something out of Madonna's Blond Ambition tour. The detail was interesting and the color phenomenal, but the placement of texture in this case was so distracting that not even her 17.25-carat Harry Winston diamond earrings could compete.
Shades of blue stood out among the sea of floor-length gowns, especially those worn by the women of "Precious." Mo'Nique wore an electric-blue ruched silk jersey Tadashi dress, and Gabourey Sidibe's beaded blue gown was custom-made by Marchesa's Georgina Chapman. Mariah Carey walked down the red carpet in a midnight-blue gown by Valentino. The color choice was an hommage to Sapphire, the author who penned the novel that became the movie.
(The color blue proved to be one of a very few standout moments for the men, with Robert Downey Jr. appearing in a teal Lanvin bow tie that matched the sequins in his wife's dress.)
In addition to blue, subtle, neutral tones were striking. Shades of snowy white and champagne on everyone from Meryl Streep to Sandra Bullock seemed to create a glow around the actresses and allowed their hair and makeup to shine.
Two-tone color palettes became one solid trend, seen in Kruger's ivory and black gown, Maggie Gyllenhaal's blue and black strapless Dries Van Noten dress and Rachel McAdams' watercolor cool Elie Saab gown.
Kate Winslet dazzled in an Yves Saint Laurent pale-gold column gown worn with an Art Deco-inspired yellow diamond necklace pendant by Tiffany & Co. that fell perfectly at the top of her strapless dress. Winslet looked like the female incarnation of Oscar, striking enough to be made into a little gold statuette.
Two other standouts included a couple of garnet-red gowns -- one a strapless, duchess satin pleated and draped dress by Donna Karan worn with Chopard diamonds by Penélope Cruz, the other a deep cherry Lanvin number that looked as if it had just been draped on the statuesque Sigourney Weaver.
Bullock was the total package in a champagne-colored Marchesa gown with beaded detail on top, extremely shiny, old-Hollywood hair, and striking pink-red lips. She looked as if she were channeling a big-screen siren, and although the night belonged to texture, she reminded us that nothing beats classic glamour.
But the best look of the night award probably should go to the gamin Carey Mulligan, who wore Prada. She looked fresh and radiant with her blond pixie hair and shoulder-duster Fred Leighton earrings, which were a gorgeous contrast to the jet-black dress.