Spoiled brat actresses, not very good celebrity stylists and a trail of left-on-the-floor-at-the-last-moment dresses – who survived the Academy Awards with their chic intact?
10:57AM GMT 03 Mar 2014
This was the year that acting went gonzo – Matthew McConaughey and most of his colleagues in Wolf of Wall Street, for instance, and the entire cast of American Hustle. Yet with the notable exception of Pharrell Williams’s Lanvin take on Just William, the red carpet dressing was remarkably timid, tame and vanilla. Literally. Pale beige still rules.
One can see why. Hollywood has a slightly unfortunate track record with “experimental”, “edgy” and “directional” clothes. Luckily they haven’t all learned this lesson, so there are still some high entertainment moments to be had as stars and, even more unwisely, wives and girlfriends of stars (it’s not about them, but let them dream) stagger and teeter along the Oscar shag-pile in vast, wafty swags and bridezilla mermaid trains.
And thus, once more, one gazes at one’s computer images, hot from the biggest night in one of the world’s richest creative industries, and thinks, really, is that the best they could do?
Yes it is. And here’s why. The current consensus among the world’s haut-iest designers is that the Oscars are a crapshoot. Spoiled brat actresses, not very good celebrity stylists and a trail of left-on-the-floor-at-the-last-moment dresses that took weeks to make have combined to leave a bad taste. Unless they can have a direct, personal relationship with actors, many fashion houses have backed away from the whole circus.
While it’s still prestigious to have an A-lister looking wonderful on the podium in your design, there’s not much obvious value in seeing Kim Kardashian turn up at the Vanity Fair party in your frock, when the following day a slew of women who have already bought something similar may take it back to the store to exchange. This actually happens – it’s called satisfaction guaranteed or your Kardash-back.
But increasingly, choice-wise, actresses go with the usual suspects: an odd combination of never-heard-of-them designers who are big in American malls and a handful of very wealthy international houses with a long (by Hollywood standards) tradition of Oscar dressing and experienced celebrity departments. These are: Armani (probably the designer with the most successful hit rate in Oscar history, and a happy partnership with Cate Blanchett ever since his label sponsored the Sydney Theatre Company when she and her husband were artistic directors there); Versace (Donatella’s new best friend is Lady Gaga) and Dior (with Jennifer Lawrence under contract).
Here are the best and the worst:
Cate Blanchett in Armani Privé
Yes, it’s beige and strapless, the red carpet’s corniest combination. But it’s transported to a place way above beigey, straplessy blahness by that incredible embellishment which registers on the blurriest smartphone (where so much of this year’s Oscar stalking will occur). The way it fans out at the hem, culminating in soft, expensive-looking ripples brings some much needed class to that Allied Carpets offcut. It’s also mighty flattering and a welcome change from some of Blanchett’s more robo-stiff outings. As for the gently waved hair and understated make-up – perfection.
Lupita Nyong’o in Prada
When you look like Nyong’o, you can afford to underplay it – and wear pale colours that would look icky (technical term) on many women. This is a vision of Oscar dreaminess. There’s enough flow going on to give this dress real presence and just the right amount of skin to stop it looking twee. She looks comfortable and happy. She’s wearing a deceptively simple dress and looks fabulous because it’s not wearing her.
Amy Adams in Gucci
This gorgeous, talented actress said she had finally found a dress for Oscar night that “felt like me”. You can see what she means. In previous years, Adams has been trussed and tormented like Tinker Bell in a succession of unsuitably frothy absurdities. She certainly looks elegant in this, and it fits her beautifully, but also a touch predictable and bland – and she’s anything but. There needs to be a little more going on around the neckline – this could have been the night to let her gorgeous hair down. Also, are those faint tan lines? If this feels like her, then she may be underestimating herself.
Penelope Cruz in Giambattista Valli
Cruz definitely wins the Shouldn’t Work But it Does Award. Pale pink, a bow and what would be called a pashmina if it weren’t made of silk chiffon, she’s going for the Greek vote. But somehow it looks gorgeous. It’s actually a fabulous body flatterer – subtly displaying her curves but allowing her to breathe and move. The black bag and ribbon stop the whole thing from toppling into saccharine disaster. She could have gone further with the hair – a really huge 60s structure à la Julia Roberts when she won for Erin Brokovich, would have pushed this right over the line into Liz Taylor fabulousness, which is where it was clearly heading, but didn’t (quite) make.
Emma Watson in Vera Wang
Oscar dynamite – from the neck up. Make-up and hair all in tip top order, as Watson continues her journey from teen star to class act. But she can do better than this mom t-shirt with its universally unflattering sleeveless cut. The skirt’s fine, but not stand-out. She’s aiming for nonchalant but Wang’s not the designer to deliver that.
Jennifer Lawrence in Dior
The tomato-red is knockout. Maybe that’s why she fell over again. Adorable as this tripping over schtick is, it might be wise not to over-milk it. That’s true of this dress, which doesn’t quite work. As a strapless column, it has a certain fabulousness, and unlike many other strapless dresses, isn’t crying out for a more interesting neckline. But that peplum looks like an after-thought and it’s not kind, even on Lawrence’s petite hips. On the other hand, subtract the peplum and you’re left with a red stick. Her hair is wonderful though – short and kind of joyful-looking in that it doesn’t appear as though it took half a day to achieve, even though it probably did.
Meryl Streep in Lanvin
Lovely, elegant, graceful and very Meryl (see Amy Adams) in so far as it’s fastidiously unshowy yet clearly expensive.This says ‘been here, done this a million times, playing the game, but on my own terms’. Would have even better in a more interesting colour combination. Streep is an ethereal blonde, and black and white seem a bit heavy.
Kate Hudson in Versace
Technically, this is a similar vertical drop to Lupita Nyong’o’s Prada neckline, yet somehow it’s plunging a whole new trash depth. Yet there are redeeming moments. That front draping is incredible and the colour sublime. So what, Sherlock, went wrong? Is it that Mother Not So Superior cape or Hudson’s hard make-up, obviously done by a make-up artist recovering from heartbreak, with vendetta on her mind, and a shaky relationship with kohl?
Anna Kendrick in J Mendel
Great, feisty actress in simply atrocious car-crash of a dress. Sheer, drape, slash, midriffery and five different necklines – there was nothing they didn’t throw at this dress and each addition just made things worse. Two words Anna: never again.