The dream of every designer is to land a double whammy - first to win the commission to dress one of Hollywood's most glamorous women, and then to watch her go on to win an Oscar. Last year it was the Italians. Jodie Foster, best actress, wore Armani. Among the high-profile non-winners, Susan Sarandon, Bette Midler, Nicole Kidman and Liz Taylor all chose Valentino. This year, the Americans are fighting back. Donna Karan is dressing Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli. Calvin Klein is dressing Susan Sarandon and Miranda Richardson. (A source whispers that Richardson will be wearing a pewter-coloured sheath dress from Calvin's spring collection. 'And, darling, she is going to look dee-vine]') The French will be there too: Juliette Binoche (Damage) will wear Chanel. Catherine Deneuve (Indochine) will, as always, wear Yves Saint Laurent. Emma Thompson, hot favorite for best actress, has adopted to be thoroughly patriotic: she has chosen Caroline Charles. Ms Charles is giving away nothing. 'I'm very proud,' she says, 'but don't ask me for details. I can tell you it's very modern.' Vanessa Redgrave, in the best supporting actress category, is going British too - in Bruce Oldfield.
The designers work hard in the run-up to the ceremony. No one wants to say much publicly, but all the big designers have representatives in Hollywood striving to secure star names. Sure, Anjelica, we'll send you a catwalk video. A sketch for Jodie? No problem.
When Emma Thompson won the best actress category at the Golden Globe awards in January, she wore a Valentino short lame dress over a petticoat bordered in lace. 'Oh crumbs,' she said. 'We're not used to this sort of thing in England, I've borrowed everything I'm standing up in.' So has everyone else, a Hollywood regular could have told her. Oscar stars never pay for their dresses. Some of the outfits are 'on loan'; occasionally, some become 'presents'. (Valentino says: 'Some actors are friends, some become friends after they have worn my clothes . . . Many send you notes of thanks, often handwritten.'
Last year, the actress Laura Dern broke the unwritten rule that no one talks about the way the system works. 'The Armani people asked me months ago to
wear Armani,' she told an American journalist. 'They've been so good to me, lending me a dress to wear to the Golden Globes and to Cannes, that I'm keeping my word.' One of the few actresses to be less than happy with the system was Brenda Fricker, who won the award for best supporting actress in 1990 for her
role in My Left Foot. Fricker turned down Armani's offer to dress her. Shock horror] 'He was going to get all the publicity,' she said, 'and he wasn't even prepared to give me the dress to keep.'