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The week when film stars look the part

Of all the festivals, it's at Cannes where the A-listers really show their style. Susannah Frankel on the red carpet triumphs and disasters

It's all well and good to show up picture-perfect on the Oscar red carpet, but the Cannes Film Festival is a different beast.

Historically a place where the sartorial idiosyncrasy of many a big-name star has been allowed to shine – and that is true in particular of idiosyncrasy, European style – the world's most well-heeled are here required to be on their best behaviour for days on end as opposed to merely a few hours. And – perhaps mercifully - that shows. The fact that even the spectacularly beautiful and wealthy, all inevitably with stylist and even designer in tow, make at least the odd display of individuality adds a certain degree of humanity to the proceedings suggesting, after all, that these people have feelings too.

And so, in place of the requisite (read terminal) red carpet procession of boring but nice, retro, strapless, corseted, fishtail-hemmed gowns in polite shades of beige, came that Cannes heritage fashion statement, the gratuitous flashing of flesh – courtesy of everyone from model Eva Herzigova who has very long legs to Cheryl Cole whose décolletage was certainly striking. Then there was the type of fashionably obscure gesture that would only truly be appreciated by the Gallic sensibility – Tilda Swinton, more extraordinary than ever in draped midnight blue and sea green Haider Ackermann gown and Alexa Chung in vintage Balenciaga. Yes. Vintage Balenciaga.

Some people don't need fashion to facilitate supremacy. Angelina Jolie, we all know, is wedded to voluminous sludge – preferably grey or a very flat, chocolate brown that is the stuff most women's nightmares are made of – and she still manages to upstage almost every other person in the vicinity. Milla Jovovich is in the ascendant. Her custom-made Prada gown fused the air-brushed languor of 1920s Hollywood with entirely contemporary elegance and was worthy of an award in its own right. Uma Thurman looked as lovely as ever in Chanel haute couture which has the added value of being highly appropriate given that this is probably the greatest French status name of them all. Lady Gaga's protean talents appeared, in this instance, to be directed towards the formation of a John Galliano tribute band.

Not everything went quite so swimmingly. Mia Wasikowska - among the youngest and most eagerly anticipated stars on the circuit – chose to channel Miss Havisham on at least one occasion which is nothing short of perverse. Not content with displaying her own considerable assets, meanwhile, the aforementioned Ms Cole seemed to have shimmering metal cojones slung around her tiny waist. What with these and more appendages weighing her down, it's a miracle she remained standing.

The greatest indicator of a more openly expressive wardrobe came courtesy of the men in attendance, however. Johnny Depp – who can always be relied on to brighten up the Cannes season – displayed what the British Vogue website diplomatically described as "his unique brand of gentlemanly style", in this case, part cowboy, part pirate. Brad Pitt wore head-to-toe white Maison Martin Margiela, the Paris-based, Belgian-founded design house famed for its anonymity which given that the man inside the clothes is anything but...

Finally, Jude Law made the fatal mistake of believing, if only for a moment and only truly in his dreams, that he is Jack Nicholson. And that might well prove irreparable.