Oscar stars hark back to Hollywood's Golden Age

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Martin Scorsese's The Aviator might not have been given the credit it was due at Sunday night's Oscar ceremony but the dominant red carpet style served as a glamorous tribute to Hollywood's Golden Era nonetheless.

Martin Scorsese's The Aviator might not have been given the credit it was due at Sunday night's Oscar ceremony but the dominant red carpet style served as a glamorous tribute to Hollywood's Golden Era nonetheless.

Here was Leonardo DiCaprio, in Prada tuxedo and with Brylcreem-slick hair, looking every bit the matinee idol. There was Scarlett Johansson, the ultimate, lusciously curvaceous, screen siren in black strapless corseted fishtail gown.

"How important is it to be able to breathe in the dress you choose?" wondered one unduly catty commentator as the actress passed by. "Well, I can barely breathe, so, not so important," replied Ms Johansson. Neither was she the only one who must have seriously contemplated having a rib or two removed, the better to fit into the requisite hourglass silhouette: from Drew Barrymore to Renée Zellweger, everyone who is anyone was dressed like the quintessential film star. No doubt the intention was to match the decor, themed to reflect "the opulence of old Hollywood" by all accounts.

In fact, just this type of old-fashioned Hollywood glamour has been prevalent on the international catwalks for some time now. The world's most celebrated fashion designers are now well aware of the fact that the red carpet is as important, if not more so, than the runway and are therefore tailoring their designs to suit that purpose.

As far as clothing itself is concerned, labels as diverse as Gucci and Galliano, and as apparently avant-garde as Alexander McQueen and Helmut Lang have all been toeing this line, aware that the right actor in the right dress on the right red carpet is worth more than even the most strategically placed ad campaign.

Efforts made to persuade Hollywood's most feted into an outfit are not to be sniffed at. Virginia Madsen, for example, said the royal blue Atelier Versace dress, with black lace overlay, that she was wearing was "the very last one I tried on and it was a little nerve-wracking because until yesterday I still didn't have anything to wear". If this was nerve-wracking for Madsen, however, spare a thought for the rival designers who "bless them", she pondered with patrician charm, were still busy sewing alternative gowns they hoped and prayed she might deign to wear.

If vintage Hollywood glamour remained the order of the day, new this time round was a certain austerity, a more severe view of womanhood seen last week at the autumn/winter collections in Milan. Gone was elaborate beading and embroidery and in its place came decorative seaming that was muted by comparison. Gone were the frothy pale pinks and ivories of last year's Oscar ceremony and in their place came mushroom, grey, French navy and, most prevalent of all, black.

Jewellery was understated - a pair of simple, though reassuringly large, diamond drop earrings and a single strand choker were the prevalent styles. Hair was also restrained, for the most part swept into a glossy chignon, of the type a favoured by a young Grace Kelly.

In the end, it was all, as the late, great Kenny Everett once said, in the best possible taste.

And that was ultimately the event's downfall. The symbiotic relationship shared by fashion and film has reached a point where, in many instances, there is little room for error or individuality. With this in mind, Sean Penn's refusal to wear a tie seemed positively anarchic; Prince's choice of purple tuxedo jacket and powder pink trousers nothing short of insane. Both served as a much needed flash of personality, however, in an all too mannered world.

The fashion winners: Blanchett and Theron set the standard with a vintage light touch...

CATE BLANCHETT

In palest primrose Valentino haute couture, Blanchett proves again she is fairest of them all. Let's face it, this is not an easy colour to wear. One only has to look at Penelope Cruz ravaged by just the same hue - and with yellow diamonds to match if you please - to know that. Blanchett is radiant, with an enviable lightness of touch, from the gossamer fabric around the torso to the slightly mussed, vintage Hollywood-styled hair. Pale and interesting at its best.

CHARLIZE THERON

Theron is the ultimate clothes-horse and this confection designed by John Galliano for Christian Dior looks lovely. The dress has the vintage Hollywood appeal that appeared requisite this time round - the corseted strapless top, the dramatic fishtail skirt - but is softer than most where both colour and fabric are concerned and looks more delicately feminine for it. The tufted tulle skirt is quintessential Dior, one of the house's namesake's proud- to-be-extravagant signatures.

NATALIE PORTMAN

A beautiful dress by Alber Elbaz at Lanvin perfectly suited to a beautiful young woman. The ultimate goddess gown in a fashionably downbeat shade of mushroom.

MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL

One of the most lovely dresses of all time, by she who must be obeyed: Miuccia Prada. It has a subtle 1920s charm suited to its wearer without seeming obviously retro.

SCARLETT JOHANSSON

One of very few with the hourglass shape for the Oscar silhouette de jour - the strapless, corseted gown with fishtail skirt - she wore Roland Mouret's Golden Era haute couture.

And the losers: Swank holds sway on the podium but loses out on the red carpet

HILARY SWANK

Is this a dress or a cry for help? What has happened to Hilary Swank's body, bandaged and vacuum-packed as it is into this thoroughly nasty, 1980s-style design? Yes, yes, we all know it's fashionable to bare one's back - we've read it in Heat! - but is there really any need to cover the front right up to the throat to compensate? The colour is of the moment, though: simple but effective french navy is classic and, some argue, more forgiving than black.

RENEE ZELWEGGER

What was that about Shirley Bassey? Described by the powers that be as raspberry, this one actually comes across as a pretty lurid shade of tomato which sounds nowhere near so glamorous. The dress comes from the stable of the New York socialite Carolina Herrera - Zelwegger always goes for this particular name - so she must be applauded for loyalty, albeit misguided. The design is structured to the point of uptight and what exactly is that white lace trim complete with darling red satin bows at the hem? There's certainly no excuse for that.

SOPHIE OKONEDO

A veritable meringue by Olivier Theyskens, the bright young designer whipping up a storm at Rochas. But what will Okonedo wear should she choose to tie the knot?

GWYNETH PALTROW

Never good for a dress to be the same colour as a woman's hair and skin. It renders her invisible. Gwyneth was nowhere to be seen. Still, if the point was to be low profile...

KATE WINSLET

A very bad dress from Badgley Mischka in brightest periwinkle blue that jars horribly with the muted colour palette elsewhere. More fit for the beach than the red carpet.

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