Designers vie to showcase wares on Oscars catwalk

Fashion fans are in a frenzy as Hollywood counts down to the Oscars, with designers and jewelers vying to provide the gorgeous gowns and fabulous gems on the red carpet next Sunday night.

Often referred to as the most famous runway in the world, the Academy Awards show offers fashion houses an unparalleled opportunity to showcase their most spectacular creations to hundreds of millions of television viewers worldwide.

The priceless publicity, and unspoken celebrity endorsements, can also influence mainstream fashion trends for seasons to come - with an impact, eventually, on the high street.

The timeless allure of a silver or platinum beaded gown has long been a popular choice, and Sandra Bullock, last year's winner of the Best Actress award, chose a spectacular form-fitting gown in silvery tones by Marchesa.

Helen Mirren followed in a silver Badgley Mischka, Kate Winslet in a platinum Yves St. Laurent and Cameron Diaz in a strapless oyster Oscar de la Renta gown with metallic ribbon and gold embroidery.

In previous years both younger actresses like Anne Hathaway (Armani Prive 2009) and Jessica Beal (Prada 2009), and more established stars including Julianne Moore (Calvin Klein 2010) have opted for gold and silver gowns.

Nothing speaks of class and a classic sense of style more than vintage couture: Julia Roberts wore a memorable black and white vintage Valentino gown when she won best actress for "Erin Brockovich" a decade ago.

Five years later Reese Witherspoon celebrated winning best actress in 2006 with vintage Dior couture, a fairytale creation of beaded silver tulle embellished with spun gold thread, which she bought in Paris.

Of this year's nominees, perhaps only Michelle Williams, nominated for her role in "Blue Valentine," could be persuaded to take this route.

Some say Helena Bonham Carter was born for vintage couture, but the quirky British actress is known for a more eccentric and individual look: she always wears Vivienne Westwood with a great deal of panache.

The leading contenders for Best Actress, Natalie Portman for her role in "Black Swan" and Annette Bening for "The Kids Are Alright," each have their own style.

Bening almost invariably wears black Armani; a simple tuxedo or a slightly more elaborate creation, such as the strapless long-sleeved fishtail gown, this time Armani Prive, she chose to wear to the 2005 Oscars.

The very pregnant Portman - who met her husband-to-be on the set of "Black Swan" - may decide to stick with cult label Rodarte, which created some of the costume designs for the ballet thriller's "Swan Lake" scenes.

However, she is also a fan of celebrity favorite Lanvin, and now that she is the new face of Christian Dior, there is a good chance she'll opt for a classic custom Dior gown.

Nicole Kidman - an enviable figure, tall and slender with porcelain skin, light auburn hair and a classically proportioned face - rarely makes fashion faux pas.

She has often favored Chanel couture as well as Balenciaga, John Galliano for Dior, Tom Ford for both Gucci and Yves St Laurent and, most recently, a daring strapless dress by John Paul Gaultier.

But perhaps there comes a time when the allegiance to just one or two designers has run its course.

Marilyn Heston, who represents Alexander McQueen, Nicole Miller and Zac Posen among others, says that stylists have been asking for lesser known designers.

"Maybe there's a backlash to there being X number of people in Versace and Chanel and Dior," she said.

Tom Julian, a fashion consultant and style expert for Oscar.com, agreed.

"How many times does Gwyneth Paltrow wear Tom Ford? A lot of actresses realize that after five years they don't want to be wearing the same designer," he said.

For the men, the classic tuxedo is the costume of choice.

Colin Firth, favorite for the best actor Oscar, may well stick with Tom Ford, the designer and filmmaker who directed him in last year's Oscar-nominated "A Single Man."

Ford, who last year sported spectacular diamonds as well as the most exquisite gardenia in his lapel - may well be called on to dress other male contenders at the 83rd Academy Awards on Sunday night.

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