Oscar fashion flashbacks

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Think back, fashion and film fans. What would you say were the most memorable gowns ever worn to the Oscars?

Now hold that thought. You may be surprised.

Oscar producer Laura Ziskin enlisted Andre Leon Talley, Vogue magazine's aptly named editor-at-large, to curate the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences first-ever "Celebration of Oscar Fashion" show featuring classic gowns worn by past presenters, nominees and winners.

Talley, a longtime Oscar fashion watcher, knows Hollywood couture inside and out. Topping six feet, Talley, who looms X-large in the fashion world, will rule Hollywood as the omniscient voice of Oscar fashion at the televised "Road to the Oscar" pre-show on Feb 25.

L.A party planner extraordinaires Bryan Rabin and David Rodgers arranged the highly publicized fashion event's décor, tasty bites and liquid sips, as well as the all-important seating chart. It's first row or rien for true fashion insiders.

And that's just where guests such as the indefatigably stylish scribe Merle Ginsberg (she ghost-wrote Paris Hilton's "Confessions of an Heiress"), Women's Wear Daily writer Marci Medina, Vanessa Getty, Hollywood jewelers Neil Lane and Martin Katz, Lili et Cie's Rita Watnick, costume designer Arianne Phillips,Lilly Tartikoff, Barbara Guggenheim, Armani peeps Wanda McDaniel, Barry Frediani and Greg Nice (all three bursting with glee at having dressed Cate Blanchett in Armani Prive for the SAG awards) were sitting.

Before the show, guests eyed video screens playing clips of actresses wearing the chosen gowns and ogled mannequins in frocks too delicate for the runway, such as Kim Basinger's "LA Confidential" Escada and Angelina Jolie's "Girl Interrupted" Marc Bouwer.

Talley, introduced by Ziskin as the man who will never ask an actress, "Who are you wearing" because he'll already know, was appropriately reverent about Faye Dunaway's 1968 Theodora van Runkle's black flounced dress (made with shredded fabric from her "Bonnie and Clyde" costumes) and Julia Roberts' vintage Valentino -- with its original bow removed -- worn in 2001.

But he also peppered his patter with off-the-cuff tales: how "Funny Girl" Barbra Streisand tripped onstage in her sheer Scassi pantsuit when she accepted her Oscar and how poor Carol Channing had to be helped offstage due to the sheer weight of her crystal-crusted 50-lb gown. He also let it slip that he "had a part in" picking presenter Nicole Kidman's absinthe green John Galliano gown, a Chinoise embroidered dress that elicited a sneer from clueless fashion critic Joan Rivers on the red carpet.

But Talley saved his highest praise for an outfit that ironically was once the most reviled and ridiculed: Cher's scandalously sheer Bob Mackie gown, which looked incredible from the back, going up the Academy stairs for the show's finale. I don't remember if Cher wore a cheeky thong but the model did. And very well.

"This is the fireworks of all Oscar dresses!" Talley enthused. This is Cher Chic!" There's nothing like it. She dared! She's one of Oscar's most original."

But I should mention that the model was NOT wearing the matching beaded Indian headdress Cher wore that night. Nor was any mention of the missing head-ifice -- the ultimate accessory overdose -- made by Talley.

Here's the thing. I was only a teen, (I swear) but I recall Cher being skewered for her sheer madness, a gown that looked more Vegas showgirl than serious Hollywood actress. At the time, everyone asked "How could an actress up for such an important acting award come dressed like a circus performer?"

She was accused of having thumbed her nose at the Academy and she made fashion history -- as did Streisand -- for having worn one of the silliest Oscar outfits ever, an honor now extended to Bjork's beaked bodice swan gown, Matt Stone and Trey Parker's drag versions of J-Lo's sheer green Versace gown and Paltrow's saggy pink Ralph Lauren princess frock. All of which Ziskin says she wanted for her retro show, but could not get her hands on. Bjork said no. Apparently, the South Park dudes tossed their mock couture cookies after the Oscars. Men.

Anyway, all this just goes to prove that personal Oscar style was -- and still is -- a sharp and sometimes dangerous double-edged sword. It's all very well for Ziskin to advise this year's nominees to "Be brave!" But she won't face ridicule for having strayed far from a cautious stylist's advice.

Hopefully, for audience enjoyment (and ratings), some actresses will take a few risks this year. Damn the fashion critics! Full chic ahead! But whether you go all out or play it safe, for heaven's sake, save those gowns, gals. There may be another Oscar fashion retrospective next year.

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