Fashion : Oscar Night: Case of Dress Upmanship

What to wear for an audience of 1 billion people is the big question film stars are asking themselves. And well they might. It’s getting late to be making last-minute wardrobe decisions about Oscar night, the fashion show of the year.

This close to the Wednesday evening curtain call, it looks as if Italian designer Giorgio Armani will set fashion’s gold standard for the glitzy event. Reports are that he has zipped up the most nominations for Academy Award-robes.

Baby Due in October

Melanie Griffith, a favored best actress nominee for “Working Girl,” might well accept an award wearing an Armani outfit specially designed to allow for her recently announced pregnancy. The baby is due in October.


Armani, of course, proved himself last year when he dressed a pregnant Glenn Close so well for Oscar night. And Griffith has already expressed her partiality toward him by wearing an Armani creation to the Golden Globe Awards in January.

If she does go with the “A” dress, she could be in very good company. Meryl Streep, nominated for “A Cry in the Dark,” is expected to look her best-actress best in an Armani. So is Michelle Pfeiffer, nominated for best supporting actress for “Dangerous Liaisons.”

The Milanese fashion mogul with the long-established infatuation with Hollywood is said to be gowning several award presenters too, notably Farrah Fawcett, Ali MacGraw and possibly Jane Fonda. But as usual, he is being as protective of his star customers as he is of his own privacy. (He’s known as the Garbo of the international garb set.)

He refuses to release any sketches of his Oscar designs before the day of the show.

Aside from the fashion news out of Italy, the best advance tips are about Glenn Close and Sigourney Weaver, two of this year’s hottest contenders.

Close, nominated in the best actress category for “Dangerous Liaisons,” plans a fashion liaison with Geoffrey Beene for the evening.

“She knew immediately how she wanted to look,” Beene says of his first consultation with Close.

“She wanted black and she wanted strapless. I showed her something from my new fall collection and we elaborated on it. She’s a remarkable woman in that she made quick decisions and loved the fitting. That’s refreshing.”


‘Dangerous’ Look

The “Dangerous” look he created consists of a strapless, empire-style gown in black lace over matte jersey, short in front and long in back.

Beene adds: “She has excellent taste and likes the pared-down look. I hope it sets a tone for the way the new stars are dressing--simply, more modern. After all, they’re working women.”

Weaver is expected to bring a bit of Paris to Hollywood on Oscar night. A long, white crepe Yves Saint Laurent gown--slit up the front, with a gold, shell-motif belt--will do double duty for this year’s double nominee, who may take home Oscars as best actress for “Gorillas in the Mist” and/or for her supporting role in “Working Girl.”


Should he tune in to the show, Saint Laurent will most likely see another of his styles on stage, modeled by best actress nominee Jodie Foster (“The Accused”). She is expected to wear a short tuxedo dress, known in Paris as “le Smoking . It is from the YSL spring couture collection.

Frances McDormand, best supporting actress nominee for “Mississippi Burning,” is testing a new design team--Mark Bridges, Edna Hart and Brenda Collin of New York--with a black, stretchy dress with a train, which she describes as a cross between Guinevere and Martha Graham, the modern dance choreographer.

At this late date, two other nominees for best supporting actress seem uncommonly unsure about what they’ll wear. “Accidental Tourist’s” Geena Davis made a tour of several design houses, including Valentino, Krizia and Bob Mackie, before “having something made from an idea she had,” a spokesperson says.

Joan Cusack, who had to wear so many awful get-ups this year as a Mafia wife in “Married to the Mob” and as a Wall Street secretary for her Oscar-nominated performance in “Working Girl,” may still be traumatized. As of this writing she hadn’t yet made a choice for an Oscar-night gown.


Each year, for cases like Cusack’s, there is an official fashion consultant to call on. This time it is Fred Hayman, who has not only made the services and stock of his Rodeo Drive boutique available to nominees and presenters, but also asked designers to send gowns for the stars to consider. Hayman expects to dress about a dozen presenters.

“They can buy or borrow, and we’ll fully accessorize them, from furs to whatever,” he says. “But they can’t be told what to wear; it’s a free country. Of course, many of them will go directly to the designers themselves.”

Ciro, the costume jewelry store, is supplying a glittery array of faux gems for the show’s production numbers, as well as for the nominees and presenters.

Allan Carr, the show’s producer, says he’s been overwhelmed by the cooperation of the designers. Knowing what a tremendous free advertising opportunity the night can be, they have made available clothes for women and men. The group includes not only Armani, Saint Laurent and Beene, but Oscar de la Renta, Christian Dior, Perry Ellis, Luis Estevez, Carolina Herrera, Bill Travilla, Carolyne Roehm, Bob Mackie and Donna Karan.


At one point, it looked as if De la Renta was going to score extra points, when there was talk of a fashion production number called “Oscar Salutes the Oscars” with the performers clad in the New York designer’s dresses.

The idea had to be shelved, according to one source, because so many of the stars had already committed to wearing clothes by other designers.

Donna Karan will have at least one return customer this Oscar night--Candice Bergen, who wore Karan’s red strapless dress last year. This time Bergen is expected to show off the designer’s washed-silk sarong dress in an ink shade, accessorized with a studded scarf.

A Karan spokesperson said several selections were also sent to Diane Sawyer, who will attend the Oscar events with her husband, Mike Nichols, a best director nominee for “Working Girl.”


Mimi Rogers might well cruise in wearing Valentino’s pink satin, black polka-dot strapless gown with Victorian draping on the sides and an embroidered black-and-pink bolero jacket. For all that, she’s not expected to make a stage appearance during the show.

Amy Irving, a presenter, went to Maxfield to buy Anouska Hempel’s strapless dress in khaki-green taffeta with black tulle.

Another presenter, Jacqueline Bisset, as well as Anne Spielberg, best screenplay nominee for “Big,” are expected to wear First Lady Barbara Bush’s favorite design label, Arnold Scaasi.

And presenter Cybill Shepherd is asking her “Moonlighting” designer Robert Turturice to moonlight yet again by creating a gown for her for the night.


Armani for Men

As for the men on Oscar night, the most black-tie votes are going to luxe tux makers Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren. Perry Ellis menswear designer Roger Forsythe says he’s sewn up a special black-on-black Prince of Wales Jacquard tuxedo for best song nominee Phil Collins.

Italian designer Gianni Versace also supplied a classic tuxedo to Collins. He did the same for best actor nominees Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hanks, as well as Tom Cruise, Mickey Rourke and Charlie Sheen.

“They’re all close friends of his,” offers Carolyn Mahboubi, who owns the Versace boutique in Beverly Hills.


Despite all the advance fashion news, show producer Carr, who will be easy to find backstage in a black sequin dinner jacket by Luis Estevez, promises lots more evening-wear surprises. But can this year possibly top last year when Cher appeared in that handful of sequins by Bob Mackie?

Very likely. Cher will be a presenter again this time. And she had an appointment at Mackie’s on Tuesday.