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Oscars 2019: On the Oscars red carpet, playing it safe

Oscars 2019: On the Oscars red carpet, playing it safe
Regina King in blinding-white Oscar de la Renta on the red carpet, her leg exposed and trailed by a sweeping train. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Timothée Chalamet was definitely missed.

From the time he first burst onto the fashion scene, showing up at the premiere of “Call Me by Your Name” at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival in a cobalt blue Calvin Klein suit through last year’s Oscars, where he came in an all-white Berluti tuxedo, Chalamet has been the standard against which all other actors treading the red carpet must now be judged.

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This year, the 23-year-old actor upped his game even further, wearing a black Louis Vuitton beaded harness at the Golden Globes, a polka-dotted shirt, a form-fitting black jacket and leather trousers by Celine at the Screen Actors Guild and almost hallucinatory Haider Ackermann at the BAFTAs, officially inheriting the mantle of red-carpet disruptor from his predecessor in risk-taking fashion, Tilda Swinton.

But “Beautiful Boy” and Chalamet were not nominated for any Oscars, and Timmy stayed home.

Instead, on Sunday, we had Bradley Cooper, Trevor Noah, Rami Malek, Nicholas Hoult and Sam Rockwell in classic black tuxes (by Tom Ford, Ferragamo, Saint Laurent, Dior and Armani, respectively). Adam Lambert, performing with Queen in the show’s opening number, also showed up in a understated black Tom Ford tux, though without a traditional accessory. “I went without the bow tie,” he told E!’s Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet. “I took the risk.”

From left: Nicholas Hoult, Stephan James and Trevor Noah.
From left: Nicholas Hoult, Stephan James and Trevor Noah. (Los Angeles Times (left, center); AP (right))

Stephan James, of “If Beale Street Could Talk,” did introduce a pop of color to the ceremonies with a custom Etro velvet suit in fire-engine-red, accented by an oversize red bow tie that unfortunately brought to mind a demon clown. First-time nominee Richard E. Grant (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) beamed with unrestrained glee as he strode the red carpet in burgundy velvet. And Spike Lee, nominated for director for the first time, was outfitted in a deep purple suit by Ozwald Boateng that he said was a tribute to his old friend Prince. (The legendary Knicks fan also courted controversy by pointing out that his shimmering gold sneakers were a pair of Jordans.)

As for the women, as Cher noted in 1986, they must have gotten the “academy booklet on how to dress like a serious actress.” Unlike Cher, they did not ignore it.

It was a night of very pretty, very safe dresses.

Among the highlights were Constance Wu in lemony yellow, off-the-shoulder custom Versace; Brie Larson in shimmery Celine that continued designer Hedi Slimane’s strong red-carpet run this awards season; Octavia Spencer in a perfectly tailored navy metallic velvet tulle gown by Christian Siriano; Gemma Chan in hot pink Valentino (with pockets!) straight off the couture runway; and Jennifer Lopez in mirror-ball Tom Ford.

From left: Constance Wu, Yalitza Aparicio and Brie Larson.
From left: Constance Wu, Yalitza Aparicio and Brie Larson. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira, the stars of “Roma,” made the most of their red carpet debuts: Aparicio in sea foam Rodarte and De Tavira in bright red J Mendel.

One particular standout was Regina King — later a supporting actress winner for her role in “If Beale Street Could Talk” — in blinding-white Oscar de la Renta, her leg exposed and trailed by a sweeping train. Asked by Seacrest why she chose this particular dress for the Oscars, King said she felt that the Barry Jenkins-directed film was “about the fabric of America, and Oscar de la Renta is an American designer.” (Actually, and even more interestingly, the Oscar de la Renta designers — Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia — are both first-generation Americans. Kim grew up in Seoul and Calgary, Canada; Garcia in the Dominican Republic.)

A welcome development on Sunday, in fact, was Seacrest’s realization that he had one job to do this night and one job only — to ask, “Who are you wearing?” Over the past couple seasons, as he seemed to resent or ignore that responsibility, asking instead about things such as “motivation” or where nominees might have gone on their last vacation, you almost expected an actress to turn to him in fury and say, “I’m being paid $100,000 to wear this dress tonight. Ask me who designed it.”

There were some misfires, notably a black-and-white caped look on Melissa McCarthy that didn’t quite work (though her hair and makeup were flawless); a cotton-candy confection by Giambattista Valli worn by Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves and, disappointingly, a voluminous, shimmering gold gown by Carolina Herrera designer Wes Gordon for Glenn Close that seemed an all-too-obvious nod to the Oscar statuette she was expected to take home at the end of the evening (but didn’t) and that practically overwhelmed the petite actress. “It weighs 42 pounds,” Close said to Seacrest. And it looked it.

From left: Melissa McCarthy, Kacey Musgraves and Glenn Close.
From left: Melissa McCarthy, Kacey Musgraves and Glenn Close. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Two early arrivals made sure they made the most of their pre-prime-time appearances on the red carpet. Billy Porter, the star of FX’s “Pose,” set Twitter aflame with a Christian Siriano-designed velvet tux that was molded to what looked like the ballgown Scarlett O’Hara wore when she was (briefly) in mourning and scandalized Atlanta society by dancing with Rhett Butler for “charity.” And “RuPaul’s Drag Race” veteran Shangela — who killed at the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday — made her Oscars debut with a dramatic lavender fishtail gown by Diego Montoya.

And what about Lady Gaga, the one everyone was waiting to see? She was a last-minute arrival on the red carpet, briefly posing for a few photos before being whisked inside to watch (and dance along to) the Queen opening number from her front-row seat. Dressed in dramatic Alexander McQueen, and wearing a 128-carat, $30-million Tiffany yellow diamond last seen around the neck of Audrey Hepburn in 1961, Gaga was worth the wait.

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