The red carpet style at the 89th Academy Awards in Hollywood was such a total retro rewind Sunday night that even the boldest-dressed of the bunch (Janelle Monáe, we’re talking to you and your Elie Saab Haute Couture gown) wouldn’t have looked out of place at the 19th Academy Awards, thanks to many throwback silhouette gowns, rich velvet fabrics, details including romantic lace and trailing capes, and sparkling accessories such as jeweled headbands and focus-pulling statement necklaces.
Among the more memorable members of the new Old Hollywood glamour squad in black (or near black) colors were Taraji P. Henson in a custom off-the-shoulder navy velvet Alberta Ferretti gown and dazzling Nirav Modi statement necklace; Kirsten Dunst in a strapless, black Christian Dior Haute Couture gown; Alicia Vikander in a custom black lace Louis Vuitton dress; and Brie Larson, who stood out in a custom strapless black velvet ruffled gown by Oscar de la Renta that was as simple as it was stunning.
Standouts in white included Karlie Kloss in a curve-hugging Stella McCartney gown with cape-like details at the shoulders and Chrissy Teigen in a similarly curve-hugging and caped confection — her long white crepe and mousseline dress adorned with gold embroidery with cape back details coming from Zuhair Murad’s spring 2017 couture collection.
Naomie Harris similarly stunned in a white strapless sequin dress by Calvin Klein (the brand actually dressed three of Harris’ “Moonlight” costars as well, marking the first big red carpet push since designer Raf Simons took the helm as chief creative officer of the fashion label).
And a few of the night’s retro romantic looks were black and white. One came courtesy of Michelle Williams, who took the plunge with a Louis Vuitton dress that combined a black plunging neckline top with an embellished white skirt.
Another was Emma Roberts, who managed to be on trend and still send a message about sustainable style by wearing a plunging neckline spaghetti strap crystal and jet embroidered couture Armani Privé dress from the designer’s very first Privé collection in 2005. (Roberts wore the vintage dress as part of Suzy Amis Cameron’s 8-year-old Red Carpet Green Dress eco-friendly frock awareness campaign.)
Viola Davis looks fierce in a custom red Armani Privé vermillion silk gown with a high neckline that falls into draped shoulders and pleated detailing on the bodice. In our opinion, Viola blazed her way onto the best-dressed list.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Mahershala Ali is a shoo-in for the best-dressed list thanks to his tone-on-tone Ermenegildo Zegna Couture tuxedo, shirt, bow tie and pocket square -- accessorized with Monique Pean Homme shirt studs.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times (left); Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times (right))
It’s always good to bet on black, and here it pays off for Brie Larson, whose custom strapless, black velvet ruffled gown by Oscar de la Renta earns her a spot on our best-dressed list.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Kirsten Dunst is wearing a custom Christian Dior Haute Couture dress (extra points for the pockets!), Niwaka diamond necklace and earrings, and Christian Lacriox shoes. She’s also carrying a Roger Vivier clutch -- all the way to our best-dressed list.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Taraji P. Henson knows how to steal a scene. She wore a custom off-the-shoulder navy velvet Alberta Ferretti gown, dazzling Nirav Modi statement necklace and Jimmy Choo shoes and bag. Henson perfectly captured the retro rewind vibe of the 2017 Oscars red carpet -- and captured a place toward the top of our best-dressed list.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Is that Belle from “Beauty and the Beast?” No it’s her Oscars 2017 doppelganger -- actress Leslie Mann, who shines in a yellow Zac Posen dress, Lorraine Schwartz jewelry and Jimmy Choo clutch and shoes. On anyone else at any other time we might feel differently, but here she’s our guest on the best-dressed list.(Jordan Strauss / Invision / Associated Press)
Alicia Vikander is a picturesque vision of romance and glamour in Louis Vuitton. Her little black dress made a big statement and catapulted her onto the best-dressed list.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Ruth Negga is wearing a custom-made red Valentino dress and Irene Neuwirth jewelry. Negga looks like a queen in such a regal ensemble, which is why she reigns on our best-dressed list.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Dakota Johnson is wearing a Gucci champagne satin long-sleeve, high-neck gown with metallic gold high heel shoes and metallic gold clutch. She looks as though she was trying to be a life-sized replica of the golden Oscar statuettes. Dressing like the award was not a winning move and therefore scored her a place on our worst-dressed list.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times (left); Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Jessica Biel is wearing a Kaufman Franco gown with Tiffany & Co. jewels. The gold metallic camo look is interesting, for sure, but a little too C-3PO’s sister for our tastes, which made it one of our least favorite looks of the night.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Scarlett Johansson is wearing an Alaia dress with an edgy studded black belt. This look is a bit confusing and feels too casual for the Academy Awards. Therefore, Scarlett earned a timeout on our worst-dressed list.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Sofia Boutella wearing Chanel looks like a glitter-handled feather duster. And that sweeps her straight onto our worst-dressed list.(From left: Paul Buck / EPA; Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP; Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Jamie Dornan is wearing an Hermes tuxedo, a Cartier watch/cuff links and Tod’s shoes. While we like all the individual pieces of the outfit, somehow it’s not all working together, which makes him one of our least-liked looks of the night.(From left: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times; Richard Shotwell / Invision/AP)
We like Halle Berry. And we like Versace. But the usually stunning Berry fell as flat as her hair stood high in this Atelier Versace ensemble.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
To be kind, maybe Ryan Gosling was simply trying to be on trend and channel a bygone era with this Gucci made-to-order black velvet, shawl lapel, one-button tuxedo, but thanks to the white evening shirt with blue-tipped ruffle details, that bygone era is the high school prom. He’ll be spending the rest of the semester on our worst-dressed list.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
We wanted to love Hailee Steinfeld’s Ralph & Russo dress but thanks to the peculiar grandma’s shower curtain vibe and the curious back ruffle, we just couldn’t.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times (left); Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Felicity Jones, wearing Dior, unfortunately missed the mark. The plain-and-simple ballerina look might be perfect for the top of a tween girl’s musical jewelry box, but on the Academy Awards red carpet it’s a short spin to the worst-dressed list.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Pharrell Williams made an impression wearing Chanel at the Academy Awards, but it wasn’t a good one. Did he get in a cat fight on his way to the Oscar’s, his shirt looks shredded? He’s on our worst-dressed list.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Ruth Negga’s retro look was inspired by a time long before Hollywood’s Golden Age. She worked with stylist Karla Welch to create a look Welch described to the Hollywood Reporter as “a pagan goddess look,” thanks to a custom red Valentino Haute Couture gown, especially designed for the actress by creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli and accessorized with jewelry from L.A.-based Irene Neuwirth, featuring Gemfields responsibly sourced Mozambican rubies for a headpiece, earrings and ring that made her look regal — and absolutely timeless.
It’s hard to know exactly what was behind the retro rewind vibe of this year’s Academy Awards, but the takeaway — at least to those of us watching the red carpet arrivals — was of an entertainment industry trying to escape, at least wardrobe-wise, to the “good old days” — or at least, to an era that’s not as fraught as the current one. And that sends a message just about as clear as the blue ACLU support ribbons pinned to the chest of Negga’s dress and Kloss’ hip.
For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me at @ARTschorn.