HOLLYWOOD – Halle Berry arrived at Sunday's Academy Awards in a wine-colored, A-line ballgown with a sheer bodice and strategically placed beaded flowers — a sexy departure for her and a fashion moment on a night when many stars played it safe.
"She's the new, hot style icon," Cindi Leive, editor in chief of Glamour, said of the best-actress nominee. "People are enjoying watching her."
Nicole Kidman chose a Chanel pink-chiffon, spaghetti-strap gown with tiers of ruffles running down the bodice, and 200 carats of raw Bulgari diamonds wrapped around her neck.
"Nicole's gown really showed how soft and pretty fashion is going," said Tom Julian, fashion commentator for Oscar.com.
The awards-show set generally chose classic styles, with relatively little jewelry and loose hairstyles.
Even Jennifer Lopez, known for some racy and risky outfits, wore a simple fitted pink strapless gown with gathered sides by Versace and a pearl necklace.
Jennifer Connelly, another fashion "it girl," wore a champagne-colored strapless gown with a tiered skirt by Balenciaga with matching scarf.
Previous best-actress winners Julia Roberts and Helen Hunt went for simple — and covered-up — stlyes: Roberts in a black jersey Giorgio Armani gown with back and side cutouts, and Hunt in a black satin, long-sleeve gown with a deep V-neck and lace-up front by Gucci.
In another red-carpet highlight, Laura Elena Harring wore a 77-carat Archduke Joseph Diamond valued at $27 million and designed by Alfredo Molina, and $1 million stiletto sandals by Stuart Weitzman to complement her black-and-red, strapless, beaded, floral gown by Armani.
"I think they thought it was the Cinderella story. I come from a small town in Mexico," said Harring, co-star of Mulholland Drive.
Helen Mirren, nominated for best-supporting actress, was in a white Giorgio Armani ballgown, while fellow nominee Kate Winslet also wore red, an almost-strapless gown with a single floral strap. Marisa Tomei, also nominated in that category, had a similar one-strap look in a black gown with netted skirt and a diamond necklace draped around her neck.
Leive expected to see a lot of black on the red carpet, and black, she said, needs "the `oh-my-God, what is she wearing' necklace."
Reese Witherspoon was in a black cap-sleeve dress with black lace detail; Naomi Watts wore a fitted black gown with crisscross straps; and Glenn Close was in a Vera Wang gown with sheer black sleeves.
Will Smith, a best-actor nominee, wore a monochromatic shirt-and-tie look in champagne, and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, was in a white wrap top with yellow skirt.
Leive said the audience was hoping for another Bjork swan dress from last year.
"A lot of people watch the red carpet for entertainment," she said. "They're not necessarily taking it as a cue of what they're wearing to tomorrow night's cocktail party.
"I think a lot of people secretly wish someone will look terrible, otherwise it's boring."