Dressing for Hollywood's Biggest Night

Published March 17, 2003

| FoxNews.com

Who will win the Oscar for Best Picture? Who cares!

The real trophy is on the backs of the stars walking the red carpet -- stunning ensembles that can change lives and take months to choose.

But while the star's final look may cause jaws to drop, the prettying process can be anything but glamorous.

"It's countless amounts of phone calls, and phone tag, phone tag, phone tag," said Phillip Bloch, mega-stylist to the stars, who is putting together Academy Award looks this year for Halle Berry, Jim Carrey, Faye Dunaway and fashion model Iman. "Calling clothes in, returning them, fittings, and flying back and forth a lot."

And stylists aren't alone in their efforts: Bloch works with a team of assistants, tailors, make-up artists and hair stylists to make stars like Berry, last year's Best Actress winner, shine.

"It takes a small village," he said in a phone interview just minutes before flying from his Los Angeles-based studio to New York to oversee a fitting.

But the results of a fetted outfit are worth the sweat. An average of one billion people watch the Oscars, meaning that more eyeballs will be on a star's gown than on the movie she was nominated for. And that translates to huge business for designers.

Shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, who helps stars put their fanciest foot forward, said the red carpet is essential publicity. 

"A great picture at a great event can make a great career or break a career," he said. "This is serious business. It is not frivolous."

Merle Ginsberg, entertainment editor of Women's Wear Daily and W magazine said Oscar fashion can trickle down to influence the entire industry.

"Last year Nicole Kidman wore a very, very pink dress. Suddenly that became a huge color in fashion," said Ginsberg. "If Nicole Kidman wore a Chanel dress, do people buy more Chanel perfume? Yes."

While the stunning starlets strut the red carpet like bright peacocks, male stars are faced with a different conundrum: How to look stylish without seeming as though they tried too hard.

"When the invite says black tie, every guy looks best in a classic tux," said Katrina Szish, senior editor at GQ. "What makes a man stylish is when he knows how to manipulate the subtle versions of fabrics and cuts. Some think they can reinvent the wheel, but it doesn't work."

Designers do push to have men wear their specially created tuxes on Tinseltown's biggest night, but it's not a priority, Szish said.

"When it comes to the Oscars, a designer's priority in terms of getting their clothes worn is going with the women because it's much more visible and gets more play."

But stylists wouldn't have been nearly as busy during the early days of Hollywood when most stars were under contract to major studios, which dictated what the nominees wore.

It wasn't until the1980s that fashion glamour came to the awards, said Patty Fox author of Star Style at the Academy Awards, a history of Oscar style.

Giorgio Armani began designing high fashion for nominees and then a "designer race" started in the 1990s, she said.

"I think [designers] realized the influence of branding and publicity so it was worth their time and money to be very involved," Ginsberg said.

Bloch has been styling stars for Oscar night 10 years, but said the "race" has become increasingly frenetic.

"So many people are trying to cash in on that free publicity," he said. "My phone doesn't stop ringing all day long from designers, jewelers…people peddling their wares."

Titanic co-star Gloria Stuart, 92, reflected on an Oscar celebration all the way back to 1932.

"It was tuxedos for the men and long dresses for the women," she said. "The gowns today? It was nothing like that. It was not a fashion contest."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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