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March 1, 2011

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Gowns that glitter and hug the body

IT was a night of glittering couture - it wasn't safe and it wasn't outrageous. Stars went for a body-hugging, seductive and sophisticated look, not a clunker in the bunch. Samantha Critchell reports.

Black Swan" graced the Oscars in several ways: Besides Natalie Portman in her Rodarte violet-colored draped gown in silk chiffon with Swarovski crystals, co-star Mila Kunis wore a very low-cut, lingerie-style Elie Saab gown in lavender with lace details.

But other stars also had a bit of a dancer vibe on Sunday night at Kodak Theatre, including Mandy Moore in a gold-beaded, illusion gown by Monique Lhuillier and Hailee Steinfeld's custom-made Marchesa.

Steinfeld accessorized her crystal-covered, hand-embroidered, tea-length tulle dress in pale pink with a ballerina-style, diamond-and-platinum Fred Leighton headband.

"Hailee Steinfeld made the perfect choice - in its endearingness and sincerity," says Susan Cernek, executive online fashion editor for Glamour.

And, adds Cernek, "Natalie Portman was as gorgeous and amazing as you'd think." The gown by Laura and Kate Mulleavy made skillful use of a delicate neckline to draw attention from the empire waist that is pretty standard for maternity dresses, she observed, and the Tiffany & Co tassel earrings were a perfect complement.

There was some controversy ahead of the Academy Awards about "Black Swan" - and who should get the credit for its very influential looks. Rodarte did design some of the outfits, but Amy Westcott was the film's official costume designer. "Natalie Portman was making a personal choice. She calls the Rodarte designers 'friends'," Cernek says.

Another big statement on the red carpet at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles was host Anne Hathaway in a big, attention-grabbing strapless red gown from the Valentino archives.

Gwyneth Paltrow's metallic, embroidered sheath gown with a slit-style V neck by Calvin Klein's Francisco Costa hit the trend of a more seductive, sophisticated Oscars look versus flashy, skin-baring styles.

"I think people looked really good. They went couture and body conscious, not overtly sexy," says Hal Rubenstein, fashion director of InStyle magazine. "There was a lot of sheer, a lot of high necks ... There was no real clunker in the bunch."

The higher neckline of Amy Adams' L'Wren Scott gown, covered in purple caviar beads with a back-hem slit, was contrasted by her chunky pendant necklace. "It was a '40s Shanghai nightclub - sexy but quite covered up," says Cernek.

"The one thing we're seeing a consistent amount of is silhouettes fitted to their bodies, whether it's romantic or structured," says stylist Cristina Ehrlich, who worked with Adams.

Melissa Leo's Marc Bouwer gown, which had a collar-style neckline, was an atypical choice of this most classic and glamorous occasion of the awards-show season.

Reese Witherspoon channeled a bit of Brigitte Bardot in her black gown by Giorgio Armani Prive with a white band around the strapless bustline, and Hilary Swank's strapless, gray Gucci had the unexpected twist of delicate feathers. fashion expert Tom Julian put Scarlett Johansson and her deep-magenta, stretch-lace gown by Dolce & Gabbana at the top of his list. (He gave his best-tux prize to Tom Ford's fitted suit on Justin Timberlake.)

"Glamorous reds, regal and rich purples, and modern metallics took over this year's red carpet," Julian says.

Also in red were Penelope Cruz in a sequined L'Wren Scott and Sandra Bullock, wearing a sculptured, strapless Vera Wang.

Jennifer Hudson showed off her slimmed-down figure in a tangerine-orange halter gown by Versace. "It was a great way to say, 'Guess what? I'm a star, I've got the power and I'm fierce," says Yalof Schwartz. "It was the ultimate makeover dress."

If her dress didn't do it, then her jewels did. Jeweler Neil Lane valued her 20-carat ring, long, basket earrings, and bracelets at US$1 million.

Cate Blanchett went the couture route in Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci. The pleated, pale-wisteria dress was embroidered with pearls, crystals covered in leather and a swath of yellow beads around the neck.

InStyle's Rubenstein thinks Michelle Williams' beaded Chanel Couture gown will end up the controversial choice in next-day conversations, but it doesn't deserve it.

"I think Michelle Williams' dress doesn't show up well in photos, but if you could see the iridescent beading, it's an extraordinary piece of work. It photographs very, very simple, but it's pretty sensational."

Another dress that needed to be seen in person to be appreciated was Halle Berry's champagne-colored Marchesa strapless gown with a pouf of tulle around the bottom. "That dress was a movie-star dress," says style expert Suze Yalof Schwartz from her perch at the red carpet. "It fit her like it was melted onto her body."

More couture: Helen Mirren selected a one-of-a-kind Vivienne Westwood Couture gown in gunmetal satin with long sleeves. Marisa Tomei in a vintage, 1950s-era navy gown by Charles James from Lily et Cie paired with 1960 sapphire and diamond jewelry from Van Cleef & Arpels, and Nicole Kidman in a strapless, white Christian Dior gown with silver embroidery.

If the buzz wasn't going to be about her choice to wear Dior in the aftermath of the suspension of designer John Galliano, it would have been about her 19th-century, old-mine cut diamond necklace from Fred Leighton.

Ehrlich, who partnered with Victoria's Secret, says, "There's a lot of psychology involved in making the looks look as effortlessly as they do. It's all very glamorous with a lot of different takes on it."

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