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Op-Editorial on the 2002 Oscars:


- By Diane Clehane

The benefit of an extended deadline has allowed me to deconstruct the behind the scenes goings-on between New York’s transplanted fashionistas and this year’s Academy Award nominees and presenters with some perspective rather than write about the evening in my usual over-caffeinated haze at some ungodly hour while still in my evening dress (bought off the rack, thank you very much). As a result, I’ve come to one irrefutable conclusion: the fashionistas that have attached themselves to the Oscar fray should be ashamed of themselves. Oh, and let’s not forget those plucky entertainment ‘journalists’ and supremely self-important ‘style experts’ (Funny, how that has become a much sought-after job title, isn’t it?) who’ve become the arbiters of good taste – or what passes for it these days in Hollywood.

On Seventh Avenue and in Europe, designers spent years decrying actors’ lack of taste and personal style on Oscar night (That is until Uma Thurman showed up in her lavender Prada in 1995). Forget supermodels, conventional wisdom at the time reasoned, actresses were “real women” who were more accessible than the glamazonians who stalked the runway but still inspired fairy-princess fantasies among women from 16 to 60. Aha! The Holy Grail of publicity had been discovered. The phenomenon spawned scores of satellite offices in LA for fashion industry flacks and gave birth to the somewhat ambiguous title of “special projects editor” (also known as celebrity wrangler) in the glossies. But things have simply gotten out of hand.

The self-appointed rescuers of the great underdressed and over-accessorized celebrity masses (you know who you are) have managed to turn the red carpet sideshow into self-parody of frightening proportions. Anyone who thinks that is an overstatement that hasn’t put in their time standing behind an inconveniently placed hedge in eighty degree heat for three hours with thousands of other exasperated reporters only to get twenty seconds with the B-list babe of the moment doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Exhibit A: little known Mulholland Drive star Laura Elena Harring actually foisted her foot on Joan Rivers’ arm to show off the 64-karat, $1million pair of Stuart Weitzman shoes she was wearing. (Jada Pinkett Smith was originally slated to have worn the flashbulb-friendly footwear but an injury prevented her from doing so. Lucky her).

No one within earshot talked to Ms. Harring on her way into the Kodak Theatre about her Oscar nominated-film (Drive’s director David Lynch lost the Best Director honors to Ron Howard) – it was all about the shoes. And she couldn’t have been happier. Perhaps that’s because it’s doubtful anyone there would have known who she was otherwise. She explained that Mr. Weitzman had promised to donate $10,000 to Ms. Harring favorite charity if she would be his Cinderella on Oscar night. Does anyone else consider this alarming trend a bit unseemly? The fashion industry has always been more than generous when it comes to supporting good works with no strings attached. If you want to give to charity, just do it. (And no, she doesn’t get to keep the shoes. But she said, “Stuart is going to make me a copy of them without all the diamonds.”) Clearly a woman who doesn’t believe in the old saying less in more, Ms. Harring also sported a 77-karat $25 million necklace.

The whole thing has gotten incredibly tacky...

But who is to blame? In The New York Observer, Simon Doonan’s Oscar post-mortem chided actors for their “hitherto unimaginable levels of self-importance.” Maybe so, but they’re actors – they can’t help it. Despite designers’ protestations that stars have become too demanding, stylists are too powerful and the pre-Oscar frenzy that surrounds Beverly Hills has transformed L’Ermitage into more of a trade show than a chic atelier, the usual suspects (and more than a few newcomers) once again flocked to LA with their wares and scores of manic cellphone-wielding publicists in tow. Their every move was documented in hourly press releases boasting celebrity ‘gets’. A note to flacks everywhere: editors are not celebrities in the real world. Do you really expect anyone to report on what Andre Leon Talley is wearing to the Vanity Fair party?

Last year, frustrated fashion executives talked off the record about wanting to do something “more exclusive, more special” and voiced considerable frustration over the “cheesy” atmosphere that has overtaken Oscar Week. For every chic gala for A-listers, there’s dozens of pseudo-events and parties planned for the sole reason of getting a celebrity --- any celebrity – to stop by and pick up the goodie bag so the sponsoring company can promote that bold face name’s interest in their product in hopes of getting a mention in InStyle.

Well, “special” isn’t exactly the word I’d use to describe the 20-room shopping mall that overtook L’Ermitage. For one week, anyone with even the most tangential connection to a “star” (and I use that term loosely) could get dressed, groomed (if that’s what you want to call it, but more on that later) and stay well fed for free. The drinks were on Bacardi who created an “ultra-hip” (isn’t calling something ‘hip’ extremely unhip?) lounge for a crowd that mostly consisted of weary reporters and socialites cooling their heels while they rested between goodie bag grabs. Alpha males (not that I saw one within fifty miles of the place) were given the option of hanging out at the “guys only” Johnny Walker Blue spa and bar where they could drown their troubles. But the real action occurred in L’Ermitage's anonymous hallways where several publicists and an alarming number of designers stood sentry at the doors of their suites waiting expectantly for someone – anyone – to stop by and check out their collection of Oscar themed handbags (I can’t imagine why no one opted to carry Timmy Woods’ handbag adorned with Halle Berry’s face on it.) Can I interest you in a free La-Z-Boy recliner? I hear Julia loves to sit in hers and knit. What about a Macintosh iBook (A-listers, only please)? What are these people doing here?

Ted Krukel, who has become the unofficial ringleader of the three ring Oscar circus, held court in the Governor’s Suite (the toniest of the lot) where he showcased Escada, Van Cleef & Arpels and many other companies. He dismissed the idea that the pre-Oscar activities imported from New York have created a carnival-like atmosphere. “We have created a great environment for our clients and people are coming in all the time,” he said. Sure, Sharon Stone came by for a manicure (so did Tori Spelling and Heidi Klum) – but declined a free haircut (Ms. Stone has told me she cuts her own hair). As much as it pains me to say this, and it does, despite her well-earned reputation as one of the most stylish women in Hollywood, Ms. Stone isn’t exactly an “It girl” anymore. Once the most sought after actress to dress on Oscar night, she barely caused a blip on the radar screen this year. She may have simply come to the conclusion that during times like these, you’ve got to go where the goods are and did. I suspect if she had been a nominee we wouldn’t have seen her until she appeared on the red carpet on Sunday evening.

Speaking of loot, it was more plentiful than ever but this being Hollywood, there was the usual A and B lists – but not with the names you might expect. “We don’t give the same things to everyone,” said one publicist, “There are certain journalists who get the best stuff. For anyone from any of the Conde Nast magazines, InStyle, Women’s Wear or an ET or Access producer, they can get anything they want. That’s where it can do us the most good.”

Which brings me to the coverage of this year’s event. You don’t need Joan Rivers to tell you this was not a stellar year for fashion. But you’d never know it from the breathless coverage in both the trade and consumer press that blew air-kisses at all their coveted cover girls (JLo, Uma and Cameron) saluting them for their style savvy. Sure Nicole Kidman looked great (My vote for the best dressed women of the evening goes to Kate Winslet and Reese Witherspoon – Kidman is a hall of famer at this point. She shouldn’t miss and never does).

Women’s Wear Daily speculated that Jennifer Connelly’s ill-begotten Balenciaga could do for the design house what Uma Thurman did for Prada. Don’t count on it. It takes a lot of work to make one of Hollywood’s most stunning actresses look perfectly dreadful and Nicolas Ghesquiere succeeded on every level. The runway is only thing, the red carpet is another. The New York Observer proclaimed the paper has gotten “its bite back” but that was certainly not the case in its Oscar post mortem. “Horray for Hollywood” was the innocuous headline on Monday’s front cover. The photo of Nicole Kidman in Chanel couture with Ms. Paltrow (whose dress was diplomatically described as “dramatic’) was an interesting choice. And speaking of covers, you have to wonder how Anna Wintour felt about Vogue’s March issue, which showcased Ms. Paltrow as a ‘Fashion Icon’ (in capital letters, just to drive home the point). Let’s hope no one “follows Gwyneth’s lead” and duplicates what is sure to be remembered as one of the worst looks ever worn by an actress to the Oscars. And, can we finally put this annoying urban legend to rest? Ms. Paltrow may be a talented actress but she is not a fashion icon. Period. The end. And as far as all those tired references that women’s magazines have been recycling for years referring to her as “the new Grace Kelly” ---- pulezzzze.

Okay, so we’re not reporting on Bin Laden’s whereabouts but what about a little truth telling? It was a terrible fashion year at the Oscars. Something was just slightly off. I won’t even attempt to explain the hair. Sure, Gwyneth’s Heidi-on-Acid look courtesy of Alexander McQueen got roundly dissed – how could it not? (I think it’s safe to say Randolph Duke has blown any change he may have had of dressing Gwynnie after making some very catty comments on The View’s after-party telecast. Interestingly enough, Mr. Duke didn’t make his regular pilgrimage to Beverly Hills for the Oscars preferring the company of Star Jones and crew in New York to his usual ubiquitous presence on the red carpet and the after parties).

WWD did make one comment about Halle Berry’s see-through Elie Saab as borrowing “more than a little from the figure skating school of fashion” that was dead-on. Let’s face it, Ms. Berry is stunning and can pull off virtually everything she tries but her va-va-va voom dress was a more showgirl than movie star for the biggest night of her life. One flack weighed in with this telling insight, “It’s sad that she didn’t wear Valentino. She’s always done so well by him and always looks beautiful in his clothes. That’s why designers bend over backward for stars in hopes that their loyalty will pay off. This was a really unfortunate choice.”

It took days before WWD paper got around to “deconstructing” Ms. Paltrow’s look and when they did, they left the mudslinging to the experts who let fashion’s tarnished golden girl have it with both barrels in Friday’s edition. It would seem that the actress’ outfit was such a mystery it took a slew of “cultural critics” and “scholars” to explain it. The Fashion Institute of Technology’s museum curator Valerie Steele weighed in with this: “There was something a bit hostile about Gwyneth, her look was like a giant ‘F--- You.’”

Maybe that’s because she’s sick of being a walking press release. Phillip Bloch, who by now has talked to every media outlet on the planet about Halle Berry’s Oscar dress, has seen his stock rise considerably in the process. In fairness to the ubiquitous Bloch, TV commentators hung on his every word. If an actress walks down the red carpet looking stunning in something you’ve selected for her and nobody reports on it, does it still count? Evidently not. The Associated Press actually issued a news report chronicling what Bloch carried in his “award show kit.” For those who missed this earth-shattering bulletin, he revealed he never leaves home without body stockings, strapless bras, nude-colored underwear, pins, a needle and thread and, of course, double-stick tape. So know you now.

Next year all this talk about L’Ermitage may be academic. It seems that many of designers and flacks who overtook the hotel have said they were treated “like second class citizens.” The hotel is accused of removing signs that were put up to indicate directions to designers’ suites. (What nerve!). Word is The Four Seasons and the Beverly Hills Hotel are in contention for the dubious honor of becoming the Merchandise Mart of choice for next year’s festivities. L’Ermitage, like any self-respecting Hollywood heavyweight, have called in their lawyers. Meanwhile, ABS’ Allen Schwartz’ knock-off Oscar collection is expected in stores any minute. You, too, can look like Halle Berry for under $300.

Stylist --- and Oscar --- not included.

Comments? E-mail Diane