It’s hard to remember now, through the mist of time, but there was a moment, pre-COVID, when a movement was afoot in Hollywood to #askhermore on the red carpet (him too). To try to change what was looking, literally, like a paid-for marketing opportunity for fashion, and the celebs that wore it, into a storytelling opportunity about values and personal choice.
That didn’t last long.
At least not judging by the first full-on, maskless, non-socially-distanced Oscar red carpet in two years. You can kind of understand it: It’s just so darn exciting to be back, getting to wear fabulous clothes, en masse. Also, there’s a lot of grimness in the world at the moment, and if the moviemaking world is good at one thing, it’s escapism.
But does it have to be escapism back to the past, or into the celluloid bubble? The pandemic offered a reset. Should not the red carpet have had a reset, too: of how we define dress-up, elegance and entrance-making? Was it possible the carpet-goers might have moved beyond mermaids-’n’-fairy tales atop Spanx?
At first it seemed not.
Best actress nominee Jessica Chastain appeared in gold and lavender sparkling Gucci, little Tweety Bird frills at her shoulders and a big ruff at her hem, like a princess straight from a Disney movie and the fantasies of many little girls. Fellow nominee Nicole Kidman wore streamlined gray-blue Armani with a bubbled peplum so generous it could serve as an arm rest, or an ode to old Hollywood. Zoë Kravitz seemed to be channeling Audrey Hepburn in a baby pink bow-bedecked Saint Laurent column gown. Billie Eilish was a Gothic merengue in tiers of black Gucci moiré. Lovely as most of them looked, the dresses acted as a sort of reference library for silver screen legend, reaching back over time.
There was a lot of gold, as always when statuette are involved, most strikingly Lupita Nyong’o’s sequined and fringed backless Prada. Some straight-from-the-runway risk-taking, courtesy of Maggie Gyllenhaal doing her best impression of a surreal Narnia chest of drawers in Schiaparelli, and Jada Pinkett Smith and her frothing emerald gown from the Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier couture.
The most surprising thing was how little acknowledgment there was of the war in Ukraine. The theme of the evening was “Movie Lovers Unite,” which could have suggested some unity of blue and yellow accessorizing, at the very least, but other than a few bits here and there — Jason Momoa’s blue and yellow pocket hankie; Benedict Cumberbatch’s lapel pin; a scattering of bright blue ribbons worn for refugees — it was largely absent.
Again, as always, there was a lot of red on the red carpet: Marlee Matlin in elegant long-sleeved Monique Lhuillier, Rosie Perez in chiffon Christian Siriano, Tracee Ellis Ross in very low-cut Carolina Herrera with what looked like two little coasters over the breasts.
But that’s also when things got interesting. Because look a little closer: Kirsten Dunst’s ruffled cherry lollipop Lacroix was actually vintage, from 2002. And Ariana DeBose’s stoplight sweeping cape topped a bustier and pleated pants from Valentino, thus pretty much redefining the three-piece suit.
Then Timothée Chalamet arrived. Shirtless.
Men have been moving the needle when it comes to fancy dress for a while now. And there was some peacocking this time, most notably with Kodi Smit-McPhee in tone-on-tone baby blue Bottega Veneta and a quazillion carats of Cartier diamonds, Sebastian Yatra in petal pink Moschino and Wesley Snipes in a burgundy tuxedo shorts-and-leggings combination. But Chalamet took it to a whole new level.
Over his bare chest, he wore an embroidered lace jacket from Louis Vuitton’s spring 2022 womenswear collection, along with two Cartier emerald and diamond necklaces, two matching bracelets and five rings. It was, all in all, a sparkling, provocative display that effectively subverted numerous old stereotypes about who can wear what and how. He may have shown the most skin of the night. Perhaps make history, even, as the first shirtless man at the Oscars (the first in recent memory, anyway). At the very least, he’s now guaranteed a spot on every “memorable Oscar looks” list.
With his clothes he suggested, without saying a word, that a shake-up of the old rules was coming after all. And he wasn’t the only one working that idea.
Zendaya, in a white satin button-up shirt cropped to just below her breasts and a skirt that was a slither of silver sequins (all Valentino), played with history — Sharon Stone in a white Gap shirt and swagged Vera Wang skirt at the 1998 Oscars, a highly controversial combo at the time — and updated it. Kristen Stewart wore Chanel hot pants with her tux jacket and a white shirt unbuttoned to the navel, and she traded her black pumps for black loafers as soon as she got past the step-and-repeat. And H.E.R. wore a neon-yellow Carolina Herrera mini with a sweeping strapless high-low dress that billowed behind her like a cloud.
None of them seemed to involve ironclad undergarments or styles made solely for standing still with a hip cocked to the side. That’s a step forward, if there ever was one. One deserving of everyone’s consideration.