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2009 February 23

Dressed to Kill

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Reese Witherspoon in Rodarte Reese Witherspoon in Rodarte
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(NEW YORK) Now more than ever, red carpet presence is critical for fashion houses both young and old, and at last night's 81st Annual Academy Awards, those of all stripes took the honor of offering up the evening's best dresses.

John Galliano merits an Oscar of his own for outfitting new Dior face Marion Cotillard and Sarah Jessica Parker in breathtaking Dior Haute Couture ballgowns, firmly establishing his position as a superlative couturier. Frieda Pinto dominated the carpet (and the cover of more than a few national newspapers) in a cerulean look from his eponymous line that, when shown at a transit station on the outskirts of Paris last October, had many editors wondering which brave young thing would wear it on the red carpet.

Kate and Laura Mulleavy lent their Rodarte collection even more gravitas last night when launching presenter Reese Witherspoon into a new realm of style glory with a black, navy and blue dyed tulle gown speckled with Swarovski embroidery. Natalie Portman, a longtime fan of the house, made a statement all her own statement in a strapless orchid gown with Swarovski beading. Marisa Tomei was radiant in an extensively pleated champagne Atelier Versace gown, a gussied-up counterpoint to her relatively bohemian Oscar de la Renta look at the Golden Clobes. It's about time that a few starlets showed some guts. Tilda Swinton even managed to show hers while concealing almost everything in a champagne-topped, black-skirted Lanvin look. Brava!

Giorgio Armani was predictably ubiquitous, and dressing the Ledger family was merely the beginning. Best Actress nominee Anne Hathaway showed just what wonders Prive can work with a beaded column that introduced the term "paillette" to millions of households around the globe. While Sophia Loren's ensemble was a bit less refined, it still attested to the powerhouse brand's ability to appeal to women at every stage of life.

Jennifer Aniston and Amanda Seyfriend were the first to wear Valentino Haute Couture after the design reigns were shifted from Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli. Stefano Pilati made a single statement by dressing Best Actress winner Kate Winslet in head-to-toe YSL. Sadly, none of Christophe Decarnin's Balmain frocks appeared on the red carpet, but after all, those microminis are better-suited to the afterparties. Happily, Penelope Cruz nodded to the house's historic grandeur in a vintage beaded Balmain Couture ballgown. Dolce & Gabanna created stunning gowns for Melissa George and Diane Lane.

Speaking of granduer, Meryl Streep looked her absolute best in a dove grey custom Alberta Ferretti, while Amy Adams' rouge Carolina Herrera gown had just as much spunk as the woman herself. Jessica Biel's Prada look was a bit flummoxing, but happily, her fresh-from-the-runway fuschia taffeta Oscar de la Renta frock fared much better at the after-party.

However, a few A-list designers didn't end up on the usual crop of nominees, namely Michael Kors, Nina Ricci, J.Mendel, Vera Wang, Proenza Schouler, Christian Lacroix and Jean Paul Gaultier. Chanel only dressed Gwen Stefani, while Roberto Cavalli outfitted just Taraji P. Henson. But all in all, the 81st Annual Academy Awards was the most winning fashion event as the season, elevating dressing to an art form while the world watches.

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