It’s hard to remember now, through the mists of time, but there was a time, pre-Covid, when a movement was brewing in Hollywood to #askhermore on the red carpet (he too). Trying to change what looked like, literally, a paid marketing opportunity for fashion and the celebrities who wore it, into an opportunity to tell stories about values and personal choices.
It didn’t last long.
At least not judging by the first full, mask-less, and social-distancing Oscars red carpet in two years. You can kind of understand it: it’s so exciting to be back, to be able to wear fabulous clothes, en masse. Plus, there’s a lot of sadness in the world right now, and if the movie world is good at one thing, it’s escapism.
But does it have to be an escape to the past or into the celluloid bubble? The pandemic offered a reset. Shouldn’t the red carpet also have been reset: how do we define dress, elegance and entrance? Was it possible that rug lovers had outgrown mermaid and fairy tales atop Spanx?
At first it seemed not.
Best Actress nominee Jessica Chastain appeared in shimmering gold and lavender Gucci, tiny Tweety Bird ruffles on the shoulders and a large ruff at the hem, like a princess straight out of a Disney movie and the fantasies many little girls. Fellow nominee Nicole Kidman wore Sleek gray-blue Armani with a bubbled peplum so generous it could serve as an armrest or an ode to old Hollywood. Zoe Kravitz appeared to be channeling Audrey Hepburn in a Saint Laurent column dress that featured a baby pink bow. Billie Eilish was a goth merengue layered in black Gucci moire. As beautiful as most of them look, the dresses acted as something of a reference library for the silver screen legend, stepping back in time.
There was plenty of gold, as always when it comes to statuettes, the most striking being Lupita Nyong’o’s sequined and fringed Prada halter top. Risk-taking straight off the runway, thanks to Maggie Gyllenhaal doing her best impression of a surreal Narnia chest of drawers at Schiaparelli, and Jada Pinkett Smith and her sparkling emerald dress from Glenn Martens for Jean Paul Gaultier couture.
The most surprising thing was the lack of recognition of the war in Ukraine. The theme for the evening was “Movie Lovers Unite”, which might have suggested some unity of blue and yellow props, at the very least, but aside from a few bits here and there – Jason’s blue and yellow pocket square Momoa; the Benedict Cumberbatch 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 Christian Siriano chiffon, Tracee Ellis Ross in very low-cut Carolina Herrera with what looked like two little coasters on breasts.
But that’s also where things got interesting. Because look a little closer: Kirsten Dunst’s cherry ruffled Lacroix lollipop was actually vintage, from 2002 (if you’re going to recycle the past, better recycle it than repeat it). And Ariana DeBose’s sweeping cape topped with a bustier top and pleated pants by Valentino, 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 peacocking this time, including Kodi Smit-McPhee in tonal baby blue Bottega Veneta and a quazillion carats of Cartier diamonds, Sebastian Yatra in petal pink Moschino and Wesley Snipes in Givenchy burgundy tuxedo shorts-jumpsuit and leggings. But Mr. Chalamet took it to a whole new level.
On 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, overall, a sparkling and provocative display that effectively overturned many old stereotypes about who can wear what and how. He may have shown the most skin of the night. Maybe go down in history, even, as the first shirtless man at the Oscars (the first in recent memory, anyway). If nothing else, it’s now guaranteed to have a spot on every “Memorable Oscar Looks” list.
With his clothes, he suggested, without saying a word, that an upheaval of the old rules was taking place. And he wasn’t the only one working on this idea.
Zendaya, in a white satin button-up shirt cropped just below her breasts and a skirt that was a slip of silver sequins (all Valentino), played with the story – Sharon Stone in a white Gap shirt and Vera Wang skirt swag at the 1998 Oscars, a very controversial combo at the time – and brought it up to date. Kristen Stewart wore Chanel hot pants with her tuxedo jacket and a white shirt unbuttoned to the navel, and she swapped her black pumps for black loafers as soon as she passed the step-by-step. And HER wore a neon yellow Carolina Herrera mini skirt with an asymmetrical strapless dress that floated behind her like a cloud.
None of them seemed to involve heavy-duty underwear or styles designed only for standing still with a hip bent to the side. It’s a step forward, if there ever was one. The one who deserves the consideration of all.