It was like the pandemic was a distant memory, with stars actually walking the red carpet at the 93rd Annual Academy Awards, fondly known as the Oscars, the awards given for artistic and technical excellence in the film industry.
They diligently followed the dress code memo sent by the event producers: “a fusion of inspirational and aspirational.” In other words, drop-dead glamour, dripping with jewels and no pajamas or sweats via Zoom. They even (gasp!) went mask-less, at least in front of the cameras.
This would have been a no-no just a month or so ago but with the rollout of vaccines and decrease in COVID cases in America, it was possible to celebrate Hollywood’s biggest night with a semblance of the glitter of years past.
Of course the usual number of 3,000 attendees was still not possible, with only a safe 170 guests, nominees and presenters allowed to gather in two Los Angeles venues: the Dolby Theatre and Union Station.
It was still a bit weird seeing interviewers and interviewees on opposite ends of the screen with a long pole microphone between them, but at least they were all dressed in the latest couture, which transported us back to pre-pandemic days of celebrity and fashion ogling.
As a nod to the color of the Art Deco award statuette, many went for gold: Leslie Odom Jr., best supporting actor nominee for One Night in Miami, was gleaming in a Brioni suit made with 24k gold thread.
Carey Mulligan, best actress nominee for Promising Young Woman, was stellar in a gold-sequined skirt-bandeau set from Valentino, while fellow nominee Andra Day (for The United States vs. Billie Holiday), was slithering in metal mesh by Vera Wang. Both went bare midriff, a trend also essayed in the Valentino fluorescent yellow chiffon gown of presenter Zendaya, who piled it on with US$6 million worth of Bulgari gems. Her long, wavy hair was perfect for her draped, flowing gown, which gave her the look of a siren rising from the sea.
Questlove, the musical director for the awards night, wore a relaxed tux with gold Crocs, flouting trad red carpet rules and joining fellow celebrities Justin Bieber, Bad Bunny and Ariana Grande, who are also upping the cool factor of rubber footwear at the moment.
Red also had a strong following, with Amanda Seyfried, best supporting actress nominee for Mank, resplendent in a strapless tulle gown designed especially for her by Giorgio Armani himself. Inspired by the hibiscus flower, “it gives shape to passion, finely pleated, forming into a petal shape like an upside-down flower,” according to the designer, as told to Vogue. It channels the classic Hollywood glamour of the Jazz Age star Marion Davies, which she portrays in the film.
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Angela Bassett went full drama with an Alberta Ferretti gown accented by a giant bow at the back with the loops as sleeves and the tails as train.
Reese Witherspoon came in Dior’s halter-neck ombré gown in shades of red and burgundy.
H.E.R. pays homage to Prince
There were tributes to past Oscar night looks that gave an air of nostalgia: Filipino-American singer H.E.R., who won Best Original Song for Judas and the Black Messiah, wore a Peter Dundas cobalt blue jumpsuit with hooded cape that paid homage to Prince’s outfit in 1985.
Laura Dern’s Oscar de la Renta dress with fitted black top and white ostrich feather skirt brought back memories of Bjork’s controversial swan dress worn in 2001.
Those past Oscars now seem like ages ago, especially after what the world has gone through, from the pandemic to the #WeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements, resulting in more diversity — with nine out of 20 acting nominees for people of color and a total of 70 women receiving 76 nominations, the most in Oscar history.
Chloe Zhao, director of best picture winner Nomadland, is the first Asian woman and only the second woman ever to win the best director award. To mark the historic moment, she dressed in her authentic, relaxed style: a nude knit dress and crisp, white sneakers from Hermès.
For her role in Minari, Yuh-Jung Youn also made history for winning best supporting actress, the first Korean actress to win an Oscar. She also stayed true to her no-fuss, understated style, wearing a simple boxy dress in deep navy by Egyptian designer Marmar Halim. But it was her effortless sense of humor that charmed Hollywood that evening. Accepting her award, she referred to herself as a “mommy who works so hard” after calling out her A-list presenter Brad Pitt, who is the executive producer of Minari: “Mr. Pitt, finally nice to meet you… where were you while we were filming in person?”
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“I do not need to stand out… I don’t need big jewels, I don’t need crazy clothes,” she had told Alvin Goh, her stylist who has worked with the likes of Emma Watson, Tilda Swinton, Uma Thurman and Margot Robbie. Hearing that from a celebrity for the first time, Goh said in disbelief, “It’s shocking for someone of that level to say that. She’s been in this industry for more than 50 years!” But then, maybe that’s the reason Yuh-Jung has reached that stature and lasted so long. And why she is now going home to Korea with that much-coveted little gold statuette named Oscar.