Thursday, February 26, 2009

All I have to Say About the Oscar Dresses

While Penelope Cruz won an Oscar for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, her gown had a more mixed reception. Cathy Horyn, blogging for The New York Times, felt the 60-year-old Balmain creation "wore her." Others deemed the style too bridal, due to the white color and heavy overlay of lace. Tim Gunn, trying to be complimentary, noted that it belongs in a museum, which some proceeded to twist into slight on Cruz herself . . . miaow!

In private, in the glow of my screen or terminal, I'm as guilty as the next fashion lover of nitpicking stars and their stylists' fashion choices. But I don't see the point of scolding them publically into the refuge of safe, columnar frocks--cool and conventional as a carton of popsicles--which may be perfect lens candy for the paparazzi but betray little personality or subtlety of detail beyond.

I think the gown is perfectly lovely, and its critics overly harsh, especially given that the dress is vintage and not ready-made for the Oscar mill. What's more, its virgin-queen propriety ought to be viewed as counterpart to the far racier slashed white number Cruz wore to the afterparties.

What truly interests me about the Balmain gown is that it appears to stem from the time in his career when he was still very much in step with his rival Dior's New Look, and embraced a heavily embellished style that was to diverge markedly in the 1960s into a more clean-lined approach, harkening back to his formative training as an architect (a background he shares with Armani). "Couture is architecture in movement," he once said. I'd love to know more about the exact history of this dress (where Cruz got it, who originally wore it) but this seems unlikely, given that professional fashion critics are tasked to provide instant analyses over longer-form follow-ups.

Anyway, if you happen to hanker for a vintage Balmain of similar elan, here's a link that you'll love. The Frock is a San Francisco vintage house with a spectacular array of gowns, wedding dresses, and old-school LBDs. All wonderfully photographed and expertly researched . . . feast your eyes, and learn a little more about what Hollywood queens wore to the Oscars before the entire world had something to say about it . . .

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