Ever since the inimitable Audrey Hepburn posed with her best actress Oscar (for 1953’s “Roman Holiday”) in an Edith Head dress tweaked to look like it was designed by Hubert de Givenchy (referred to as “Givenchy-fied”), designer frocks and the Academy Awards have belonged together.
Hepburn, said to be “under the sway” of Givenchy (then the protégé of legendary designer Cristobal Balenciaga), wore a nearly identical dress in the movie but had spaghetti straps added to the white-on-white floral dress and the back lowered. It is said the then-starlet considered the dress “lucky.” The dress sold at auction for $130,000 in 2011.
Givenchy went on to dress Hepburn for all her red carpet appearances and eventually even designed her film wardrobe — notably for “Sabrina,” in which some of the most beautiful dresses in cinema are featured — cementing the relationship between fashion and film for all time. (No, really; the black, full-skirted, V-back dress toward the end of “Sabrina” is a revelation. Really.)
Here are our picks for the most memorable Oscar looks for the past decade:
• Jennifer Lopez, 2012: For better or worse this look personifies La Lopez. Delicate as it is, this white Zuhair Murad sheer spider web of a dress incorporates everything the diva requires in a dress — deep V front and back, curve hugging and sparkly — to maintain her status as the woman who brought old Hollywood glamour back.
• Halle Berry, 2002: Elie Saab’s wine-colored gown featured a sheer bodice with strategically placed embroidered flowers and a satin train; Berry won best actress that year for “Monster’s Ball” and raves for the gown, which showed her flawless figure and face to maximum advantage. Sadly, she has been riding that style train ever since and has begun to look a tad cheap (anyone see that Caribbean cut-out mermaid mess she wore to the Golden Globes? That’s what I’m talking about).
• Angelina Jolie, 2004: Marc Bouwer white silk halter. Too white and a bit boring, but this dress is important for one reason: it marks the first time designers wooed Jolie to wear their design on the red carpet and the simple, classic monochromatic silhouette — all Hollywood glamour with an edge, the way only Jolie does it — came to define her inimitable red-carpet style.
• Cate Blanchette, 2005: Valentino buttercup yellow asymmetric dress with a burgundy belt. She was nominated for “The Aviator” and did not win. But her dress was seminal in that it was the first time legendary designer Valentino Garavani designed a dress for a specific actress. Blanchette is one of the few actresses who never make a red carpet mistake — hard to do with friends like Valentino.
• Hilary Swank, 2005: Swank won the best actress Oscar that night for “Million Dollar Baby” and the best dress award as well. The navy Guy Laroche dress is iconic for three things: it was long sleeved when most actresses wore sleeveless and strapless; it was navy silk jersey in a sea of black and sparkly bold color and it had no back, proving once and for all that your mom was right when she told you stand up straight.
• Michelle Williams, 2006: Nominated for her role in “Brokeback Mountain” with her fiancé, the late Heath Ledger, Williams’ yellow Vera Wang was her break-out red carpet moment. Youthful and light as a feather, yet beautifully structured at the bodice with a flanged train, most people say it was the bold, sunny color contrasted with her bright red lips and adorable side chignon that made this one work. But look at the whole thing; the fit of the dress, the lovely framing of the collar around the deep V neckline, the ruby lips, delicate tendrils of hair and that AMAZING color — take away one of those things and it’s just another pretty dress on a pretty actress
• Nicole Kidman, 2007: Kidman made a splash in a red Balenciaga gown with the giant bow at the neck. Lots of people didn’t love the dress, but it was a standout red carpet moment for the color, fit and the way she was styled around that bow: simple hair and glowing makeup. Five years later, another redhead, actress Emma Stone, wore a look-alike Giambattista Valli bow-necked dress, proving the skeptics wrong: this dress was no flash in the pan; it has staying power.
• Penelope Cruz, 2007: Nominated as best actress for “Volver,” the lovely Cruz wore a blush Versace confection with a satin bustier bodice and full feathered skirt. The gown, fitted perfectly over her torso, was equal parts sexy and innocent and has been imitated over and over again. The color kicked off five years of blush or pale-colored gowns floating down the red carpet.
• Marion Cotillard, 2008: The actress won that year for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose.” It was the world’s first real look at Cotillard’s red carpet style and she treated us to the ultimate “mermaid” gown by wearing a white and silver Jean Paul Gaultier halter gown covered in glittering scales. Flawless, game-changing; Cotillard’s choice set the tone for what would be one stunning and fashion forward red carpet look after another.
• Tilda Swinton, 2008: This dress is not well-loved but the look is iconic and all Tilda. The black washed silk Lanvin is a Frankenstein of a frock: all baggy and long-sleeved on one side and straight up and down sleeveless on the other side. But Tilda (somehow referring to her as “Swinton” seems too formal) wore it proudly with her red pompadour as she collected her best supporting actress Oscar for “Michael Clayton.” Tilda will be forever remembered for the “Hefty bag” dress and for one unanswered question torturing fashionistas the world over: Why didn’t she at least wear the cuff on the sleeveless arm?
• Zoe Saldana, 2010: Saldana wore Givenchy Haute Couture by Riccardo Tisci. Another Franken-frock, it is loved and hated still, and therein lies its fascination. An amalgam of styles: classic glam-strapless-silhouette on top and a froth of purple ombre ruffles on the bottom. The dress barely misses tacky (and a sure bet to be knocked for a feature in Prom Gown magazine) but was aided by Saldana’s flawlessly elegant and simple styling — proof that you do not have to play it safe on the red carpet.
• Gwyneth Paltrow, 2012: A transformational red carpet moment for its simplicity and drama. The modern white on white Tom Ford ensemble (she wore a gown, a matching cape and sheath … it was a whole outfit!) was accented by two glittering, intricate, giant diamond and platinum cuffs and cocktail ring and simple hair — perfection. Memorable for what it wasn’t: ruffled, candy colored, tight or sparkly. A year before she had wiped the image of her ill-fitting cotton candy pink taffeta prom gown from our minds with a clean-lined heavily beaded Calvin Klein sheath that was widely lauded for its freshness.