Red-Carpet Follies

Rooney Mara, Michelle Williams, Kristen Wiig: 2012 Oscars’ Best, Worst, and Wilted

Rooney Mara had a moment, and Michelle Williams was the belle of the red carpet. Robin Givhan assesses Oscar fashion’s hits and misses.

If there was any Oscar nominee whom the world’s fashion aficionados were breathlessly awaiting, it had to have been Rooney Mara. As the fall 2012 collections have unfolded—first in New York and now in Milan—the influence of her film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has been on countless runways. Stylists just can’t seem to get enough of her severe bangs, her steely gaze, and her porcelain skin, which stands in stark contrast to her dark, dark hair.

Fashion folks love her for her striking looks, that tiny clothes-hanger frame, and her willingness to take a risk. (She had her own private part pierced for the role of Lisbeth Salander, after all.) And when she arrived on the red carpet dressed in a Givenchy couture gown stitched from panels of cream-colored mixed lace, it was a fine fashion moment. The dress had exaggerated details at the bust line, giving the effect of tail fins shooting off her bosom. It was odd and fascinating, strangely enticing but not exactly pretty. It was the most interesting garment to make an appearance on the red carpet at the 84th annual Academy Awards.

The prettiest dress, however, most surely had to be the bright orange, strapless Louis Vuitton gown worn by Best Actress nominee Michelle Williams. It was feminine and delicate; it conjured the romance of old Hollywood without giving in to va-va-voom clichés. Williams paired it with a Bottega Veneta knot-top clutch in charming pink. Her look was an antidote to a red carpet dominated by white, ivory, and black.

Best Actress nominee Viola Davis was one of the few other women who embraced bold color. She chose a jade-green Vera Wang gown that showed off her glamorous and sexy side. And surely a thousand cheers went up among her fans for her new close-cropped hairstyle. It makes her look younger and edgier and gives her a double dose of red-carpet personality. Not every starlet needs Rapunzel hair.

Tadashi Shoji once again helped Octavia Spencer, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, look smashing with a dress silhouette and judiciously placed glitter that made the most of her plus-size figure, turning it into a soft hourglass draped in ivory. Marina Rinaldi—the plus-size cousin to Max Mara—was not as successful in dressing Melissa McCarthy, nominated for her role in Bridesmaids. Her flowing dusty-rose gown seemed to envelop her—like a chiffon pup tent held up with silver sequins. Oh, how the splendid McCarthy was done so very wrong.

Shailene Woodley’s white Valentino column was too sophisticated for the young actress from The Descendants, but Tom Ford’s spare white column and matching cape made Gwyneth Paltrow look more refined and elegant than she ever has.

The Help’s Emma Stone was regal and glamorous in a deep-red Giambattista Valli gown with an oversize bow at her neck, but Jessica Chastain’s lavish gold-embroidered Alexander McQueen dress overwhelmed her. It was impossible to focus on the actress, as she was wearing a gown that was as grand—and busy—as a baroque tapestry. It’s a garment that would have been breathtaking on a runway, but in real life—and certainly at the Oscars—the lady should dominate the spotlight, not the frock.

Glenn Close, nominated for her role as a woman passing as a man in Albert Nobbs, wore a fitted mermaid gown with a matching blazer by Zac Posen. It was a confused look and left one wondering if, perhaps, Close couldn’t decide if she wanted to go to the awards dressed as herself or as her alter ego, Albert.

Angelina Jolie’s Atelier Versace black velvet gown was a bit of a snooze. Even its high slit couldn’t enliven it because, sorry, no one’s leg is quite that interesting. (But Brad Pitt looked quite dashing in his Tom Ford tuxedo.) Milla Jovovich surely must have caused a few double takes in her glittering white, one-shoulder gown by Elie Saab. It was about 10 sequins away from looking like something better suited to Las Vegas; her confident carriage saved it.

Kristen Wiig’s droopy, feathery J. Mendel gown called to mind the Balenciaga dress that actress Jennifer Connelly wore to the Oscars some years ago. Both were dominated by pale, limp chiffon and crepe that might have looked fragile and ethereal up close and in person, but couldn’t stand up to the cameras and the grandeur of the red carpet. Wiig’s dress made her look a bit like she’d wilted in the afternoon sun.

Mostly, though, Hollywood was at it spray-tanned, Botox-injected, juice-dieted, oxygen-facial best. The men looked dashing. And yes, that is a reference to George Clooney in his reliable Giorgio Armani tuxedo and Colin Firth in Tom Ford. And the women looked glamorous. Best Actress winner Meryl Streep glittered—with sophistication—in a beautifully draped gold gown by Lanvin. Stacy Keibler, on the arm of boyfriend Clooney, glittered like the Oscar statue itself, in a gold Marchesa dress.

And while most nominees played it safe, who could blame them? The only statement any actress or actor really wants to make on Oscar night begins with “I want to thank the Academy.”

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Click here to see photos of the Oscars red carpet.