The red carpet at the Academy Awards is the Superbowl of fashion, with stars emerging after big plays and others sinking after big mistakes.
The stakes are high for actresses and the designers who dress them. Prada began its ascent to a household name on the back of Uma Thurman, and more people probably talk about Sharon Stone's key high-low Oscars outfits than they do about her movies.
And do you ever hear anyone buzzing about Bjork these days unless it's a joke about her bizarre swan getup?
An actress' fashion choice for Hollywood's biggest event will follow her around in photos for a lifetime like a glamorous Giorgio Armani train.
This year's lot of best-actress nominees is a group of lovely ladies who now have a chance to put their own fashion stamp on the biggest Hollywood event of the year. The AP asked stylist and Harper's Bazaar consultant Mary Alice Stephenson to make her own suggestions to the stars about what to wear to make the biggest style splash:
—Angelina Jolie in Calvin Klein
Jolie wants people to see her as a fine actress, not a fashion plate, says Stephenson, and that's fine. However, she can still look amazing — thanks to her natural beauty and fantastic figure — while not changing the message.
Simple and sensual is the way for Jolie to go, Stephenson says, perhaps in sleek jersey gown in a flesh tone or smoky gray from Calvin Klein. The gowns designed by Francisco Costa graze the body and look even better moving than standing still.
"I respect the understated glamour, but she also leans to dresses that are very modern, and that's why she's a match for Calvin Klein. In a Calvin, it's about what's not there that makes the dresses really special," she says.
She'd look stunning in an either a plunging neckline or deep, sexy opening in the back — or both — but don't expect her in any sequins, corsetry or bows.
—Kate Winslet in Alberta Ferretti
Winslet has looked great this awards season, especially since she's been accessorizing with all those gold trophies, says Stephenson, but each of her gowns have been dark and highly structured, flaunting her curvy figure.
Now might be the time to be a goddess, Stephenson suggests, picking out a bronze ruffle-back gown with retro-style beading. Ferretti gowns have the built-in corsetry of the more architectural styles Winslet seems to favor, but the outward appearance is one of a softer touch.
Winslet's rosy skin would allow her to wear romantic colors, without looking washed out. Stephenson also likes for her a lilac one-shoulder goddess gown and a teal strapless gown with floral beading and soft tiers of ruffle at the bust.
"I'd like to see her feminine and ethereal."
—Anne Hathaway in Thakoon
Hathaway could become the fashion plate she played in "The Devil Wears Prada," although so far she's played it safe with traditional glamour-girl looks. Thakoon, says Stephenson, would push the envelope just enough — perhaps experimenting with fabric or color — to capture Hathaway's natural "fashion exuberance."
"She's young and she should dress young and wear clothes as fresh as she is. She can take classic glamour and turn it upside down."
Stephenson picks from Thakoon's downtown studio a short, one-shoulder dress made with upper and lower layers of black tulle with silver beading floating between the layers. A one-of-a-kind dress such as this one take about three days to make, the designer says.
It's a less traditional Oscar gown, but it's also dramatic and highly photogenic — and that's as important as looking good in person. "When these actresses hit the red carpet, they have to look like movie stars."
—Melissa Leo in J. Mendel
A lesser-known star nominated for her role in the low-budget drama "Frozen River," Melissa Leo is a stylist's dream because "she hasn't made her fashion imprint yet," says Stephenson. "Melissa Leo is a white canvas, and I want to take her from zero to 100 in a single outing."
Stephenson suggests J. Mendel, a design house known for sophistication, glamour and luxurious details.
In the designer's workroom, she sees a navy dress with all-over vertical pleats that Stephenson says is a dramatic silhouette that a fine dramatic actress can pull off. The other choice would be a more ethereal, diaphanous purple gown that still defines the waist.
"So much about this is about how an actress feels that morning of the Oscars: Does she feel bold or delicate?" Stephenson says.
If she were actually dressing any of these stars for the big night, she adds, she wouldn't arrive with one dress that day, she'd have at least three — whittled down from 30 original choices.
—Meryl Streep in Donna Karan
Streep is the most Oscar-nominated performer in history, yet has never emerged as a style star. That could change, Stephenson says, in a Donna Karan gown straight from the New York Fashion Week runway.
Her two picks would be either an all-over draped gown with a strong shoulder, or a fan-style strapless gown.
Karan's collection was sensual and stylish, while still embracing the dark colors and significant coverage that Streep seems to like. Stephenson says, however, that she might try to nudge both the designer and the star to make a switch to a rich jewel tone color — still dark, but more regal.
"I love seeing Donna Karan on the red carpet because the dresses are chic and sophisticated and ultimately you pay more attention to how glamorous the woman looks," she says. "You notice the woman first not the dress, and isn't that what it supposed to be about?"