Sarah Jessica’s Little Dress? You’re Going to Be Wearing It

Oscar Sunday found me standing outside Balducci’s with a little river of drool coursing from the left corner of my mouth. I watched through the window, mesmerized, at a rapidly diminishing pile of Academy Awards cookies–star-shaped goodies with gold icing, $20 per pound. I was not, however, salivating with the anticipation of a gourmand. I was having a mild seizure.

As soon as I assessed the psycho-social, pop-culture significance of these calorific cookies, my eyes bugged out on stalks and all I could think was, “It’s all James Lipton’s fault!” That fawning, bearded host of Bravo’s Inside the Actors Studio –the guy with the shifty eyes and, according to The New York Times , the “shoes with uncommonly high heels.” His raison d’être is to slobber over movie actors, verbally hump their “body of work” and marvel sycophantically at their “interesting choices.” I was just about to start railing at emerging Balducci’s customers about how movie actors were profoundly average people and how we should stop lauding them and start taking the piss out of them when I saw that it was time to rush home for the Joan and Melissa pre-show on E!

I’m glad I did. Because, as of this, the 73rd Academy Awards, I can tell you categorically that Fashion is in retreat from Hollywood! And Fashion and Hollywood are as likely to get back in bed together as Nicole and Tom.

It started last year with “country-club” chic: It looked like a trend, but was actually the first tangible sign that the high-fashion invasion of Hollywood had hit a glass ceiling. Previously, the Pradas and Guccis seemed to be getting a foothold, second on their way to and the esoterica of the European runways and the red carpets of the world becoming one and the same.

But the ever-more-codified world of high fashion is, as it turns out, only marginally more relevant for movie actors than it is for the average couch potato watching on TV. This season, the actors backed away from creative fashion as if it had foot-and-mouth disease. The most sizzling names–Helmut, Miguel, Marc, Martin–were totally absent. Actors returned with a vengeance to the classic, boring appropriateness of occasion wear : Giorgio, Valentino, Vera, Pamela, Randolph, etc. dominated the proceedings. Yes, there was Christian Dior (Sigourney Weaver), Michael Kors (Joan Allen), Versace (Hilary Swank) and Dolce & Gabbana (Angelina Jolie), but these get-ups had little to do with what the designers normally signify. At best, they were dumbed-down versions of their evening-wear aesthetic, i.e. occasion wear.

And what is there to say about occasion wear? Nothing really. As soon as Joan Rivers opened her gums it became clear that the media flirtation with high fashion was out of gas. Most of the time, Ms. Rivers did not even bother to ask who had designed which frock, and her cameraman had stopped “panning down” altogether. Still, Joan was hysterical–”Mad cows? We eat them, we wear them, we make shoes out of them; no wonder they’re mad!”; “The commercial breaks are so long, you can schedule surgery.” I’ll never forget Julian Schnabel’s face when she asked him for his business card; his visage crumpled as he digested the horrible realization that terminal hipness doesn’t count for much on the fromage -strewn red carpet.

But back to fashion–or the lack of it. You could count the number of fashionably attired chicks on one hand. Juliette Binoche (Gaultier), Björk (Marjan Pejoski), Kate Hudson (Chloë), Sarah Jessica Parker (Calvin Klein) and Jennifer Lopez (Chanel) were all dressed à la mode , and they stood out like trannies at a football game. I thought they looked fantastic. But as I admired their gonads, I also struggled to imagine what the untutored eyes of the general public would make of, for example, Björk’s muppetty swan tutu, or Juliette Binoche’s kinky 1930’s dominatrix. And what about Sarah Jessica? Dressed in next season’s trends–i.e., short and black–she was so insanely au courant that she shot herself right up the bum. The New York Post , no doubt accurately echoing the opinions of the masses, said her cocktail dress “shows she’s just a TV star.” Waa-waaa!

Despite the dearth of high fashion, the evening did yield some trends–they just happen not to be very trendy:

1. 1950’s Vegas-speak. Saying “It’s great to be here” is O.K. again.

2. Asians! Asians! Asians! I loved Crouching Gerbil, Hidden Hampster , or whatever the hell it was called. Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi both looked dynamite. But Asian style also penetrated the ranks of the white girls who all had some kind of Dewi Sukarno-Imelda Marcos upswept hairdo. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Laura Linney had identical coffee-cake bouffants, and Julia Roberts toted an oversized Styrofoam bun. Matronly as these coiffures are, they are age-appropriate and lend an aura of timeless stature where none might exist. James Lipton should get one.

3. Being old. The colostomy-bag brigade stole the evening: Julie Andrews, Dino De Laurentiis, Ernest Lehman, Ellen Burstyn and my personal fave: Mr. Jack Cardiff. Don’t tell me you haven’t seen his movies or I will start dribbling again. Rent immediately!

4. Talking of rentals. Many hunks–Sting, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Bridges–wore fabulously nondescript tuxedos, and looked great in their casual black tie. Benicio Del Toro–a male, Puerto Rican Charlotte Rampling–looked fantastically charismatic in his so-nondescript-it-had-to-be-a-rental tux, even though it was Armani. Humor-impaired Russell Crowe (re: Gladiator –in ancient Rome, actors were slaves. James Lipton would probably have been one, too) looked like P.T. Barnum in his over-thought, over-wrought Armani (again) ensemble.

5. Not thanking God. I guess they only do that in the music industry.

6. Pedophilic humor: Joan: “Michael Jackson has been to Billy Elliot 47 times–and I don’t mean the movie.”

7. Button-down evening shirts–see Geoffrey Rush. A ” j’adore !” for subtlety.

My total, overall ” j’adore !”? It’s a toss-up between Björk’s ballsy Dancer in the Dark number and Penélope Cruz in her Ralph Lauren Queen Victoria frock.

Re: next year? I wish Joan Rivers would zero in on the third- and fourth-string red-carpet flotsam. Who was that severe-looking Asian woman in the Rosa Klebb suit? Or that lady who looked like Marty Allen in a mauve feather boa?

If you have any idea who these people are, e-mail me ASAP at sdoonan@aol.com.