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How they put the Garbo & Gable back on the red carpet

Oscar's Big Weekend 2012 - Award Season Fashion

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Power stylists and their glam squads are upping the fashion ante for what promises to be the most luxurious, elegant red carpet ever.

Whether it’s pulling from the 1920s’ Gatsby/Daisy Buchanan look, the 1930s’ severe style of Garbo or the 1950s’ sultry air of Marilyn Monroe, this Oscar season is very much a modern take on Old Hollywood.

“It’s going to be any era that works,” says George Kotsiopoulos, co-host of E! Online’s “Fashion Police With Joan Rivers.” “And if retro is done right, a celebrity can never go wrong. If she is channeling Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, Veronica Lake or any of those beautiful, iconic women, she’ll never get panned. Unless she channels Mae West. Then, that’s a whole other story.”

Unless a Mae West unexpectedly bursts on the scene, the usual suspects — Chanel, Gucci, Elie Saab, Armani, Zac Posen, Vera Wang, Valentino, Dior, Versace — will rule the red carpet with their display of rich jewel tones and soft, sexy boudoir glam in peaches and cream sorbet hues. Hair will range from the very modern and tight to the romantic pulled back look, in a bun or a twist.

“Updos have made a huge comeback,” says hairdresser Richard Marin. “And there is a big return to hair accessories like the jeweled headbands that Michelle Williams and Charlize Theron wore to the Golden Globes.”

“What we are now seeing on the red carpet is the desire to dress with sophistication, to dress with elegance, to dress like a grownup,” says Hal Rubenstein, fashion director of InStyle magazine. “In the early 1990s, there was this mad dash where everybody tried to look 22 years old. It was about skin and in-your-face glitz. This year, we’ll see clothes that graze the body, shape the body, without being skintight. Because skintight is not Hollywood glamour. Skin tight is just spectacle.”

Especially for those women who are not 22 and a size 0.

“Octavia Spencer has dressed so sensationally during the entire awards season,” praises Rubenstein. “Here’s a woman that you wouldn’t call a cover girl. It doesn’t matter how tall, how thin or how buxom you are, basically every woman can look her best. And Octavia’s a knockout.”

Stylists and commentators agree that Michelle Williams has a very specific way of dressing — demure, romantic, reserved, a hint of the Mia Farrow of the 1960s.

“And it works for her,” says Kotsiopoulos. “She’s not trying to be sexy. But this year I would like to see her play up the Marilyn, be a lot sexier. Sort of merge Michelle Williams and Marilyn Monroe. And with Michelle’s short pixie hair, she can go pretty sexy. It would totally work.”

Rubenstein counters, “For Michelle, Marilyn was just a part. Michelle has a quiet sense of romanticism about her clothes and it suits her. She left Marilyn on a sound stage in London.”

And don’t expect to see Meryl Streep in a skin-tight fishtail gown, cautions Rubenstein. “Meryl doesn’t like revealing any part of her body.”

Stylist Julie Matos recalls having worked with Streep in the past. “What is great about Meryl is that she knows exactly what she wants. She knows her personality, her style. She would take a risk, but in a way that’s her style — not something that’s going to be complete 180,” Matos says.

And stylists expect Glenn Close to be a slightly more sophisticated, slightly more fashionable version of Streep. It’ll be Armani or Valentino. Viola Davis, they believe, may once again go for a rich bordeaux — a color that has previously won over many of the fashion pros and commentators.

The exception to all this retro soft and sexy will be fashion forward Rooney Mara, who many predict will stay true to a more elegant version of the dark and dangerous Lisbeth with lots of black, lots of cutouts, lots of hard edge.

“And Rooney’s hair is very modern, severe. A perfect example of a sleek, stark look,” Marin points out.

Presenters Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz, Emma Stone, Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry and Cameron Diaz look to further step up the glamorous tone of the night.

“Angelina does not disappoint at any moment in time. It’s an effortless glam. She wears the dress!” exclaims stylist Phillip Bloch. “It’s like JLo. Why do you think they have JLo as a presenter? The girl has never been nominated. But yet she has presented almost every year. And that’s because JLo brings the glam.”

Then it’s on to the men’s club: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Jean Dujardin, Gary Oldman. Those guys bring Cary Grant, Rock Hudson and Clark Gable back to life — at least they did at previous awards shows.

“It’s a bespoke moment for the gentlemen,” says June Ambrose, author of “Effortless Style” and host of VH1’s “Styled by June.” “And Tom Ford will rule. I’m always looking for the one who’s going to wear the white dinner jacket.”

“With the men, it’s super easy,” adds Kotsiopoulos. “You go to Armani. You go to Prada. You go to Gucci. You get an amassing tux. And unless you’re clueless, it’s really hard to go wrong with a tux.”

That well-fitting tux and then that seriously dashing hair.

“A lot more guys will have their hair slicked back,” says Marin. “At the Golden Globes, Armie Hammer had it all jelled back. Even Brad, with his long hair, had it groomed and pulled back off his face.”

But a guy can only spend so much at a barbershop.

The truth is, Oscar’s red carpet isn’t about the guys. It’s mostly about the women.

And that glam doesn’t come cheap.

There may a few bargain basement finds, but gowns start at $3,000 and quickly soar to $30,000, even $50,000.

“The prices are all over the place,” Bloch says. “You could get a nice gown for 3,000 bucks, but then you throw in the jewels, the eyebrows and the nails and the tan. It’s massive. Imagine if anybody was really paying for all of it.

“No nominee or presenter is paying for the gowns,” he continues. “And they don’t always get to keep them. It depends on the deal. And the importance of the celeb. This year I would imagine Michelle Williams could keep what she wants.”

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