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Oscars: Red Carpet Has its Own Share of Surprising Turns

From navel-grazing necklines (Jennifer Aniston’s vintage John Galliano at the Screen Actors Guild Awards) to thigh-grazing hemlines (Madonna’s Givenchy bodysuit at the Grammys), the stars have been pulling out all the stops. If this year’s awards season offers any clues as to what we can expect on Oscar’s big night, it’s that we should expect the unexpected.

“Everyone is doing something different,” says Brit designer Emilia Wickstead, who created Diane Kruger’s stunning Golden Globes gown. “There are so many stories being told on the red carpet.”

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Monique Lhuillier, who created the ravishing ruby gown Anna Kendrick wore to the Globes, says: “I absolutely loved seeing splashes of color this awards season. It makes such a dramatic statement.”

Adds Odile Benjamin, creative director of Raoul, who designed the saffron stunner actress Mozhan Marno wore to the SAG Awards: “Color has the power to make the dress and the woman stand out among a sea of neutrals and blacks. The proper choice can help accentuate the eyes and hair, adding glamour to her entire look.”

From the floral appliqués on Lupita Nyong’o’s Giambattista Valli Haute Couture at the Globes to the Chinoiserie-inspired beading on Jessica Chastain’s Antonio Berardi at the Critics Choice Awards, stars added oomph to their looks with beautiful and unexpected ornamentation. “Embellishment makes a dress look rich and luxurious,” says Benjamin, who created the simple sheath — save for its dramatic, bejeweled collar — Calista Flockart wore to the Globes.

Some stars opted for the Greek goddess look. “A one-shoulder gown is perfect for when you want to make a statement — it’s slightly less revealing than strapless, but just as elegant,” says Lhuillier of the timeless trend. “Reese Witherspoon, Amy Adams, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Natalie Dormer all stunned in one-shoulder styles, and I always love seeing this look on the red carpet.”

Another trend was stars’ propensity to play mix-master with their hemlines. “We’ve seen a lot of interesting lengths and silhouettes this year,” says Lhuillier. “It offered a nice change from the traditional floor-length gowns.” Examples include Rihanna’s two-tiered Giambattista Valli at the Grammys, Tina Fey’s tea-length Antonio Berardi at the Globes and Rosamund Pike’s split-level Dior Couture at the SAG Awards.

“Rosamund really stood out in that gorgeous hi-low Dior,” says Lhuillier. “Her look was perfectly balanced and chic.”

Speaking of balance, countering the detail and the drama was a subtle trend toward pared-down elegance. “Nothing stands out on a crowded red carpet like a sleek, sophisticated, understated gown, says Wickstead, who evoked the timelessness of style icons Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn in the sculptural look she created for Kruger. “Clean lines and unfussy silhouettes are dramatic in their own way,” she adds. Cases in point: Marion Cotillard’s Dior Haute Couture at the Critics Choice Awards, Felicity Jones’ Balenciaga at SAG Awards and Camila Alves’ Monique Lhuillier at the Globes.

Another standout was the choice to man up by way of tailored tuxes and trousers. “A pant suit is a great way to modernize your look,” notes Lhuillier. “Emma Stone nailed it in a Lanvin jumpsuit at the Globes — her look was so fun and edgy, while remaining very feminine.”

Wickstead, too, applauds the young actress’s daring choice: “It’s a little bit out there, which is what grabs our attention, yet it’s got that sophistication.”

More seasoned red carpet aficionados, too, joined the trend. “I loved seeing Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston experiment with their look,” says Lhuillier. “They both looked incredibly sexy, but in a soft, subtle way,” adds the designer of the pair, who rocked Gucci and Givenchy, respectively.

Nothing rounds out an ensemble like the perfectly chosen accent. “Just as I loved seeing splashes of color on the gowns, I also enjoyed seeing this reflected in the accessories,” says Lhuillier, who points to Emily Blunt’s turquoise earrings and bracelet, Leslie Mann’s emerald earrings and clutch, and Naomi Watts’ stunning Bulgari snake necklace at the Globes as perfect examples of stars who “added her own personal touch.”

Of course, a woman’s ultimate accessory is her hair. From Amy Adams’ Veronica Lake waves to Jessica Chastain’s sultry Rita Hayworth curls to Allison Williams’ Jean Harlow finger-waves (all at the Globes), there was a ravishing return to retro glamour. “Awards season is the perfect time to rock a hairdo like this,” says Rita Hazan, Jessica Simpson’s longtime colorist. “It’s the ultimate in glamorous, sexy, Old Hollywood.”

When it comes to makeup, natural tones are making a refreshing return, says makeup artist Sonia Kashuk, who loved Felicity Jones’ Audrey Hepburn-esque look at the SAG Awards. “Her hair was super simple, her makeup understated,” says Kashuk, who’s worked with Cindy Crawford and Keri Russell. “Stars are dressed to the nines on the red carpet, yet super natural-looking makeup allows people to still feel comfortable and encompass who they are.”

Men were no slouches on the style front, either. “Just as it was nice to see the ladies experiment with color, we also saw men spice up their suits and try something different than the usual black,” says Lhuillier. Between purple (Matthew McConnaughey’s Dolce & Gabbana), metallic-blue (David Oyelowo’s Dolce & Gabbana), navy (Matt Bomer’s Ralph Lauren), and white (Jared Leto’s Lanvin, all at the Globes), the boys didn’t fail to deliver.

Some even dared to don fun footwear. “From Jared Leto’s pink socks at the SAGs to his glittery loafers at the Critics Choice, I loved the way he accessorized his look,” notes Lhuillier, who also gives props to Alan Cumming for jazzing up a blush Calvin Klein suit with Christian Louboutin high-tops at the Globes. “It was a lot of fun, and gave the look a punch of personality and edge.”

When it comes to grooming, too, “men are cleaning it up,” says Vaughn Acord, who has coiffed Lenny Kravitz and Ashton Kutcher.

The not-so-secret weapon for actors, like Matthew McConaughey, sporting tricky grow-outs for roles? “Hair styling product,” says Acord, who adds it’s now perfectly acceptable for a guy’s hair to look “done,” citing Jamie Dornan and Colin Farrell at the Globes as examples of perfect preening. “With guys, little details make a big difference,” he says.

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