I was crushed when Amy Adams wasn’t named Best Actress for her smart, colorful and surefooted portrayal of Sydney Prosser in “American Hustle” during Sunday night’s Oscar telecast. But even if the Academy was too short-sighted to recognize the actress’s genius, they ought to thank her for bringing sexy back to the red carpet without deploying any of the usual cheap tricks.
It’s hard to pinpoint the precise moment when stripper-chic déshabillé sauntered out of the clubs and into broad daylight, but after trying to un-see what my disbelieving eyes had seen on one too many red carpets, awards shows and even at my local mall for the past several years, I finally reconciled myself to the fact that women had bought into the lie that more is more. That the only thing more beautiful than the female form in it’s natural state– as celebrated by visual artists for millennia– was the female form as reconfigured by Spanx, Wonder Bras, silicone, breast implants, botox and plastic surgery. And that absent having anything important to say, women could always shake their asses to attract attention and move some merchandise.
And man, has that strategy worked.
After J-Lo backed that thang up on Pitbull at the American Music Awards in 2011, it was only a matter of time before American Idol came a knockin’ to recruit her as a judge.
Had Anja Rubik not worn a gown which revealed exactly where her hip bone connected to her thigh bone for the Met Gala in 2012, I seriously doubt that I’d remember the model’s name today.
When Miley Cyrus showed the world what she was twerkin’ with at the VMA’s in 2013, images of a wholesome Hannah Montana promptly tumbled from our collective consciousness and kick started her new career.
And in spite of my being naive enough to think “Et tu, Queen Bee?” after Blue Ivy’s mommy left precious little to my imagination during her big show opener at the Grammy Awards this year, Beyoncé’s latest album had just debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart without benefit of a single pre-sale announcement.
And then came Adams– bucking the trend and styled to perfection in “American Hustle” by the film’s costume designer Michael Wilkinson.
Together, the duo accomplished the seemingly impossible by channeling the ’70s in all of its sartorial splendor without making the period dress look as clownish, cheap and over-the-top (bell bottoms, Applejacks and marshmallow platforms anyone?) as those of us who actually lived through the era can attest.
No doubt, getting to work with an actress whose intelligence is her calling card, though not so much that it sublimates her sexuality, was an excellent start for Wilkinson. But his background in theatre, opera and ballet costume design obviously honed his talent for delivering the razzle-dazzle with sophistication and restraint.
Who, after all, but a master craftsman who truly loves and respects women could make plunging necklines, thigh-high slits and sheer fabrics that afford peek-a-boo glimpses of an unadulterated bust line (which, in Adams’ case, was more demure than in-your-face) look positively elegant as opposed to trashy? Which is not to say that Wilkinson couldn’t go there when necessary. Jennifer Lawrence (who I believe deserved a win in the Best Supporting Actress category, as did Wilkinson for Costume Design) played a character in “American Hustle,” for example, whose consistently too-tight & too-shiny wardrobe perfectly mirrored her emotional instability as well as the string of poor choices she’d made in her life.
Ultimately, a very thin line separated Adams’ character from Lawrence’s, but the distinction was a great lesson in how too much of a good thing is rarely a good idea where timeless style is concerned. And, let’s face it, just as sure as we love looking back on pictures screen idols from 50 years ago, so too shall future generations revisit images of pictures today’s super novas and either think “Wow!“
…or “What was the hell she thinking?!“
Whether the costumes from “American Hustle” inspired women to reconsider what is required of them to bring drama and sex-appeal to the red carpet, or the timing was sheer coincidence, I was happy to see that the tide had seemingly turned during this year’s Oscars. In fact, with one exception, I was not horrified by a single look all night. Actually, make that two now that I remember the woman who I mistook for a man all night until one of the girlfriends I was watching the Academy Awards with did a goggle search to settle the dispute. On second thought, make that three exceptions as I also consider the very pregnant actress whose beaded green gown accented way too much information.
But I digress…
Overall, I was charmed by the return to glamour.
The white coats on gentleman, and ruby red lips on ladies.
The delicate heels and understated accessories.
The mix of slightly messy chignons, flowing waves and darling pixie cuts.
The billowing skirts, sweeping scarves and delicate trains.
The disciplined structure, tailoring and draping of rich textiles in jewel tones, miles of tulle and nude dressing.
Gaga looked every inch the lady in a pale lavender/pink strapless column with reflective deco accents– more like a muse to the French couturier Erté, in fact, than her typically edgy, ironic self.
And even babies got on board board with the refined aesthetic.
Honorable mentions to silver belles Constance Leto and Mary Kathleen McConaughey who not only threatened to steal the show from their Oscar winning sons (Jared and Matthew), but provided a beautiful contrast to all the nipping & tucking, slicing & dicing, filling & buffing that made some of the more mature screen legends in attendance practically unrecognizable to their lifelong fans. Kudos to both ladies for knowing that too much plastic surgery not only fails to make the patient look younger, but can sometimes accelerate the aging process as it telegraphs ones fear of growing older to even the most untrained eye.
And then there was the undisputed belle of the ball, Lupita Nyong’o wearing a silk gorgette soleil pleated Prada gown in a shade of cerulean blue that the actress said reminded her of “the sky in Nairobi,” where she was raised.
Like Adams, Nyong’o is an actress whose brains trump her considerable beauty. Moreover, she always has something meaningful to say– whether paying tribute to the spirit of Patsy, the character she portrayed in “12 Years a Slave,” during an acceptance speech that reduced both fans and colleagues to tears, or confessing how she’d once enjoyed “the seduction of inadequacy” as a young girl to a group of women at a pre-Oscar luncheon.
And yet, for all of her considerable gifts, it was apparently Nyong’o’s poise and aristocratic bearing that most charmed everyone– prompting red carpet watchers to describe her first and foremost as princess-like and regal.
It’s any one’s guess whether the trend started by Adams and upheld so effortlessly by Nyong’o can be sustained. For one thing, they are both exceptional women in an industry that celebrates sameness. And the fickle winds of fashion are constantly shifting. But even if the magic does not last, what a pleasure it has been to be reminded that less is always more. That there is no substitute for natural beauty. And that if you don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute, it is far better to be an observer than do whatever it takes to rock the mike.
But now that ladylike dressing is back by popular demand, I think the Academy would do well to encourage a complimentary tradition to keep the comeback alive at The Oscars.
Legend has it that there used to be men who would instinctively rush to the aid of damsels in distress, unasked, to extend a hand if he saw her getting tangled up in the skirts of her ball gown or tottering on too-high heels before disaster struck. I believe they were called gentlemen… or Frenchmen.
But as Jennifer Lawrence taught us at last year’s Academy Awards, and again as she took a tumble in the car park upon arrival at this year’s ceremony, such men are apparently in very short supply in Hollywood. So I think the Academy should formalize the position and hire an army of escorts to assist actresses when they are at their most vulnerable: as they alight from limousines, navigate rain-soaked receiving lines for photo-ops and ascend slick staircases to receive their awards? It would be a great look for the modern man, deeply appreciated by women in need and, with any luck, the trend might even catch on far from Tinsel Town… at a mall near you!