Friday, March 5, 2010

Aussies know how to dress for Oscar

Shining examples: Cate Blanchett wears a Janet Patterson design in
 <i>Oscar and Lucinda</i>. Shining examples: Cate Blanchett wears a Janet Patterson design in Oscar and Lucinda. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox
When it comes to Oscars fashion, Australian stars and designers know how to shine both on and off the big screen.
Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and Abbie Cornish have earned much applause for work done while wearing some of the most revered film costumes of the past decade - and all of them have been created by Australians.
Aussie stars have also ignited fashion trends from the red carpet, again often with the help of some local names.
Abbie Cornish at the Cannes Film Festival premiere of Bright Star in 2009. Photo: Getty Images
Abbie Cornish at the Cannes Film Festival premiere of 
<i>Bright Star</i> in 2009.Some of Kidman, Blanchett and Cornish’s looks on the silver screen have been created by three-time Academy Award-nominated costume designer Janet Patterson.
Patterson’s designs for Kidman in Portrait of a Lady, Blanchett in Oscar and Lucinda and Cornish in Bright Star not only transformed how Hollywood perceives these actresses, but fashion too.
Indeed, Australian costume designs have ignited major fashion trends including the gothic sensibility of The Piano and decadence of Moulin Rouge.
Perhaps even more importantly, it’s the stylishly individual ways these cinematic heroines appear that is most influential.
"The Australian actors have had such a huge influence on American films and have infiltrated that work so hugely and I’m sure part of the reason is the costuming and the whole picture of the character they are presenting," says Sarah Stollman, head of Screen Design at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS).
"There is a lot of pretence in the (United) States with actors and understandably so, they become so slick, they are trying to be perfect, and I think so many of our actors here they love working with because they might be incredibly attractive, but there’s this naturalness that comes through and maybe that carries through the way the costume designers approach the characters as well."
The other side of the Australian design aesthetic has surged on the red carpet thanks also to the high profiles of Rose Byrne, Naomi Watts, Toni Collette, Isabel Lucas, Melissa George, Teresa Palmer, Isla Fisher, Deborra-Lee Furness, Rachel Griffiths and Radha Mitchell.
Australian actresses have demonstrated their fashion power by choosing to wear local designers that are both original yet not overexposed.
"Wearing an Australian gown on the red carpet offers something that is unique," says Adam Worling, publicist to designer Lisa Ho whose creations have appeared at many international events.
"They don’t have to get into that thing which can happen with an international design of who wore it better because the dresses aren’t available two weeks after fashion week where every celebrity stylist has seen and seized them.
"Sometimes the dresses wear the people and we don’t have enormous media exposure so ours are really refreshing because they haven’t been seen on websites."
Further, when the big Australian stars' public appearances count most they have cannily turned to local designers to make bold statements of both their star and fashion status.
For the 2001 premiere of Moulin Rouge in Sydney, Nicole Kidman wore her most daring outfit to date - an ultra narrow bejewelled Michelle Jank top.
It sent out a provocative message she was at her most sexually alluring just as her then marriage to superstar Tom Cruise was ending.
Baz Luhrmann’s visually spectacular Moulin Rouge redefined Kidman’s image as the world watched her sizzle on screen in costume designers Catherine Martin and Angus Strathie’s decadent courtesan creations.
"The clothes need a great actress to make them speak and give them a personality which she and the other girls did brilliantly," Martin later said about Kidman’s career-changing role.
The risqué, corsetted costumes, which won Martin and Strathie an Oscar, enhanced by the famed Satine diamond necklace also helped secure Kidman best actress Golden Globe and Oscar nominations plus a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign for perfume Chanel Number 5.
Another Australian design duo to win big at the Oscars was Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner whose outlandish costumes in the 1994 The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert landed them a gong.
Gardiner famously wore a dress made of gold Amex cards to accept her award.
"It was partly for shock value and to get noticed and also to make a comment on the whole money aspect of film-making, but it was good because not only did it bring attention to her and Tim Chappel but it also brought attention to that area of film-making and that was really important too," says Stollman.
Australians - stars and designers alike - are also big winners on the red carpet.
For Cate Blanchett the power of individualistic style is what has always separated her from the fashion pack.
Last year, she cemented her fashion icon status with a surprising red carpet choice for the opening of the Screen Worlds exhibition in Melbourne, where she was photographed wearing a Romance was Born patchwork blanket dress.
Her radical choice received extensive international coverage, but just six months later Paul Smith closely referenced the Aussie’s patchwork creation at his London Fashion Week show.
Rising star Abbie Cornish also dazzled on the red carpet at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival after opting for a Toni Maticevski lavender gown for the premiere of Bright Star.
Although Cornish failed to receive an Oscar nomination for her performance in the Jane Campion-directed romance, she instead landed on the front cover of Vanity Fair as one of Hollywood’s next big things.
Designer Alex Perry who has built a global reputation dressing Australia’s most glamorous women, including Deborra-Lee Furness for the 2009 Academy Awards hosted by her husband Hugh Jackman, believes celebrities seem much more powerful when they support local designers.
"You have to remember these women have labels literally knocking at their door," Perry said.
"They can wear whatever they want from any designer on the planet. But when they do wear an Australian designer and go to the effort it’s such a great thing and it shows they are dictating their own style."

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