LOS ANGELES, Feb 24: Hollywood wants to return to its heyday of sophisticated glamour -- the days when a star was a star and knew how to dress like one -- at this year's Academy Awards, fashion insiders say.
But don't expect to see a single slinky fashion dominating the red carpet at Oscar night on March 5.
A variety of styles will be key. Long flowing silk charmeuse gowns will share the stage with vintage show-stealers from glamorous eras gone by. A smattering of ballet-length hems will be seen among floor-length gowns, and warm shades like copper and olive will vie with vivid hues of fuchsia and lilac.
''I think we're going to see a return to the Hollywood glamour era,'' said Patty Fox, fashion coordinator for the 78th Academy Awards, adding, ''We're going to see more variety than we've seen in the past.'' Yesterday, Fox hosted a fashion preview of the looks expected to turn heads at the awards show, featuring designers like Monique Lhuillier, Colleen Quen, Richard Tyler and Escada - all draped over models dripping in diamonds.
A lime Sylvia Heisel one-shoulder satin gown accented by a Van Cleef&Arpels Art Deco diamond brooch gave way to a flowing lilac chiffon Randolph Duke. A ruby-red Douglas Hannant beaded dress weighing 25 pounds (11 kg) caused veteran Oscars producer Gil Cates to joke, ''The dress weighs more than the model!'' Any color is fair game, said Fox, ''as long as it's right for the actress.'' Men's styles - tuxedos with waistcoats and black accented with ivory - will be reminiscent of the days when celluloid heartthrobs Cary Grant and Gary Cooper prevailed, she said.
SAFE AND SOPHISTICATED
Despite the variety of couture and vintage choices, fashion expert David Wolfe, creative director of New York-based consultants The Doneger Group, said most stars would play it sophisticated and safe, avoiding risk-taking.
''I have a feeling that most of the actresses on the red carpet will follow the usual pattern of strapless column slinky dresses that show off their bodies,'' Wolfe said. ''The new emphasis will be the back instead of the boobs - but that doesn't mean there won't be plenty of implants.'' Rita Watnick, owner of the Beverly Hills vintage haute couture boutique Lily et Cie, said Oscar nominees may take a cue from Keira Knightley and Natalie Portman, who wore classic white and black, respectively, at the Golden Globe awards.
''That says something about not trying too hard with color,'' said Watnick, who added, ''Sometimes there is nothing better than great design and lack of color.'' A-list celebrities do not reveal their designers until showtime, spurring speculation over the fashion choices of the most-watched. Joan Rivers, doyenne of the red carpet, said she planned to wear a steel gray off-the-shoulder gown by Michael Vollbracht at Bill Blass trimmed in leather and feathers.
Rivers and daughter Melissa, hosting for the TV Guide Channel, both predict that overtly sexy is out this year. ''The Academy Awards is not where people wear see-through ... or you worry they'll fall out of their dress,'' said Melissa.
Rivers said Oscar attendees who crave the spotlight should take a tip from television star Lara Flynn Boyle and singer Bjork, who have gone down in history as sporting some of Oscar's most bizarre fashions.
Boyle's ballerina outfit and Bjork's infamous swan gown - which Rivers referred to as ''the chicken costume'' -- may have been panned, but as they say in the business, there's no such thing as bad publicity.
''If I were an actress, I would be in the most outrageous, insane thing you could possibly find,'' said Rivers. ''I would dress like a sexy Dutch girl. Who cares? You'll end up on the front page!''