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Vintage Hollywood makes return to stars' big night


Naomi Watts sparkled in a gorgeous Versace gown.

Nicole Kidman wore Chanel couture and her hair in a cascade of curls.

Liv Tyler's Givenchy gown was a fabulous study in black.

This year's Academy Awards show was a high-glam, leap day's journey into night. Fashion faux pas were few as actresses - draped in chiffon, tulle and silk - chose to emulate bygone eras of elegance. Hair was softly curled, shoulders were bare, and cleavage ruled the night.

The Oscars ritual returned to its showy self after two years of relative solemnity imposed by the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Iraq. Hollywood's goddesses and gods reclaimed the red carpet, where they paraded in a full-peacock display of beauty, fame and fortune.

Color - a bouquet of spring pastels - made a return after last year's fairly drab palette. So did romance and femininity.

The guys largely kept to dark colors, some completely in black. But many wore bright ties with suits, instead of tuxedos. A few skipped neckwear all together.

One question for the middle-aged men of Hollywood: Is that gelled and spiked hairstyle the 21st-century version of a comb over?

And Clint Eastwood, what were you thinking with that smoky-blue shirt? This wasn't the prom, circa 1972.

Those who fared best borrowed more sensibly from the past. In a seafoam-hued gown by Alberto Ferretti and platinum, Jean Harlow tresses, 19-year-old Scarlett Johansson channeled 1930s glamour. Samantha Morton, of In America, wore a strapless, cinched gown from Givenchy's 1951 collection. And Jennifer Garner was stunning in vintage Valentino, a tangerine dream of a dress with a single shoulder.

A lavishly blonde Julia Roberts in Armani and a bronzed Charlize Theron in champagne-colored Gucci gave extra wattage to the retro look.

But some actresses got lost in their attempts at transformation. In her top coat and tie, Diane Keaton was Annie Hall redux. Designer Zac Posen got carried away with the chiffon in Kelly Lynch's dress, which was a curtain raiser in the more excessive sense of those words. And Uma Thurman, usually an Oscar fashion highlight, seemed to be the victim of an exploding kimono. Perhaps it was collateral damage from Kill Bill.

Others arrived in gowns especially made for the occasion. Patricia Clarkson of Pieces of April cut a tidy, yet winsome figure in Bill Blass. Holly Hunter arrived in a gown by Vera Wang, who has designed the actress' Oscar apparel for the past 10 years.

Thirteen-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes, nominated for best actress in Whale Rider, was pretty in a pink, sparkly frock by a New Zealand designer. In her hair, Castle-Hughes tucked a whale pin.

Actor Ken Watanabe wore an Issey Miyake tuxedo made especially for the Last Samurai actor. Bill Murray went for Helmut Lang, who designed the comedian's clothing for Lost in Translation.

There may be moments - or years - of hushed decorum in the Academy. But neither war nor the threat of terrorism deterred Hollywood from its appointed task last night: Creating a make-believe, if fleeting world, where beauty and glamour surpass all other concerns.

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