2004 best supporting actress
Renee Zellweger in Carolina Herrera
Talk about bride of Oscar: Zellweger's wedding-white strapless column may have been all business from the front, but from behind, she was tied up like acting's second-greatest gift that year. The actress and the designer "have had a great friendship and relationship, and Renee knew she was going to win," InStyle's Hal Rubenstein says. Herrera knew "that bow would be memorable when (Renee) walked up the stage and had her back to the audience." No wonder the made-to-measure material mullet made it into Rubenstein's 2011 book, 100 Unforgettable Dresses.
2005 best actress
Hilary Swank in Guy Laroche
Stylist Jen Rade has a professional motto: Everything can't be something. When it comes to a total look, just one something should stand out, from a red lip to, in Swank's case, a bare back. "She turns around, and it's like, 'Wowza!'" Rubenstein says. The body-skimming frock was all about form, whose function was to flaunt Swank's enviable figure. "There's no embellishment," points out designer Tadashi Shoji. "It's one of the most stunning dresses, I think." Much of fashion land agrees.
2005 best supporting actress
Cate Blanchett in Valentino
It foreshadowed the frenzy for all things asymmetrical, and it coupled a pair of unexpected but complementary colors: yellow and burgundy. "I wanted to keep that timelessness going, but I wanted to keep it interesting," says Jessica Paster, JustFab's chief stylist, who united Blanchett with Valentino that night. "It was the right woman at the right time," Rubenstein says. When it comes to the uncommon color, "it's almost like they took a strand of her hair and matched it. It's absolutely perfect in that sense."
2008 best actress
Marion Cotillard in Jean Paul Gaultier
If Aphrodite were brunet (and French), she'd channel Cotillard on the biggest night of her professional life thus far. "In its simplicity, she chose something unique and cool," says stylist Phillip Bloch, who put together one of Oscar's best-ever best-actress looks, Halle Berry's 2002 Elie Saab. Cotillard's "was a very cool dress." But the mermaid masterpiece is only deceptively simple. "It looks one way in photographs," Rubenstein says. "In person, it is extraordinary. All of those scales have a hand-sewn graduated brilliance to them."
2008 best supporting actress
Tilda Swinton in Lanvin
Fashion -- not Hollywood glamour but Parisian, capital-F Fashion -- sauntered onto the Kodak Theatre stage six years ago, and mainstream America collectively gasped. But the Hefty bag (to paraphrase one of the kinder armchair critiques) worn by Swinton has emerged as the epitome of how, on the right person with the right confidence, chic and street can coexist, even on the world's most-watched red carpet. The "artist's smock" is one of Rubenstein's favorite dresses of all time (yes, it ranks in his Unforgettable book). "The dress is incredible," he says. "Sometimes it takes the public a little while to get used to something that's different."
2012 best supporting actress
Octavia Spencer in Tadashi Shoji
Spencer "asked for a goddess dress. She didn't say anything other than that," Shoji says. "And she wanted shine." Enter Rade's "something" that set apart Shoji's blank canvas: "The way the beading was done, it all pulls to the center," Rade says. "The something is the beading and the intricacy of the beading. She didn't go crazy with anything else. The dress speaks for itself."
2013 best actress
Jennifer Lawrence in Dior
Yes, JLaw and Dior have a contractual collaboration. But America's latest sweetheart wearing her employer is nonetheless "always divine," Paster says. "I don't think it feels contrived at all. I think she looks beautiful. She's cute, she's modern, she's relatable, and she makes the clothes relatable," stair falls and all. In her barely blush ballgown, she looked "like the ultimate Barbie." Rubenstein calls Lawrence's cinematic Cinderella moment "glorious."
Copyright 2014 USA TODAY
Original headline: Oscar dresses year by year critique
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