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Portman's Deserved Win, Blanchett's Daring Givenchy Among Rare High Points on Oscar Night

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"I would say on a night like tonight not to go too far into the avant-garde." That was Gwyneth Paltrow's advice, when asked by ABC's Robin Roberts, on how to handle the high-stakes red carpet of the Oscars. It actually seemed as if most of the actresses heading into the 83rd annual Academy Awards ceremony had already gotten the memo. (Perhaps in an exclusive issue of GOOP?)

Dashing a veritable tsunami of anticipation in fashion circles—already whipped into a frenzy in the third week of a month of runway shows—tonight's drop-dead moments were few, though not as few as good lines during the ceremony. (James Franco and Anne Hathaway were game enough as hosts, but the producers' decision to go for the youth vote rather than use the usual reliable comic talent resulted in a dull broadcast.) But back to the fashion. Even Helena Bonham Carter, she of the mismatched shoes, reined in her trademark eccentricity to a degree, opting for an all-black ensemble by Best Costume Design winner Colleen Atwood. ("I wanted to celebrate film over fashion," said Bonham Carter.)

In a sleek and silvery Calvin Klein Collection column, Paltrow followed her own counsel pretty well. On a night when it seemed that many major labels were MIA, Calvin scored two major names. The second, Jennifer Lawrence, was the picture of fresh American sportswear in an ultrasimple tomato red tank dress with almost no jewelry and her blond hair in loose, natural waves. Red—a color that's also been all over the Fall 2011 runways—was one of the prevalent hues. There was Sandra Bullock in old-Hollywood-glam Vera Wang, a very thin Jennifer Hudson in full-skirted tangerine Atelier Versace, and Hathaway in strapless vintage Valentino Haute Couture—just one of the eight looks she'd wear through the course of the night.

Silver à la Paltrow was a close second as a favored shade. A refreshing point of difference: Amy Adams' glamorous poured-on sequined column in rich jeweled purple, fresh off L'Wren Scott's Fall runway. It was a good night to be wearing a rich tone, apparently. Best Actress winner Natalie Portman went for a plummy portrait-collared gown by Kate and Laura Mulleavy for Rodarte, and she gave the designers a shout-out during her acceptance speech. That presumably made up for any Oscar-night glory the Mulleavy sisters may have missed out on by not being officially nominated for their Black Swan costumes.

With many actresses playing it safe, fashion savants quickly landed on a clear favorite: Cate Blanchett carried off her lilac-hued, pearl- and crystal-encrusted Givenchy dress and pants—a look from Riccardo Tisci's recent knockout Couture collection—with an almost shocking amount of grace. Not far behind, and in the same winning school of statement couture with not-so-statement hair and makeup, was Michelle Williams in her ethereal body-skimming Chanel. Also scoring high points: Florence Welch in lacy, high-necked Valentino Haute Couture.

And let it not be said that there was a complete absence of surprise among the evening's dresses. James Franco, reliving his Candy magazine photo shoot with Terry Richardson, took to the stage at one point in a pink satin column as worn by Marilyn Monroe for her "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number. We can't say we saw that one coming.

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