| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES When actresses sashay down the red carpet before the Oscars ceremony on Sunday, they are expected to be wearing gowns exuding glamour and sophistication, not flesh-exposing jaw-droppers.
Performers at this month's Grammys were issued a "wardrobe advisory" ahead of the big music awards show, telling them to cover up and keep buttocks, nipples and genitals under wraps. The advisory appeared to work, as no one bared too much skin.
But fashion experts do not expect guests at the 85th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday night to shock, instead forecasting original fashions inspired by last month's Paris haute couture week where made-to-order gowns worth tens of thousands of dollars are hand-crafted.
Top designers are keen to dress the hottest Hollywood stars, loaning them creations and jewellery for the awards ceremony that is watched by an estimated one billion people worldwide, with many as interested in the fashions as the films.
The importance of looking good on the film industry's biggest night is critical for up-and-coming actresses wanting to be noticed and for designers and cosmetic and jewellery companies seeking global recognition and the next big contract.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars, says on its award show tickets that attire for the event is "formal." An Academy spokeswoman declined to elaborate on whether more detailed advisories are given to nominees and presenters, saying only that "the Oscars and the Governors Ball are black-tie events."
With the red carpet televised live, there is no room for wardrobe malfunctions. And attendees know that the critics are ready to pounce on anyone whose frock does not live up to the event.
Designer Marc Bouwer, who is dressing three Oscar attendees this year, called the Oscars red carpet "the greatest, biggest runway show on earth," pointing out that the right outfit can take someone's career "from zero to a hundred."
Bouwer would know. His creations are regularly featured on best-dressed lists, with the white satin gown worn by Angelina Jolie wowing the audience at the 2004 Oscars.
Jolie is a pro of the red carpet. She again stole the spotlight last year when she thrust her right leg out of her high-slit Versace dress, setting off a global copying craze and leading to the adoption of a new word, "legbombing." Her right leg even got its own Twitter account.
The value of red carpet exposure is hard to pinpoint, but a vintage Christian Dior dress worn by actress Natalie Portman at the 84th Academy Awards later sold for $50,000.
The photographs of the actress who takes home the Best Actress statuette becomes part of Oscar lore.
It's a night when images of beautiful women in spectacular gowns become Hollywood history, such as pictures of Grace Kelly in a blue satin gown by Edith Head in 1955, Julia Roberts in a black vintage Valentino in 2001, and Halle Berry in an Elie Saab gown with a sheer upper bodice and burgundy satin bottom in 2002.
One actress in the spotlight this year is 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence, who is a favourite for the Best Actress award for her role in the quirky romance "Silver Linings Playbook."
Lawrence has built a relationship with Christian Dior's creative director, Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons, and wore Dior gowns to the recent Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and the BAFTA awards in London.
It remains to be seen if she will don Dior for the Oscars, but style expert Sam Saboura, a fashion host on the cable channel TLC, said he expected the copious amounts of black and white used by Dior and Chanel in Paris last month to appear at the Oscars.
He said the full skirts used by Dior in Paris are also likely to influence gowns on Oscar night, while spring and fall colours like cobalt blue, poppy red and yellow, as seen at the Golden Globes, could emerge.
"The Oscars carpet is the grand dame of all red carpets," Saboura told Reuters. "It's a world stage and what's worn on that night will set the tone and trend of what everyone else will be wearing ... and other designers will follow suit."
Bouwer expects prints to make a big return to the red carpet as designers use computer software like photoshopping and art applications to add prints easily.
"Prints have been on day dresses for years, but now it's moving into haute couture and ballgowns," Bouwer told Reuters. "It's something different. It's pushing the envelope and there's no reason it shouldn't be on an evening gown."
No matter what colour, pattern or designer is chosen for the Oscar red carpet, hair stylist Jose Eber said the underlying theme will be, as always, a celebration of the golden years of Hollywood and a bygone era of timeless elegance.
"Every nominee and presenter gets inspired by that era, and you will see them paying homage to stars like Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, Audrey Hepburn and others," Eber told Reuters. "But they will all have their own new twist" on elegance.
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Philip Barbara)