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Starry Night

Who's more important at the Oscars -- celebrities or their stylists?

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It's two weeks until Oscar Night, and the stylists who dress celebrities for the red-carpet extravaganza are buzzing around Los Angeles in a high-octane fury, flipping through look books, watching runway videos, and calling Paris and Milan in search of the Academy Awards ensemble. Some, like Vivian Turner, who is dressing Geena Davis, have it easy. "Geena gets the giggles when she really loves something, and then we know," says Turner, speaking via cell phone en route to Harry Winston to select a few million-dollar diamonds for her client. "I want the men to whimper when she walks by," she purrs.

Ever since Phillip Bloch dolled up an exhausting ten clients, including Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Sandra Bullock, Salma Hayek, Jennifer Lopez, and Gabriel Byrne, for the Academy Awards two years ago, stylists have achieved increasingly high-profile status. Celebrities know they can't underestimate the power of the perfect look (just ask Uma Thurman, who introduced the world to Prada in 1996) or the unforgettable faux pas (like Demi Moore's bike shorts under a cutaway gown in 1989).

This year's It girl is Jessica Paster, who is dressing Best Actress nominee Cate Blanchett, Kim Basinger, Minnie Driver ("if she goes"), and Sam Jackson ("if he goes"). "The moment the Golden Globes are announced, it starts," says a breathless Paster from her L.A. office. "All you do is look for clothes and have meetings with shoe people, purse people -- everybody!" Bloch is dressing only Jim Carrey this year, but that's because he's parlayed his success into more time-consuming gigs like commentator roles on E! and Entertainment Tonight. The night of the big event, he'll host the Oscar preshow on CNN and the postshow on ABC.

Some stylists are not so sure their ascent is good for business; they whisper that clients don't want to compete for star status and instead turn to others within their inner circle -- often with disastrous results. "They end up in these beautiful gowns with the wrong shoes and too many accessories because their publicists dressed them," says Fati Parsia. Others argue about whether dressing too many stars at once constitutes a conflict of interest when each naturally wants to shine the brightest. Arianne Phillips insists there is less competition than one would think. "Courtney Love introduced me to Madonna," she offers.

But hobnobbing with the Hollywood elite is not always a fairy tale come true. "I'll tell you why I didn't do the Academy Awards last year," says Parsia. "I was doing Kim Basinger the year before. We picked a dress from Balenciaga, had it custom-made in Paris and sent over for $17,000, and the night of, Kim decided not to go. And I'm standing there left to deal with it."


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