By Janice Min
April 08, 1996 12:00 PM

Nixing gaudy getups, stars embrace style

IT WAS THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO FOR OSCAR WATCHERS ITCHING TO dish. No, Richard Gere didn’t return to pontificate about the Tibetan-Chinese conflict. Nor was there a reprise of last year’s “Uma- Oprah-Oprah-Uma” mantra. Instead, the most egregious crime at the 68th Academy Awards on March 25 was—egad!—the relentless elegance and good taste that deprived viewers of genuine, Grade A snicker fodder. In place of jaw-dropping, Cher-style theatrics, there was Sandra Bullock, shimmering in brown strapless satin by Calvin Klein. Halle Berry was voluptuous in lavender crepe Valentino, while Winona Ryder went retro, complete with marcelled hair, in a clingy, cream Badgley Mischka. Even the guys got into the act. Putting the kibosh on collarless tuxedo shirts, Tom Hanks, John Travolta and Steven Spielberg brought back the bow tie (or, in the case of Robin Williams, what looked like a skinny purple Slinky). “It was a beautiful evening. Very elegant,” says Gianni Versace, who provided the togs for such celebs as Dianne Wiest, Claudia Schiffer and Steven Seagal. “Fashion is back in a great age.”

That’s not to say that attendees at Los Angeles’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stinted on ooh-la-la. Awash in softly muted pink, purple and lime-colored frocks and stoles, celebs—including Best Actress nominee Elisabeth Shue, Best Supporting Actress candidate Kate Winslet and Goldie Hawn—gave their Wonderbras a workout, topping off their plunging décolletages with goiter-size diamonds dripping from necklaces and earrings on loan from Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels and Martin Katz. Adventurous Best Actress nominee Sharon Stone—-who, after months of being wooed by Vera Wang and Valentino, managed to make standouts out of a black, mock turtle Gap T-shirt and a skirt she found in her closet—dispensed with a bra entirely, with only moderate success. “Thirty-eight is 38,” chided Women’s Wear Daily, referring, of course, to her age, “even when you’re a sex symbol.”

With nearly 1 billion viewers worldwide, emcee Whoopi Goldberg—who earned better reviews than predecessor David Letterman but drew a slightly smaller audience—zinged everyone from Bob Dole to the scowling supermodels in the Best Costume production (“They get $10,000 an hour and still look pissed off”). But it was the show’s five-hanky highlights that made it memorable: Paul Sorvino’s bawling at daughter Mira’s victory; Kirk Douglas, speech-impaired by a January stroke, accepting an award for lifetime achievement; the poignant recollections of Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein, subject of Best Documentary Short winner One Survivor Remembers; and, perhaps most dramatic, the tearful standing ovation for surprise guest Christopher Reeve when he took center stage, alone, in his wheelchair. In his first live TV appearance since a horseback-riding accident last May left him a quadriplegic, Reeve urged the audience—at the request of the show’s executive producer, Quincy Jones—to create more movies with social importance. “I love taking risks,” Reeve told PEOPLE afterward. “To do that in front of my peers was the kind of challenge that really motivates me.”

East Coasters may have been nodding off by the end of the 3-hour and 39 minute broadcast, but the night was just beginning for L.A.’s post-Oscar party-hoppers. “It’s Oscar squared!” joked Mel Gibson, clutching his Best Picture and Best Director statuettes alongside fellow victors Susan Sarandon (Best Actress) and Christine Lahti (Best Live Action Short) at the Governors Ball at the Pavilion. Best Actor Nicolas Cage high-fived fans before joining Jim Carrey, Christian Slater and Alicia Silverstone at the Vanity Fair fete at Morton’s. But it was Sandra Bullock who summed up the mood best. “Anyone who sits in a chair for three hours can look like this,” she joked of her glam appearance, while holding court past midnight with Laurence Fishburne and Stephen Baldwin at the Elton John AIDS Foundation bash. “I have every intention of staying out as long as I possibly can.”