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Will Tom Hanks Wear Hush Puppies On Oscar Night?

March 24, 1995

Tom Hanks is still mulling it over, but the Hush Puppies people are hopeful. They have a pair of custom-made shoes they want him to wear on Monday night when he picks up his Oscar as best actor, if he wins one. They are breathable black, brushed pigskin oxfords like the ones Forrest Gump wore in the movie.

The 67th annual Academy Awards have Hollywood in suspense. What the winners will be wearing has fashion designers in a dither. This is the biggest photo op of the year for them. Getting winners and the luminaries who present awards to wear their threads has been on their minds for many months.

Designers and rag-trade manufacturers have been badgering nominees and presenters. Now, in countdown week, the faxes and media advisories are flying thick and fast with news of each new conquest.

``Sharon Stone is confirmed,″ exults Valentino’s publicist, Carlos Souza, spreading the word that the actress will wear one of the Italian couturier’s designs. Gianni Versace, who uses Madonna in his print ads, says he has lined up best-actor nominee Morgan Freeman and ``Pulp Fiction″ director Quentin Tarantino, not to mention the perennial front-row sitter Sylvester Stallone, one of whose girlfriends was a Versace model.

Calvin Klein’s obsessions are Mr. Hanks (above the shoes) and best-actress nominee Jessica Lange, both of whom have indicated they will be wearing their Calvins. So will supporting-actor nominee Samuel L. Jackson. But there is a contest still in progress for John Travolta, who is also up for best actor, and Uma Thurman, a supporting-actress nominee. Mr. Klein wants them, but so does Giorgio Armani, and the actors, so far, are noncommittal. And sometimes actors don’t even show up in what they have promised to wear.

Otherwise solidly in the Armani column are the show’s host, David Letterman, and best-actress nominee Jodie Foster.

As designers fly in on their own dime to supervise final fittings, Hollywood is snickering about all the inducements the luminescent ones are given to wear what they wear. It’s a given that the biggest stars get their gowns and tuxes free, and that the lesser lights will be returning loaners on Tuesday.

And if free stuff isn’t motivating enough, purveyors sometimes play to a star’s kind heart. Should Mr. Hanks wear those size 9 1/2-D Hush Puppies _ and he hasn’t promised that he will _ the manufacturer, Wolverine World Wide Inc., will make a donation, the size of which it won’t discuss, to his favorite charity.

The official line from the big fashion houses is that they don’t have to stoop too low, certainly not so low as to offer rumored cash payments or gifts of year-round wardrobes. What the stars choose, designers wish us to believe, is ``a friendship″ thing. ``Calvin has always been associated with the stars,″ says Mr. Klein’s spokeswoman. And, from Armani’s spokesman in Milan: ``Armani is very much against the idea of buying stars.″

But the backstage hustling proceeds shamelessly. ``True Lies″ star and Oscar presenter Jamie Lee Curtis says she had at least a dozen requests from designers this year. ``I’m amused to receive the attention,″ she says. But she thinks the fashion gab distracts people from the achievement awards. ``The first thing the media ask you is, `Whose dress are you wearing?‴

Ms. Curtis turned down the blandishments, having already taken a free gown from Pamela Dennis, the Seventh Avenue designer who sells her most of her clothes. For her, it is a ``professional friendship″ thing.

Dressing the stars may shine a klieg light on a designer’s ego, but they say the buzz doesn’t always do much for the bottom line. ``The publicity I’ve gotten hasn’t translated into dollars,″ insists Vera Wang, who in past years has dressed Sharon Stone and Marisa Tomei.

This year, Ms. Wang made Holly Hunter’s Oscar gown for the second year in a row. Ms. Wang figures the dress cost her at least $25,000. She will use some of the design touches in her ready-to-wear line.

Last December, the Donna Karan organization made its pitch to dress ``Forrest Gump″ producer Steve Tisch. ``They made it very clear to me that, if we were to be nominated, they wanted to dress me . . . I was really flattered,″ Mr. Tisch recalls. He got a free tux to wear to the recent Golden Globe Awards and a different one for the Oscars. And Ms. Karan gave his girlfriend, Jamie Alexander, two free dresses, including a spectacular 14-pound beaded number for Monday night.

``I’m trying to get up the courage to ask Donna for a suit for my niece’s bat mitzvah next month,″ Mr. Tisch jokes.

By Valentine’s Day, when the Oscar nominations were announced, the promotional pace picked up. Angela Bassett (a best-actress nominee last year for ``What’s Love Got to Do With It?″) read the names of this year’s nominees in a red pantsuit by Escada. This fashion factoid got at least six media mentions. Ms. Bassett wore Escada at last year’s Oscars, too.

``We just love Angela. We’ve gotten advertising that money can’t buy,″ says Sandy Graham, Escada’s New York publicist. She says this year Escada’s design team sent all nominees a wooden box sealed with wax containing sketches of gowns and a handwritten note: ``We would love the opportunity to dress you.″ Valentino sent all the actress nominees congratulatory bouquets, accompanied by notes offering couture gowns.

If some fashion designers are coy about seeming to be publicity-hungry, that is hardly true of the diamond trade. ``The Oscars are a marvelous public-relations opportunity,″ says Cri Cri Solak-Eastin, the West Coast supervisor of the Diamond Information Center. The trade group has gathered some $25 million in diamonds from Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpels that will be lent to stars for Oscar night. Mr. Tisch got a free .4 carat diamond stud for his bow tie. In 1989, the diamond people gave Jack Nicholson a bat-shaped stud because of his role as the Joker in ``Batman.″

But that Liz Taylor-dripping-in-diamonds feeling will be fleeting for most. The diamond people and their security guards will be there at evening’s end to take back their gems. Says Ms. Solak-Eastin: ``It’s kind of like Cinderella _ you turn into a pumpkin.″

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