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I'm the first to admit that a few of my favorite red carpet looks are provocative; that is, they will strike a discordant note for many people. I believe in the semiotics of clothes: the clothes we wear send a message about how we're perceived. Accordingly, it's important that we each accept responsibility for how we present ourselves to the world. With that in mind, I submit the following (and in no particular order, other than reverse chronology):
PENÉLOPE CRUZ (Academy Awards '09)
Truly great fashion withstands the test of time, as proven by Penélope Cruz looking stunning and radiant in a vintage Balmain gown, a gown that is almost twice her age!
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ANNE HATHAWAY (Academy Awards '09)
My how-to-get-your-fashion-correct mantra of ''silhouette, proportion, fit'' is beautifully demonstrated by Anne Hathaway in Armani Prive.
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MERYL STREEP (Academy Awards '09)
The Queen of Hollywood has her share of fashion ups and downs, but this Alberta Ferretti gown is a clear winner. When La Streep gets it right, she slam dunks it!
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SARAH JESSICA PARKER (Academy Awards '09)
I love SJP's spirit of risk taking, because she doesn't play it safe — ever! This Dior Haute Couture gown received mixed reviews, but not from me. The ethereal, diaphanous qualities of the gown personify SJP and her other-worldliness.
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DEBRA MESSING (Emmy Awards '09)
Red can be a difficult color to pull off on the red carpet, because one can become obfuscated. This sublime column with its one-shoulder neckline is a perfect collaboration between Debra Messing and Michael Kors.
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SANDRA OH (Emmy Awards '09)
I find that Sandra Oh's red carpet looks are too frequently an exercise in excess. I submit her in this look by Marchesa, because it works: all of the potential for ''excess'' is confined to the streamlined column of the gown. Bravo!
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HEIDI KLUM (Academy Awards '08)
Does Heidi ever get it wrong? Not in my opinion. I especially loved her in this exuberant gown by John Galliano. When Heidi appeared, it was impossible to notice anyone else!
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TILDA SWINTON (Academy Awards '08)
Alright, I can hear the screaming! It's about semiotics, remember? Tilda Swinton is a bohemian, not a classicist, and that's precisely what this cocoon-like gown by Lanvin says about her. Would I put this look on Sally Field? Of course not!
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HELEN MIRREN (Academy Awards '07)
Helen Mirren in this sparkling gold gown by Christian Lacroix was, hands down, the most gorgeous, sophisticated — and sexy — woman on the red carpet. She had me enraptured! Ingénues, beware!
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CATE BLANCHETT (Golden Globes '07)
This lace dress by Alexander McQueen stirred up other notes of controversy. Why? Cate ruled the red carpet in this look: her carriage and bearing exuded unbridled confidence. I asked her to please tell me what's at the core of her style. She responded, ''That's easy; I only listen to my own voice.'' Take note, everyone!