Penelope Cruz shines at the Oscars--The ''All About My Mother'' star is this year's fashion breakout

By Clarissa Cruz
Updated April 07, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

A Matt Damon-dissed Minnie Driver did it in scarlet Halston in ’98. A pre-preggers Catherine Zeta-Jones pulled it off in crimson Versace in ’99. And while there was nary a ruby thread to be found in the shimmering folds of her ice blue Ralph Lauren creation, Spanish actress Penelope Cruz (All About My Mother) has become this year’s red-hot Oscar fashion breakout.

Presenting Mother director Pedro Almodovar with the Academy Award for best foreign picture (along with fellow countryman Antonio Banderas), the adorably exuberant Cruz, 25, was luminous in a sky blue duchesse satin strapless gown paired with a matching silk chiffon wrap and satin stiletto sandals, all from Ralph Lauren.

”We were going for a clean, elegant, natural look to go with the dress,” says makeup artist Whitney James, who used a combination of three shadows and dark liner to accentuate Cruz’s eyes. Hair expert Martin Samuel continued the understated style by twisting the actress’ waist-length hair into a simple ”ballerina’s bun.”

A gaggle of pave diamond-encrusted platinum jewelry — a necklace, earrings, ring, and bracelet — from Italian jeweler Casa Damiani completed the sparkling look. A look that, we might add, introduced an international starlet to American moviegoers with neck-craning ”Who’s that girl?” panache.

The Oscar appearance ”will be good for her career,” says a source close to Cruz. ”People in the industry definitely know who she is, but as far as the public is concerned, she hasn’t had a big hit yet. This will improve visibility for her.”

And it’s just in time. The willowy actress is starring in no less than three upcoming movies: the romantic comedy Woman on Top (as a Brazilian chef), the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses (as Matt Damon’s love interest), and the druggy drama Blow (as Johnny Depp’s troubled wife), which she’s currently filming in Mexico. All of which may put her back in Oscar’s spotlight next year.

(Additional reporting by Nicholas Fonseca)