From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
If Cate Blanchett seemed to glow as she accepted her Best Supporting Actress award for her role as Kate Hepburn in The Aviator, her gown deserved at least part of the credit. "I never wear yellow," she confessed earlier on the red carpet. "But I saw this and liked it." For good reason. The color, says Valentino, who designed the dress just for her, is "pale and very, very soft. It is great for her skin." And, he adds, "she has an amazing shoulder—this dress enhances it."

Like most top designers, Valentino has offered gowns to many actresses for past awards shows. But couture, he says, is "an enormous amount of long work and details. I prefer to work with people who understand and respect it. Everything is sewn by hand and fit two or three times. So this time I decided to have one special dress, conceived for this one special actress."

The couture process is indeed special-for both the creator and wearer. The day after Valentino's Paris show on Jan. 24, Blanchett received her Oscar nod, and Valentino—who says he had always wanted to dress Hepburn and loved The Aviator—called Blanchett to congratulate her. Within a week of her viewing his collection online, the two met in London and settled on the fabric and details of the gown. "She has her own personality," says Valentino. "We discussed everything."

Back in Rome, Valentino screened The Aviator for his staff, who began working full-time on the dress. Two weeks later the head seamstress took it to the actress in London for a fitting. One more week in Rome was required to finalize the off-the-shoulder silk taffeta gown, then on Feb. 25 it was packed in acid-free tissue and sent by courier to Los Angeles. After a last inspection, it was delivered on a velvet hanger to Blanchett's hotel. As she said with a smile on her arrival at the Oscars, "Mr. Valentino made it for me."