The Making of Reese's Gown

updated 03/12/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 03/12/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Reese Witherspoon knew exactly the color she wanted—a deep amethyst—so when she began working on her Oscar look with Nina Ricci designer Olivier Theyskens in early February, she sent him a swatch of fabric. "Reese has a strong sense of color," says the designer. "It's a very particular marriage between blue and red. So we focused on that very precisely." Another detail the pair was precise about was the length: Unlike the cocktail dresses he created for her for this year's Golden Globes and SAG Awards (see box), Witherspoon wanted a showstopping, to-the-floor gown for the big day. They decided on "something really fitted through the bust and hips," says Theyskens, 30, who was head designer at Rochas before moving to Nina Ricci last fall. With Witherspoon, 30, in Los Angeles and Theyskens in Paris, the two worked out the rest of the details by phone, with the help of sketches the designer sent the actress. The lack of face time wasn't an issue: Although Theyskens only met Witherspoon once last November, he "knew her body" from his past designs, he says. In fact, he had two mannequins with the actress's petite proportions custom made.

Why two? Because Theyskens (who got his big break when Madonna wore one of his gowns to the Oscars in 1998) made two Oscar dresses for Witherspoon. "Because you never know. Very suddenly, one becomes really the one, and the other one is good, but just not right that day."

The right one for the star on Oscar day ended up being a bustier gown created from 40 meters of silk jacquard from Switzerland. The fitted silhouette ends in a cascade of ruffles that fade in color from a deep eggplant to a pale lilac. (The backup gown, which Theyskens asked the actress to keep anyway, was also a dark amethyst, but a simpler cut and made of a solid washed silk.) Witherspoon's makeup artist Molly Stern says the decision was an easy one. "She said that it was the most beautiful dress she felt she's ever worn."

THE VISION
"She wanted to have something special and really true to her," says Theyskens of his goal to wow Reese Witherspoon with a design she would "fall in love with." He began with the sketch, above. For the ruffles, Theyskens chose six tones of a pleated silk jacquard fabric. While constructing the dress, it was crucial that the colors be kept clear, so samples were pinned to a sheet of paper, with the stern instruction: "Degrade de Reese! Ne pas perder!" (Translation: Gradation for Reese! Don't lose!) Although Theyskens drew in a jewel at the waist, the star opted to go without. "The dress was such a beautiful understated statement, she felt so excited to wear it," says Witherspoon's makeup artist Molly Stern.

Want to see more of Reese? Visit WWW.PEOPLE.COM/REESE_WITHERSPOON

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