Style Watch

updated 03/30/1992 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/30/1992 01:00AM

AND THE DESIGNER IS...

One evening last month, Jay Leno leaned across The Tonight Show desk and admired guest Diane Ladd's black sweater and slacks. "You have to thank Valentino for this one," said Ladd, who is up for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Rambling Rose (see story, page 57). "He loaned it to me for a night. See, when you're nominated for an Oscar, you get loaned a lot of pretty clothes."

In fact, so fierce is the competition to dress the stars on Oscar night (March 30) that Beverly Hills boutique owner Fred Hayman, who is officially sanctioned by the Academy to attire nominees and presenters, gets fewer takers each year. This year Valentino has custom-designed dresses for Best Actress nominees Bette Midler (For the Boys) and Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise), who is seven months pregnant, as well as Best Supporting Actress nominees Mercedes Ruehl (The Fisher King) and Jessica Tandy (Fried Green Tomatoes). Last year Giorgio Armani was Best Represented Designer, dressing at least a dozen big names, including Jodie Foster, Billy Crystal, Kevin Costner and Tom Cruise.

Some stars are given the royal treatment by more than one designer and often don't decide what to wear until the day of the Oscars. Last year, for instance, Nino Cerruti made a blue satin gown with a matching coat for Annette Bening. "She kept it as our gift," says Cerruti's L.A. representative, Mary Hall Ross, "but she wore a '40s-style gown from Bugsy to the Oscars. She was very gracious and wrote to Mr. Cerruti to let us know that she would be wearing our gown in the future."

Similarly, Sophia Loren commissioned Dynasty designer No-Ian Miller to make a gown for last year's Oscars. "Then Valentino called and gave her a gown to wear," says Miller. "But she paid for my dress and wore it later."

Some observers believe that designer courtships don't always pay off. "The stars sometimes don't look glamorous in the clothes they are given," says Hollywood design legend Bob Mackie, who made the show-stopping backless gown in which Madonna performed "Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)" from Dick Tracy last year. "But they figure that since they got it for nothing, they might as well wear it."

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