He marked a milestone, without expecting it. When Halle Berry arrived on March 24, 2002 at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, she had no idea that she was going to win the Oscar. “At that time, if you hadn’t won the Golden Globe, they wouldn’t give you the Academy Award (…), so I resigned myself thinking ‘it’s great to be here even if I’m not going to win,’ she recalled last year in The New York Times. But since he stepped on the red carpet, she did not leave anyone indifferent: all the eyes and flashes they addressed her and her gown with an unlined embroidered tulle bodice and puffy taffeta skirt. With that Elie Saab model, which instantly went down in Hollywood history, Berry, who was 35 years old, picked up the Oscar for best leading actress for Monster’s Ball, the first —and the only one, in 94 editions— achieved in that category by a black actress. “This moment is much older than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Home, Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women who have stood by me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And for every nameless, faceless woman of color who is now going to have a chance because a door has been opened tonight,” she said excitedly. Berry, who was competing for the statuette with Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge) Judie Dench (Iris), Renee Zellweger (The diaryof Bridget Jones) and Sissy Spacek (In the bedroom).
Year after year, the dress that Halle Berry wore in that historic moment reappears in the lists of the most remembered of the Oscars. In addition, it has its own entry on Wikipedia, which lists it in the category of “Outstanding Red Carpet Outfits”, which also includes the green Versace that Jennifer Lopez wore to the Grammys in 2000 (the origin of Google Images). or the strapless dress with a pink feathered skirt, also by Versace, that Penelope Cruz wore at the 2007 Oscars. But how was this outfit forged? Far from being custom-designed for her —as is the case with many of the models that the main guests wear at this type of event— or from being a model that had just come off the catwalk —at that time, the usual thing was that many of the designs that They had walked the haute couture show in Paris in January and were seen on the red carpets of the movie awards season shortly after—the dress was part of the fall-winter 2002 collection that Lebanese fashion designer Elie Saab had presented for more than half a year. before, on July 12, 2001, within the haute couture shows of the fashion week of the French capital.
Although now many stars resort to archival garments, in the 2000s models from past seasons were not used to showing off on the red carpet, not even from the previous one, as in this case. Who chose the dress was Phillip Bloch, the actress’s stylist (who has advised other celebrities, such as Lindsay Lohan, River Phoenix, Salma Hayek, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Melania Trump). At first he had booked it to be worn by another of his clients at the Emmy ceremony, but in the end he decided that it had to be a looks cover. And Halle Berry held many after winning the statuette at the 74th edition of the Oscars. “I thought about it and said ‘this is a winning dress, it’s an Oscar dress’, I just had to wait for the right occasion,” explained the stylist in an interview in 2002 with the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail.
In the article, Bloch said that, despite the fact that the actress immediately fell in love with the design, wearing it at the gala was not easy. The reason? The catwalk model designed by Elie Saab was too naked clothes to take it to the televised Oscar ceremony. Today, transparencies are a constant in galas and red carpets, but the designer’s catwalk proposal barely covered one of the breasts. And, it must be remembered, just two years later, the scandal hampered Janet Jackson’s career for showing a nipple in her performance with Justin Timberlake in the 2004 Super Bowl. Bloch and Berry intuited that the excess transparencies in the bodice of the dress It could cause problems, and they asked Saab for modifications, but since the dressmaker was in Paris, the one in charge of enlarging the pectoral embroideries was the Hollywood seamstress Madeleine Aikenberg, who placed the sheets strategically to reveal, but covering. She and Bloch also removed the zipper from the back of the original model.
«I feel that that dress, in terms of style, symbolizes what the American woman is, and in particular what the African-American woman is: cComfortable and couture at the same time, simple but also ornate. It had natural flowers and a haute couture skirt that was frivolous (…). The dress was not amazing, but it was unforgettable”, summed up the designer in The Globe and Mail. In fact, Saab has recognized that it was the garment that gave him the definitive boost to his career. Halle Berry popularized the name Elie Saab. She really succeeded in establishing the Elie Saab name on the international market. It was a great time for cinema in general. She was the first woman of color to win that Oscar. She was elegant and daring and chic. I think that moment was exceptional for cinema », she explained in an interview with vogue australia in 2019. Until then, the maximum ambassador of the Lebanese creator —who began his career by opening a store in Beirut at the age of 18, in 1982, and when the Oscars were held in 2002 he was 37 years old— had been Queen Rania of Jordan . From then on, his designs began to sneak into international events and he was invited to join the French Haute Couture Syndical Chamber.
That “unforgettable” dress she designed in 2001 is now a museum piece. Coinciding with the last edition of the Oscars, on March 13, the actress shared with her Instagram followers a snapshot of her big night in which she commented that the design had become part of the collection of the Academy Museum, inaugurated in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, in 2021. Berry emphasized the historical significance of this garment: “Not only will this historic gown from @eliesaabworld remain in the expert care of the museum’s curators and curators, but it will be available to generations of people.” for whom the dress has meaning and will be a reminder that anything is possible.”
The most unforgettable dresses in Oscar history