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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The unusually high number of Oscar contenders this year has set off a frenzy in style circles as old and new designers clamor to outfit stars for the red carpet -- the fashion runway of all fashion runways.
This year, 10 films instead of five were nominated for best picture -- the widest best movie Oscar contest in more than 65 years that will likely load the Kodak Theater in Hollywood with stars. As important, a host of new faces including Carey Mulligan, Anna Kendrick and Gabourey Sidibe are giving designers new faces and new looks for which to design.
"This is the first time I can remember having so many movies nominated. Stylists and jewelers and designers have all been much busier than ever," said celebrity designer Ali Rahimi of Mon Atelier.
In keeping with past tradition, the wardrobe choices of Hollywood's royalty and the night's leading lady nominees like Sandra Bullock, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Mulligan and Sidibe are being held close to the vest.
But as Hollywood's elite proceed to primp and preen and go to great lengths to impress the world on Oscars night, fashion experts believe the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and continued economic challenges on the U.S. home-front will keep fashion statements toned down.
"We started to see this at the Golden Globes. It's called focused glamour as opposed to going over the top. There's a sensitivity in Hollywood and that's where focused glamour comes in. It's a holdover from the recession," said celebrity stylist Michael O'Connor.
O'Connor said stars may choose to focus or accentuate one aspect of their appearance or outfit, while paring down the rest. A star might don bright red lipstick or wear a gown that shows off an exposed back, or a dress revealing a lot of leg.
While colors have dominated red carpets to brighten the mood of awards shows leading to the Oscars, O'Connor believes there will be more sedate elegance at the Academy Awards, with more stars choosing gowns in grays and neutral tones.
One thing is for sure, as Hollywood's stars gear up for the big night, they will field an abundance of choices from the world's top designers from Dolce & Gabbana to Bill Blass, Vera Wang and Giorgio Armani.
But a group of new designers such as Oday Shakar, Elda De La Rosa, Rania Salibi, Ari Sheuhmelian and Oliver Tolentino are among those angling to have their dresses worn at the Oscars.
"There are the usual old guard designers, but some upcoming designers also have moved in to become contenders," said Rahimi, noting the red carpet at the Oscars is the best place for couturiers to advertise themselves and their creations.
Indeed, a photo of a star wearing an outfit can easily set off a style trend and define a designer's career, which is why so many million-dollar gowns are offered free to nominees and presenters for Hollywood's biggest film awards.
Actress Diane Keaton, for instance, showed up at the Oscars in the signature, male-inspired suite she popularized in her Oscar-winning 1977 "Annie Hall" and spawned a huge fashion movement in the ensuing years.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Philip Barbara