12 FEBRUARY 2009

Oscar bosses have already hinted this will be a year full of surprises when it comes to the February 22 ceremony. And they revealed the first of the new elements this week. For the first time ever it'll have a Project Runway-style fashion vote element.

At the traditional pre-Oscars catwalk show on Wednesday, instead of showing gowns from red carpet favourites like Oscar de la Renta in the usual manner, runway guests were introduced to seven up and coming designers. Their visions for the Academy Award ceremony are posted on for the public to choose a favourite number, which will be worn on the night by a trophy presenter while their creator watches from the wings.

Highlights of the catwalk presentation, which took place at the Academy Award HQ in LA, included a strapless silk-and-lace mermaid gown from Alan Del Rosario, who already counts Michelle Pfeiffer and Debra Messing among his clients.

There was also a strapless affair from Chicago-based Maria Pinto, a favourite of Michelle Obama. She dubbed her silver column, which was pleated into a bustle at the back, "modern Marie Antoinette".

Designers, who stuck to a muted palette of cream, white, chocolate brown and grey, had three weeks to come up with their dress. A winner will be announced at the pre red-carpet show before the main event

Providing the finishing touch to each of the new designs were a selection of Oscar-worthy gems, from the likes of William Goldberg and couture jeweller Martin Katz, who over the years has loaned pieces to hundreds of A-list guests. There were also sparklers from LA jeweller Neil Lane, a red-carpet regular who has collaborated with Marisa Tomei and Angelina Jolie. He said he expects vintage looks and subdued glamour at the Oscars this year.

Photo: Matt Petit/AMPAS
Held at the Academy Awards headquarters in LA, this year's presentation was different from years gone by. For the first time it featured specially-designed gowns from new names, like this beautiful monochrome mermaid gown by Alan Del Rosario. The public can vote for a winner, which will be worn by a trophy presenter on the big night
Photo: Matt Petit/AMPAS
Other highlights included this glittering strapless creation by Maria Pinto, a favourite with Michelle Obama