Tom Cruise was the one nominated, for Jerry Maguire, but the spotlight went straight to Nicole Kidman when she hit the red carpet in this. It put two people on the map: her, as a fashion risk-taker, and John Galliano as a fashion tastemaker. Galliano had just taken over at Christian Dior, and this chinoiserie-embroidered gown made him, effectively, a household name right out of the gate.

It may have put a third on there with them: Joan Rivers. Obviously Joan already had notoriety, but she’d started covering red carpets with her daughter Melissa in 1994 — they truly kick-started the casual home viewer caring about high fashion — and this night cemented her extreme no-punches-pulled approach as canon. I found a Hollywood Reporter article semi-hyperbolically called “The Night Joan Rivers Terrorized Nicole Kidman,” which details Joan yelling at Nicole — as she passed by, at least, not into her face — that her dress looked like puke, and then loudly gagging. Oh, Joan. That was too much. Do not throw up on the guests, even in jest. There are better gags than an actual gag.

But her lack of interest in slobbering over labels was a huge part of her enduring appeal (well, that, and the fact that you never knew what she’d say next); the author of that article, Merle Ginsberg, interviewed Joan two years later for W and Joan said, “I couldn’t tell you about Karl [Lagerfeld]’s last season. But I do know what I like, and that’s what fashion is really about. I don’t care what those snobby people think.” Contrast that with Nicole, who said of this dress to Ginsberg, “John made it for me, and I love it. I don’t know if people will get it. But if they don’t, well, maybe they should.” Does she mean… people won’t get the chinoiserie aspect, or is she doing that whole “it’s so cerebral that it’s above the average person’s understanding”? The latter is the general attitude that put me off enough that we actually started this website. I found it inaccessible. Don’t tell me that if I think something is hideous, it’s because I’m simply too stupid. Maybe it’s just hideous.

At any rate: I do fall in the camp of liking this dress. That color is a real challenge, and Nicole was the perfect person to accept it. Above, we’ll see it in the chronology and context of everything else Nicole has worn at the Oscars, and I’d argue it’s easily in her top three and clearly boosted her into the upper echelon in terms of what she was offered to wear. And, for as much as the attention was split between those who loved it and those who didn’t, I’d argue it sent an “all PR is good PR” message to the fashion houses and was instrumental in making the red carpet, and styling, the business it’s become.

[Photos: Shutterstock, Getty]