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As Halle Berry emoted her way through an Oscar speech that deconstructed her win and its political implications and her adoration for her lawyer, a Lebanese fashion designer was counting the priceless minutes of airtime that his claret silk ball gown was being beamed across the planet.

It's the kind of moment -- cemented, in this case, by the length of the moment and the gush of the emotions -- that cinches a dress's It status.

Since that historic acceptance speech, with Berry splashed across the front pages of newspapers around the world, the couture gown by the relatively unknown Elie Saab has morphed into the most talked about dress of the hour. Some have derided it. The New York Times said the burgundy tulle top embroidered in silk thread and full double taffeta skirt rode the fine line between sexy and trashy.

Regardless, it is a gown that will soon be headed to proms across Middle America, courtesy of knockoff king Allen Schwartz's ABS label, which is already in production of $200-$350 (U.S.) copies. And, more important, it is a gown that brings Saab closer to household-name status, thanks to the potent mix of celebrity and style that results in fashion milestones.

The anatomy of this now iconic dress starts and ends with Hollywood stylist Phillip Bloch, who doubles as fashion correspondent for CNN. The garrulous Bloch is responsible for turning ordinary L.A. girls (if there is a thing) into overnight divas by dint of his unerring eye for what works -- sartorially speaking -- for them.

Bloch, who charges upwards of $1,000 (U.S.) a day, has dressed Lauren Holly, Angela Bassett, Salma Hayek and Sandra Bullock for previous Oscars. In so doing, he has launched many a struggling designer's career (Catherine Malandrino; William Ivey Long) by taking one of their outfits and wrapping it on a celebrity. The editorial fallout is usually so enormous that dressmakers end up being celebrities themselves.

Bloch, in typical stylist-hoarding technique, had seen the dress in Saab's look book in the summer and had it in hand because he was thinking of it for someone for the Emmys.

"But I looked at it again and thought, 'This is a winner's dress, this is an Oscar dress,' so it really was a matter of waiting for the right occasion," he said in an interview from his home in Los Angeles, his call-waiting working overtime.

Bloch knew the designer from previous dressings: One of his gowns had adorned Bridget Fonda at a previous Oscars. His dresses have also been seen on the backs of such international fashion plates as Queen Rania of Jordan and Catherine Deneuve.

Halle Berry has also worn his gowns before and so was open to Bloch's suggestion that she wear the dress after her the Best Actress nomination in February.

"This was my early favourite," she told USA Today. She liked it because it was classic couture, yet sexy. But the original was too extreme for someone used to wearing Valentino -- bare-breasted and extra voluminous through the skirt. So Bloch sent it back to Saab.

"But it kept coming back to her, it spoke to her," Bloch says. "Halle has the innate ability to put on a dress and know it's the right dress."

And so the dress was called back in.

In order to make the gown wearable before a viewing audience of about a billion worldwide, out came the scissors and the needles. Bloch and Berry worked with Madeleine Aikenberg, a Hollywood seamstress who laboured intensively for a week to get the dress camera-ready. She took embroidery from a second, similar Saab gown, "which didn't have the oomph of this one," Bloch says, and transferred it to the Oscar-winning gown to ensure that the breasts were covered.

"The dress was very open and you can't go to the Oscars with your breasts hanging out," Bloch offers. "We had to place all the leaves strategically so it was respectful of the event."

The original dress also had an exposed full-length back zipper that Bloch felt undercut the gown's elegance. "I wanted it to be real couture, and so we moved the zipper from the centre to the left side under the arm, and made it more invisible by covering it with vines."

The back was now wide open, but instead of sewing it completely shut, Bloch and company decided that a more enticing option would be to leave a keyhole at the bottom of the neck and finish the seams with embroidery. They also tapered the skirt, bringing it closer to the body for a sleeker look.

Berry, Bloch says, felt comfortable in the final product and for him that was proof that the gown, in the end, worked.

"A lot of times, designers make beautiful creations, but they don't always fit the actresses' bodies right. They don't see what a stylist sees. A zipper down the back? Why would you want to put the zipper there? And they go for the shock value on the runway, full-frontal nudity and all that, but when you're walking the red carpet, the dress has to get a real life. You have to be able to breathe and walk in it, to hug people and lift an arm in it. You have to be able to move, and not feel self-conscious."

After so many changes, then, it's more a Bloch than a Saab. But with all the positive publicity now coming his way, the designer isn't complaining.

"Phillip had very specific requests in regards to the dress and given the distance between us, he was extremely helpful in tailoring the dress before we had a chance to meet in person," the designer says from Paris. "Any client who wears the dresses that I have created do so beautifully because in the end it is the woman who wears the dress and not the other way round."

Still, his life in fashion is likely to be different now, Saab reflects.

"This will change in that people who did not know my work will know it now, but my work will always be the same for me."

Saab lives principally in Beirut and for much of his 38 years (the married father of three turned to fashion when he was 16) has had to battle the status quo to get recognition. On his Web site (, the Versace of Lebanon bills himself as a couturier, and in the summer he showed his slinky, cut-to-the-curve, jewel-encrusted gowns at the Paris couture shows -- but off-site. This is because the all-powerful Chambre Syndicale, which deems who is worthy of couture-dom, has long considered him outside the inner circle.

In light of Berry's historic win, Bloch says the dress now operates for him on a deeper, more symbolic level.

"I feel that this dress, in terms of its style, symbolizes what the American woman is about, and in particular what the African-American woman is about -- comfortable and yet couture, simple but also ornate. It had flowers from nature and a couture skirt that was frivolous. So it was sexy and also demure. These are all the characteristics that Halle has and that African-American women have. The dress wasn't startling, but it was unforgettable."

Indeed, Star Style at the Academy Awards author Patty Fox has enthusiastically granted it its own historic status, saying that, like Berry's win, it is unique: "We have not seen a dress like that one before at the Oscars and for that reason I felt it was a benchmark in couture.

"I think Halle Berry has already set herself apart as far as the fashion she has chosen for the red carpet. She's always trying to come up with something different. She's a beautiful woman with a sexy body and this gown looked like it was created on her body. She became the trophy herself."

The It Parade

Liz Hurley in Gianni Versace

She was just a B-movie starlet, better known as Hugh Grant's girlfriend, until she wore The Dress -- "safety pins and a piece of fabric" -- in 1994. After completely overshadowing Grant at the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral, she went on to become a model for Estee Lauder, a producer and actress in her own right. Who said you can't dress for success? J.Lo in Donatella Versace

Jennifer Lopez came and conquered at the 2000 Grammys in a dress that left very little to the imagination and earned a place in pop culture history. Girls who have tried the look say they have never felt more noticed. Julia Roberts in vintage Valentino

Sheathed in a classic Valentino couture dress, Roberts took to the podium at last year's Oscars dressed like a winner. The elegant black gown heralded a return to old-fashioned Hollywood glamour while underscoring the vogue for vintage. Gwyneth Paltrow in Ralph Lauren

Paltrow wore this bubble-gum pink Ralph Lauren gown to her 1999 Oscar win saying she wanted to look like a princess that night. The dress, with its voluminous skirt and low-cut, spaghetti-strap bodice (perhaps too loose for the actress), was quickly replicated by knockoff masters and became the year's prom dress of choice. Sharon Stone in GAP

Style maven Stone thumbed her nose at the whole Oscar-dressing machine when she wore a black Gap mock turtle under a velvet jacket culled from her own closet to the Oscars in 1996. The look inspired a run on the iconic turtleneck while reconfirming Stone as a Hollywood iconoclast.