Don’t Call It a Comeback: Nicole Kidman Has a Long History of Wearing Daring Dresses on the Red Carpet

With four projects at Cannes and a closet full of Dior, Rodarte, and Calvin Klein, 2017 is shaping up to be Nicole Kidman’s year on and off screen.

Nicole Kidman
Kommersant Photo/Getty Images

In 1997, actress Nicole Kidman set the red carpet at the Oscars ablaze. She hadn’t yet been nominated for an Academy Award, and hadn’t appeared in Eyes Wide Shut or Moulin Rouge! or Cold Mountain (the roles that would launch her from rising star to household name), but she was fresh off To Die For and arm-in-arm with Tom Cruise—and she was wearing chartreuse.

Kidman’s silk John Galliano for Christian Dior gown, embroidered with chinoiseries and lined with mink along its slit up the side, was a landmark moment for both designer and wearer: Galliano had just been appointed creative director of Dior the previous fall, and Kidman’s Oscars appearance signaled his arrival as a potent new force on the red carpet. Equally, it marked Kidman as a daring, experimental fashion darling; her previous two Oscars looks, by Valentino and Dior, were lovely, but didn’t elicit the polarized reactions of her 1997 look.

“John made it for me, and I love it. I don’t know if people will get it,” Kidman told writer Merle Ginsberg at the time. “But if they don’t, well, maybe they should.” Smithsonian, that bastion of fashion criticism, called it one of the most influential Oscars dresses of all time; the look, Galliano’s first celebrity outing with Dior, has landed on countless more best-of lists since its debut.

Oscars Red Carpet: The 21 Most Memorable Dresses of All Time 

Speaking of Galliano: At the 69th Annual Academy Awards in 1997, Nicole Kidman would forever change red carpet dressing by sporting one of his designs for Dior, a flawless, devastating silk gown in iridescent chartreuse that immediately appalled Joan Rivers and upstaged Tom Cruise.

Cher at the 45th Annual Academy Awards in 1973 wearing a bedazzled crop top.

Anjelica Huston at the 58th Annual Academy Awards in 1986 wearing a one-sleeve emerald green dress.

Madonna at the 63rd Annual Academy Awards in 1991 wearing Bob Mackie and $20 million worth of Harry Winston diamonds.

Sharon Stone at the 70th Annual Academy Awards in 1998 wearing a Gap shirt paired with a Vera Wang skirt.

Cate Blanchett at the 71st Annual Academy Awards in 1999 wearing a sheer John Galliano dress with an open back.

Celine Dion at the 71st Annual Academy Awards in 1999 wearing a Dior tuxedo backwards.

Halle Berry at the 74th Annual Academy Awards in 2002 wearing a sheer Elie Saab gown.

Marion Cotillard at the 80th Annual Academy Awards in 2008 wearing Jean Paul Gaultier couture.

Charlize Theron at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in 2010 wearing Dior.

Angelina Jolie at the 84th Annual Academy Awards in 2012 wearing Atelier Versace.

Gwyneth Paltrow at the 84th Annual Academy Awards in 2012 wearing a Tom Ford cape.

Lupita Nyong’o at the 86th Annual Academy Awards in 2014 wearing Prada.

Barbra Streisand at 41st Annual Academy Awards wearing sequin see-through bell bottom pants with a matching top.

ABC Photo Archives

Diane Keaton at the 76th Annual Academy Awards wearing three-piece menswear-inspired suit with bowler hat.

Hilary Swank at the 77th Annual Academy Awards wearing backless Guy Laroche gown.

Penelope Cruz at the 79th Annual Academy Awards wearing an Atelier Versace gown.

Jennifer Lawrence at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards wearing a red Calvin Klein Collection dress.

Jeffrey Mayer

Lady Gaga at the 88th Annual Academy Awards wearing new designer Brandon Maxwell.

Jennifer Lopez during The 75th Annual Academy Awards, donning an unexpected mint hue.

J. Vespa/Getty Images

In 2018, Rita Moreno walked the Oscars red carpet in the same black and gold gown she wore to the Oscars in 1962.

Dan MacMedan

This week—and really, this year—Kidman has returned to late-’90s, early-’00s form, both on screen and in her wardrobe. She has premiered no fewer than four projects at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, a mother lode even by the festival’s marathon standards: Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer; the second season of Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake; John Cameron Mitchell’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties; and Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. (Kidman and co-star Elle Fanning, who appears in both How to Talk to Girls at Parties and The Beguiled, have made a particularly joyous pairing on the red carpet. It’s not difficult to envision Fanning maturing into a Kidman-esque figure in two decades; already, she’s cultivated the requisite diverse resume and challenging, yet delicately feminine, aesthetic on the red carpet.) Earlier this year, Kidman captivated audiences of HBO’s limited series Big Little Lies, in which she played Celeste Wright, the wife of Alexander Skarsgard’s abusive Perry, and she stepped into the Dolby Theater as an Oscar nominee once again, for her supporting role in 2016’s Lion, her first nomination in six years.

At the same time, as in 1997, Kidman has championed new designers at old houses, like Maria Grazia Chiuri for Christian Dior or Raf Simons at Calvin Klein, as well as mainstays like Alexander McQueen, Gucci, and Rodarte—industry darlings all of them, and responsible for some of the most-anticipated and most-lauded shows of the past season, as well as some of the most inaccessible. But here, Kidman is at an advantage, for her red carpet forte is the bold and difficult. Her recent balletic Calvin Klein By Appointment look, a black bodice with a wide white tutu, is deceptively high-demand; at the premiere of How to Talk to Girls at Parties, Kidman wore a shimmering sequined dress by Rodarte’s Laura and Kate Mulleavy to great success. In fact, that level of difficulty is the unifying trait of Kidman’s red-carpet aesthetic; more than a penchant for the romantic or gothic or avant-garde, she cycles between disparate looks as if getting into character, burying herself inside an individual piece rather than embracing a particular aesthetic. In fashion, she’s a cipher.

Nicole Kidman Has Taken a Lot of Risks on the Red Carpet, and They Always Pay Off

Nicole Kidman (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)

Barry King/WireImage

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise at the Director’s Guild of America in Hollywood, California.

Ron Galella/WireImage

Nicole Kidman (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)

Barry King/WireImage

Nicole Kidman (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)

Barry King/WireImage

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise during “Eyes Wide Shut” Los Angeles Premiere at Mann Village Theatre in Westwood, California, United States.


Nicole Kidman during 9th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

Nicole Kidman (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)

Barry King/WireImage

Nicole Kidman during 53rd Annual Golden Globe Awards at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States.

Ron Galella/WireImage

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise (Photo by Kevin Mazur Archive/WireImage)

Kevin Mazur Archive/WireImage

Nicole Kidman in Tom Ford for Gucci. (Photo by Gregory Pace/FilmMagic)

Gregory Pace/FilmMagic

Nicole Kidman

S. Granitz/WireImage

Nicole Kidman (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

S. Granitz/WireImage

Nicole Kidman at the The Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)

Jim Smeal/WireImage

Actress Nicole Kidman arrives for the 80th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2008.

AFP/Getty Images

Nicole Kidman arrives at the Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton January 20, 2002 in Beverly Hills, California.

Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

Nicole Kidman during The 76th Annual Academy Awards – Arrivals at The Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California, United States.


Nicole Kidman during The 62nd Annual Golden Globe Awards – Arrivals at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, California, United States.


Actress Nicole Kidman arrives on the red carpet for the 68th annual Golden Globe awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on January 16, 2011.


Actress Nicole Kidman arrives at the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 30, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.

Barry King/FilmMagic

Nicole Kidman arrives at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on February 27, 2011 in Hollywood, California.

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Nicole Kidman arrives at The 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards held at Staples Center on February 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.

Steve Granitz/WireImage

Actress Nicole Kidman arrives at the 45th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 9, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Nicole Kidman arrives at the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton hotel on January 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California.

George Pimentel/GettyImages

Nicole Kidman attends the “The Paperboy” premiere during the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 24, 2012 in Cannes, France.

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Nicole Kidman arrives at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 13, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California.

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Nicole Kidman attends the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

Larry Busacca/WireImage

Nicole Kidman attends the World Premiere of “Paddington” at Odeon Leicester Square on November 23, 2014 in London, England.

Karwai Tang/WireImage

Nicole Kidman arrives at the 87th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California.

Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

Nicole Kidman arrives at Women In Film 2015 Crystal + Lucy Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on June 16, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Nicole Kidman attends the opening ceremony and “Grace of Monaco” premiere at the 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 14, 2014 in Cannes, France.

Tony Barson/Getty Images

She is an actor known for thoroughly inhabiting a role,” Marisa Meltzer recently wrote in an analysis of Kidman’s performance in Big Little Lies. “There’s no core sense of who Nicole Kidman is beyond her characters. She doesn’t have much of a persona and has never seemed to try very hard to get one.” Those same qualities hold true for Kidman on the red carpet, as if dressing for a premiere were simply an extension of the role.

Nicole Kidman never disappeared. Before 1997, she had already begun her ascent thanks to roles in Days of Thunder and To Die For; in the late ’00s, after Dogville, Eyes Wide Shut, and The Hours made her into a critical and art-house darling, she continued to work prolifically, if not particularly memorably—aside from an Oscar-worthy turn in Rabbit Hole in 2011, the just-okay films far outnumbered the excellent ones. But this year, on and off screen, Kidman has returned to form: Big Little Lies was a sensation; after the Cannes screening of Top of the Lake: China Girl, Indiewire critic David Ehrlich tweeted, “by far the best thing I’ve seen at my first Cannes.” The Killing of a Sacred Deer reportedly elicited a few boos, but then, so did Pulp Fiction, Taxi Driver, and Marie Antoinette upon their inaugural screenings. And through it all, Kidman is in the audience, watching her work, wearing something fabulous.

At 49 years old, Nicole Kidman is still quite impressionable: