* Umbrellas accessorize gowns as Cannes hit by surprise rain
* Electic fashions prevail, from kilts to lace
* Less formal vibe inspires flights of fancy on red carpet
By Alexandria Sage
PARIS, May 24 With respected French designer Jean Paul Gaultier a member of the Cannes jury this year, celebrities at the swanky film festival on the French Riviera knew they had to step up their fashion game.
They did not disappoint.
Despite occasionally rainy weather that soaked the red carpet and a no-show from Hollywood glamour puss Angelina Jolie, the festival has featured colour, kilts and cut-outs - a wide array of to-the-minute fashions worn by film stars gathered from around the world.
Whether French actress Marion Cotillard's Christian Dior gown that featured a plunging black bustier and full navy skirt, or the white jersey dress that ended in an explosion of red feathers from British pop star Cheryl Cole, the looks were eclectic and unpredictable - just like the weather.
"Torrential rains and high winds whipped across the famed Croisette doing serious damage to even the sturdiest Hollywood hair," wrote USA Today.
Glamour is usually easy to come by at Cannes, under the sunny skies of the south of France and against the backdrop of palm trees and yachts, but it takes true talent to channel chic during a downpour.
German actress and jury member Diane Kruger managed just that, showing off a sequined rose-gold Vivienne Westwood that shimmered even while half hidden by an umbrella. French actress Isabelle Huppert managed to keep smiling despite her bronze satin gown being splattered with rain drops.
It proved easier for the glitterati to pull out the stops when temperatures were more normal and accessories did not include umbrellas.
The Cannes red carpet has a less formal vibe than that at the Academy Awards and other star-studded Hollywood events, and that less pressured joie de vivre translates to fashion.
Gaultier - known for irreverent yet finely tailored clothing who recently made costumes for Madonna's new tour - kicked off the festival's opening night in asymmetrical trousers with his black suit, one leg of which was wide, the other straight.
"The first time I was here it was 20 years ago and I wore a tuxedo with shorts," Gaultier told The Hollywood Reporter. "The second was Lycra leggings. But I thought, no, as a juror, I couldn't do that."
While most celebrities opt for traditional chic at Cannes, occasional flights of fancy make for good photo ops.
The cast members of Scottish film "The Angels' Share" chose kilts for the red carpet, while Bill Murray, who stars in Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom", accessorized his tuxedo with a bright purple and orange bowtie that looked like it was tied by a toddler.
Brad Pitt, the new face of Chanel No. 5, showed up shaggy-haired at Cannes and drew a huge crowd of fans despite the absence of fiancee Jolie, who is preparing for a film.
Bad-boy rocker Pete Doherty, who attended the premiere of his acting debut "Confession of a Child of the Century" in a tux, white scarf and signature black hat, even created a mini fashion moment as he blew his nose into a black and white patterned handkerchief during a photo shoot.
Other treks down the red carpet and up the famous steps to the theatre exhibited more dramatic flourish.
On the film festival's opening night, Alec Baldwin swooped up his fiancee, Hilaria Thomas, dressed in a dramatic raven lace number, to carry her up the steps.
American singer Lana Del Ray, French actress Carole Bouquet and Japan's Rin Takanashi similarly chose chic black for their red carpet appearances, while Berenice Bejo, co-star of last year's Best Picture Oscar "The Artist", opted for a flowing vermilion Louis Vuitton gown to host the opening ceremony.
Chinese star Fan Bing Bing's bold choice turned heads on opening night - a Christopher Bu stunner whose spring floral detail and hourglass shape resembled a fine porcelain vase.
"Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria's first look was frilly and full of impact. But the dramatic train on the pale lilac-coloured Marchesa gown with the cut-out back proved problematic, and the TV star struggled to drag it up the red carpet steps.
For a further look at the Cannes festival click here: link.reuters.com/vav28s (Reporting By Alexandria Sage, editing by Paul Casciato)