Is Lupita Nyong'o Going Over to the Dark Side?

Even in a world that’s utterly obsessed with all things new and cutting edge, it’s continually fascinating to see how quickly a single rising star can become the obsession of both the style set and the pop-culture savvy. From Emma Stone in 2007 to Jennifer Lawrence in 2010, film and fashion lovers have little trouble making room in their hearts for the newest style-savvy celeb year after year. And this year is no different, as — in the blink of an eye — the world has become fixated on one rising star in particular: Lupita Nyong’o.

We fell in love with the actress from the moment we saw her in 12 Years a Slave, but it wasn’t until she started making her awards-show season rounds in styles so polished and perfect that only the fashion pros could pull them off that we realized just how special the Mexican-born and Kenyan-raised actress truly is. And though we’ve come to love the minimal gowns in bold hues she’s been sporting on the red carpet this year — including one stunning caped Ralph Lauren number and a particularly dazzling Gucci gown at the Screen Actors Guild Awards — we’ve noticed something different about the Oscar-nominated star over the last few weeks: Her style is getting increasingly dark and daring.

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It may just be that we’ve gotten accustomed to seeing Nyong’o in rich, monochromatic hues and streamlined, minimal, and ladylike gowns throughout the awards show season, but when the actress showed up at the Non-Stop premiere in L.A. this week in a bronze ruffled Lanvin dress, we could hardly believe our eyes. On the surface, it may not look like a huge departure from the other strapless dresses she’s donned over the last several months, but when you look at the small details — from her faux-hawk hair and orange lips to her spike earrings and exposed black zipper — her ensemble is, on the whole, quite a bit edgier than the Diors and Calvin Kleins we’ve seen her in this awards season.

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And it’s not the first daring dress she’s donned over the last week or two. Just this past weekend, she attended the NAACP Image Awards sporting a gown of a similar orange hue, but this time with a plunging neckline and pleated skirt. And perhaps the boldest look she’s been spotted in yet was this black leather bustier J.Mendel dress she wore to an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.

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Not that we have anything to complain about when it comes to the more classic and traditional gowns Nyong’o has sported to many of the awards shows this season, but we’re thrilled to think about the effect her evolving and edgier style may have on her Academy Awards look this Sunday. Classic or avant-garde, monochromatic or printed, one thing is certain: This instant style icon will do nothing but dazzle us at the 2014 Oscars.