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What it takes to make an outfit for the Oscars

Some of the most iconic, memorable, and just plain jaw-dropping moments in fashion have come from the Oscars. Despite taking place in the midst of the ‘big four’ fashion weeks, the red carpet is still the biggest runway of the year. Haute couture designers and skilled artisans put their heads down for months in advance to handcraft outfits for the world’s most elite celebrities, some of whom are set to win this holy grail of film awards and be photographed a million times doing so. We looked at the most outstanding outfits that graced the red carpet on Sunday and uncovered the effort and creativity it took to craft them.

[Hero image credit: Andrew Testa; Feature image credit: Christian Siriano.]

Olivia Colman

As a strong woman, a working mother, and an independent spirit, Colman was most interested in being comfortable with her female body and embracing personal style. This was particularly essential since her female-led film, ‘The Favourite’, resonates so strongly with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Colman had the help of Mary Fellowes, a British stylist who has worked in 11 Vogue titles and has dressed stars including Liv Tyler and Amy Adams. Initial calls to big-name fashion brands brought her unsatisfying responses that confirmed for her that fashion was so much like a bubble only for size-zero bodies and unreal fairytale gowns.

The two women knew that if Colman was going to be a brand ambassador, she would need it to have personal associations to her. Both agreed that fashion should be made relatable. So, they decided that the brand should ideally be family-owned, make efforts towards sustainability, and hopefully also involve another working mother. There was one brand that Fellowes had in mind which ticked all of these boxes.

Days later, Prada called to confirm that they would make a bespoke gown for Olivia Colman’s attendance at the Oscars.

Colman was determined about only two things: 1) she wanted to feel comfortable. 2) She wanted a giant bow on the back. The Prada atelier thus produced the long, sleeveless A-line turtleneck gown in emerald green silk radzimir that Colman proudly wore on Sunday. Despite her job, Colman isn’t a fan of glitzy camera appearances, saying that they make her uncomfortable. Prada, being ever-accommodating to the actress’s requirements, craftily gave her something to calm her nerves: pockets. We’re all familiar with the sheltering effect of pockets, giving us somewhere safe to put our hands during photos.

As for the bow — this was a smoky-grey silk organza cape with puffed sculpted sleeves designed to drape over the shoulders. It is then gathered into a giant bow at the back which cascades into an embroidered train covered in Swarovski crystal flowers. The bow alone required eight artisans of the Prada atelier working for 120 hours. The embroidery took a further twelve artisans and over 300 hours to complete.

Earlier in Ms. Colman’s career, she and her friends celebrated a bachelorette party in Paris. They stumbled into a Prada boutique, and Colman recalls thinking at the time: “One day, when I have finally made it, I will wear a Prada dress.” With an Oscar in hand and a dream dress on her back, it seems that day has come.

When Prada agreed to make Olivia Colman’s dress, she knew she wanted a huge bow on the back.
The embroidery on the Prada gown took a dozen artisans and over 300 hours to complete.

[Photo credits: Andrew Testa / Frazer Harrison]

Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez’s not one, but two, stylists started their search for the singer’s red carpet dress two months before the Oscars. The stylists, Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn, got to work straight away when they found out Lopez would be presenting at the awards ceremony. They went through dozens of fashion houses and hundreds of sketches but ended up making selections for other awards shows along the way instead. Two weeks before the Oscars and the stylists still had five options to narrow down. On the day of the event, they held on to two dresses (it’s always important to have a back up) and Lopez chose this shining mirror-mosaic Tom Ford gown.

In the words of Zangardi, the dress made Lopez look like “a modern version of the Oscars statuette”. But whether it’s like a shattered mirror, a piece of armour, or a disco ball, the dress complemented every one of J-Lo’s famous curves and made her a real stand out at the ceremony.  

[Photo credits: David Fisher / Rob Zangardi / Jordan Strauss]

Emma Stone

Emma Stone has long been the muse of Louis Vuitton designer Nicolas Ghesquière. No surprise then that Louis Vuitton was her go-to for an Oscars-worthy outfit. Stone’s stunning white silk organza gown was hand-embroidered by the couturiers at Luneville and took more than 712 hours of work, plus 22 more hours of fittings. The design on her dress involved over 30,000 Swarovski crystals, 200,000 golden pearls and 260,000 sequins. The structured design and power shoulders were the engineer work of two designers over a five-day stint. It proved difficult to adjust the geometrics of the dress without changing the total number of the elements mentioned, but the end result was stunningly magnificent, and Emma Stone did it perfect justice.

[Photo credits: Grégoire Vieille / Mark Ralston]

Billy Porter

The best way to make an outfit for the red carpet? Don’t make an outfit — make a statement.

Musical theatre performer Billy Porter and designer Christian Siriano wanted to challenge people and tackle a subject that has been strangely hush-hush. While it’s long been absolutely normal for women to wear suits, people have been, well, skirting the issue about men wearing dresses. The two set out to challenge people, and to ask why a woman in a suit is viewed as strong and powerful but a man in a dress would be viewed as “weak” and effeminate.

It was at a New York Fashion Week afterparty that Billy Porter subtly tapped Siriano on the shoulder and dropped a request in his ear: “Do you think you could make me a gown?” Siriano’s answer?  “AAAAABSOLUTELY.” With it now being normal for women to wear trousers and suits to red carpet events, it’s time to fully break down gender distinctions.

What resulted was this custom-made black velvet, head-turning tuxedo gown. The powerful outfit is creatively engineered — there’s a fitted jacket worn over a strapless gown, worn over a tuxedo shirt. Its message is clear: everybody’s got layers. Siriano’s masterpiece will go down in history as the outfit that most publicly shut down all preconceived divisions between masculinity and femininity. Far from weak, Porter dominated the red carpet and set a new powerful tone in embracing femininity. Two words for this collaboration between the designer and musical theatre performer: thank you.

Arriving at the ceremony, Porter announced, “Call me Cinder-fella. When you come to the Oscars, you must dress up.” So that’s exactly what he did.

[Photo credits: Christian Siriano]

Lady Gaga

Raising the bejewelled bar for red carpet outfits, Gaga quite literally outshone everyone by appearing with one of the largest and finest Fancy Yellow diamonds in the world draped around her neck. Loaned to her from Tiffany’s, the world-renowned diamond weighs 128.54 carats and is suspended from a platinum necklace of alternating cushion-cut and round brilliant diamonds. Released from the Tiffany Vault for the first time since it was worn by Audrey Hepburn in 1961, the diamond had its first ever outing on an awards show red carpet. Valued at over £23 million, the legendary Tiffany jewel is worth more than the entire production budget for A Star is Born — the film for which Gaga won her Oscar. The diamond remains literally priceless, however, as it is never to be for sale.

We have to applaud Alexander McQueen’s magnificent gown too. The designer had the difficult job of pairing the monumental accessory with an appropriate dress. Gaga’s custom-made bustier gown in black silk faille comes with an engineered corset seaming, a full Godet skirt with exaggerated hips, and long, sleek black gloves. We’re far away from the meat dress now. The backless outfit also allowed the singer/actress to show off her new ‘La Vie En Rose’ tattoo — a tribute to the Edith Piaf song she performed in the film. Big credits to McQueen for managing the impossible task of creating a breathtakingly beautiful dress in its own right while letting it be supplementary to her show-celebrating tattoo as well as her show-stopping jewel. That’s what it takes to make an outfit for the Oscars.

[Photo credits: Steve Granitz / Mark Ralston / Tiffany’s Co.]

What it takes to make an outfit for the Oscars

Karn Chatikavanij

Style Writer

A globetrotter with a love for sushi and Miu Miu, Karn is a fan of all things upbeat, delicious, and well-dressed. Her frequent activities include packing for beach trips, listening to 80s music, and trying to make daytime pyjamas happen.

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