Awards season may be a thrilling fashion ride for actresses who are small enough to fit into a designer sample size or fashionably enough to get offered an A-list designer couture gown. But for actresses who aren’t size 2 or fashion "It Girls," their fashion options are limited.
Size looms extra large during the awards season for the simple reason that couture -- custom gowns made from sketches with fabric options usually reserved for a nominee or presenter -- take months of work and cost a lot of money. These couture gowns don't get made for just anyone.
“If you want a custom gown sketched by a designer with beading and embroidery, that can take many weeks to prepare,” says Marilyn Heston, the head of MHA, an LA-based international company that hooks up celebs with designers and luxury brands. ”It’s not an overnight deal to get a spectacular Oscar dress. Generally, these tailor-made dresses are only offered to nominees and presenters for the Globes and the Oscars. If a designer spends all that time and money on a gown, they want to make sure that it will end up in Vogue or Women's Wear Daily. This is not an artistic endeavor. The only reason a global designer is dressing an actress is to gain exposure that will raise awareness and increase sales."
But if you're not a super-hot fashion face like Jessica Chastain, Carey Mulligan or Michelle Williams, and have either "relationships" with various designers or enough clout to be offered couture gowns, you may still snag a designer dress hot off the runway, if you have a great stylist and can fit into a showroom sample size.
Depending on the awards dates and fashion calendar in a given year, sought after runway sample sizes are spotted by stars' personal stylists and whisked off the January Paris couture runways or the February New York ready-to-wear collections, destined for their Hollywood red carpet debut.
But even these previously worn designer runway samples are very rare commodities. “Designers are taking an expensive risk (when they give a girl a show sample),” says Heston. "When they take a dress out of play then other girls can't have it. There are only so many major gowns in a collection.”
But what if you aren't a size 2? What if you're an 8 or a 12-18? “Fairly or unfairly, you have to look at your clients’ figure and ask yourself if they can wear a sample size 2. If they can’t, it’s a big problem," confides one top stylist who works with actresses of all ages, shapes and sizes.
Actresses who aren’t twentysomething size 2s often end up relying on emerging or lesser-known designers such as David Meister. At the Critics Choice Awards, Bridesmaids star Melissa McCarthy wore a sparkly Meister gown. Meister also dressed her Bridesmaids costar Maya Rudolph, and Glee star Jane Lynch for the Golden Globes. Even longtime fan Andie MacDowell wore his gown. He also dressed The Help Globe winner Octavia Spencer for the Palm Spring Film Fest Awards and the Critics Choice Awards.
Meister, who has been dressing ladies of the red carpets for several years, has had to toughen up. Publicists for Gaboreh Sidibe made calls to line up awards season gowns even before Precious showed at the Toronto Film Festival . She wore -- and raved -- about Meister on several carpets leading up to the Oscars but then switched to Marchesa, explaining to Ryan Seacrest on the 2010 Oscar carpet that “If fashion were porn, this dress would be the money shot.”
Stacy Keibler used to wear his designs. But now that she's on George Clooney's arm, she's been seen in everything from Armani at the Critics Choice to Valentino at the recent Globes and hasn't been in contact for an Oscar gown.
Meister says, “I understand. Suddenly, they have bigger designers offering to dress them and it’s very flattering and hard to say no.”
Meister has a great rep for comfortable flattering gowns that flatter fuller and mature figures. In other words, he loves to dress normal women. “It’s easy to design for a size 2," he says. "But it's more fun to dress sizes 2-22.” But he says even a size 2 can have figure issues. “It’s all about problem-solving. Finding the elements you’re working with, figuring out which ones you need to hide and which ones you want to emphasize.”
Meister’s first job in fashion was working with stretch knit at Danskin in New York. “That’s where I got into stretch,” he admits. His fabrics appeal to comfort-seekers Tyra Banks, Marcia Cross, Padma Lakshmi, Nicole Scherzinger, Kim Cattrall, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, and Chelsea Handler. Even Sofia Vergara who admits she’s very hard to fit, wore a Meister gown to the 2011 Emmys. We should all be so hard to fit, right?
Meister advises actresses who aren’t sample sizes to start looking earlier and get advice from a good stylist. “You need someone to weed down the choices or you’ll be looking at 300 dresses.” But that said, if an actress needs a great fitting dress at the very last minute, Meister’s her man. “I can do a dress in a day,” he admits. “It’s not optimal, but anything is possible.”
Smart designers like Meister realize that the awards season is only three months out of a year. And many LA actresses love working with more available designers and developing relationships with them. He has a faithful fashion flock, including his first client, Sharon Stone. “She’s still my favorite. She’s knows clothes so well.” L'Oreal Paris brand ambassador MacDowell is a regular. "She's so lovely." And he’d love to dress Jane Fonda. “She’s 74 and was one of the hottest women at the Globes.”
Meister says it helps to keep the awards scene in perspective. "There's so much pressure on these women. And you never know what they will wear until they step out of the limo," Meister says, adding that "It's still a huge thrill to see your dress actually being worn. Dresses don't come alive until the woman they're made for puts them on."
Carla Blizzard of FilmFashion, a company that helps place actresses in Meister's and other clients' dresses, accessories and jewelry, says "The awards season is just three months out of a year. But there are hundreds of red carpets a year and it’s just as important for a designer to have consistent exposure. And let's face it. A great gown is great gown, no matter who designed it."