Pret-a-Reporter

Meet the Eveningwear Designer Dressing Mindy Kaling, Laverne Cox on the Carpet

Ben Gabbe/Getty Images
Elizabeth Kennedy, center, and her models at her fall 2016 presentation on Feb. 10, 2016.

Elizabeth Kennedy is a name to know.

Mindy Kaling chose her for the Oscars, Laverne Cox for the Golden Globes, and Uzo Aduba for the Orange is the New Black premiere and Olivier Awards. The list of A-listers wearing designer Elizabeth Kennedy's evening wear gowns on the red carpet is growing. And growing.

Kennedy may not be the most recognizable player in the step-and-repeat space (yet), but the designer has been at it for nearly a decade, serving as head designer of Isaac Mizrahi for the runway and couture collections and helping to launch Donna Karan Atelier, where she was part of a team that created one-of-a-kind red carpet gowns for half of Hollywood. 

Ahead of her spring 2017 presentation on Sept. 14, her second time presenting at New York Fashion, we chatted with Kennedy about her architectural creations, the red carpet and the politics that come with it.


ON THE RED CARPET: Mindy Kaling, left, Laverne Cox and Uzo Aduba in Elizabeth Kennedy gowns. (Photos: Getty Images)

You've had a lot of experience in evening wear — what did you learn from the designers you've worked with?

That the end goal is making the clients feel beautiful. That's why we do this, this is why we’re in fashion. I think evening wear is an area where you can really push the envelope and at the end of the day, it should be fun. So I try to take that approach and mindset, whether it’s a collection or a gown for a client.

What niche are you trying to fill in fashion or on the red carpet?

I think evening wear hasn’t evolved at the same pace as ready-to-wear over the last five to 10 years. I’m trying to take a more modern approach to it...for that client that wants something very clean and architectural and modern. I think a lot of what is available in evening wear is very embellished, very classical. I do think my clothing is feminine, but a lot of what’s out there is kind of hyper-feminine if you will. My personal aesthetic is kind of more graphic, and I think that there really is no one in evening wear doing that right now.

How do you find that balance so it's not too hyper-feminine?

I'm a woman and I have to try on clothes so I know what’s it like...women have sort of weird things about their bodies that they want conceal or show off. I pay a lot of attention to that. So I think sometimes the femininity comes actually from the silhouette or the cut or the fit or just the subtle suggestion of some kind of embroidery, but it’s done in maybe a cleaner, more graphic way.

You've had an incredible year with the red carpet. What are your plans to expand your presence?

The red carpet’s been such amazing publicity for us, and it’s drawn a lot of positive attention to the brand. We dedicate actually quite an enormous amount of effort towards getting the right amount of exposure for the brand and so, moving forward into this season, really focusing on trying to continue working towards those very strategic placements that really speak to the brand DNA. I think it’s really about finding the right person in the right moment in the right dress, which is not always easy because it’s not always up to you as the designer.

What has been your favorite red-carpet moment so far?

That’s really hard to choose. It’s hard because I really loved working with both Mindy [Kaling] and Laverne [Cox] just because of what they stand for — they’re just so intelligent and interesting and strong women. But I’d have to say that having a gown at the Oscars was a pretty proud moment for us.

There's been a lot of politics surrounding the red carpet recently. As a designer, what do you consider pros and cons of the step and repeat?

#Askhermore is an important movement, and I think it really reflects what’s going on in the world, not just the red carpet, so I’m in full support. As a designer, having a celebrity wear your gown to a big event is sort of the best publicity you can get, honestly. Not only for exposure, but it’s sort of validation, and it’s kind of a rite of passage. And it’s fun. People love seeing these incredible gowns on their favorite actresses. It’s so glamorous.

Behind the scenes as a designer there’s actually quite a bit of politics involved that no one sees or talks about. Celebrity dressing has become an industry of its own, it’s absolutely insane, and I think people get a little caught up in the fashion, instead of what it’s really about. And it’s become almost pageant-like, like a pageant-like competition in a way. But at the same time, these women are being nominated for their exceptional skill. And so, they definitely have a lot more to contribute to an interview besides the gown they’re wearing.

Would you say it's enough that a celebrity just mention who they're wearing and leave the rest of the interview to discuss their craft?

Right, exactly. She’s going to mention who she’s wearing. Obviously, the people at home love to see and hear that. It’s sort of become all about the appearance and a lot of times, they don’t really go beyond that and ask them about what they’re doing in their industry or what kind of roles they might want to take on. It’s sort of a shame. It’s a very different interview than what men on the carpet get. Obviously, men are wearing suits, so there’s not so much to talk about what they’re wearing in terms of a suit versus a gown, but I think that the reporters have gotten a little too hung up on that, and that’s not really the point of the event. You know, at the Oscars, these people are being celebrated for their tremendous achievements and for their talent and their hard work. So, it should just be a mention — it should be part of it and it shouldn’t be the focus.

Which talent do you hope to see in one of your looks someday?

There are so many. For different reasons, you know. I really love, or aspire, to dress that woman who I really respect for her craft. So, I have to say Cate Blanchett. She is so stunning, sophisticated and elegant. She looks beautiful in everything she wears. I really respect her as an actor as well. So I say she’s probably like top of the list of people, but there are so many.

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