Ava DuVernay Gives Her Custom Red Gown to Health Care Worker She Met on Twitter

Ava DuVernay - Getty - H 2019
Paul R. Giunta/Getty Images

Ava DuVernay can add one more title to her résumé: director, writer, producer, activist, Array founder — fairy godmother.

When DuVernay, 47, attended the Oct. 5 opening of Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, she was photographed wearing a custom hi-lo red gown from Toronto-based label Greta Constantine. Images of her in the dress — styled by longtime stylist Jason Bolden — ended up in the social media feed of one Ciara Hester, a 30-year-old health care worker in North Carolina, who happened to be searching for a gown to wear to the Nov. 22 Marine Corps Ball in Myrtle Beach (her husband is a staff sergeant). 

“OMG @ava I need this dress for the Marine Corp. Ball,” Hester tweeted with the hashtags #SheWoreItBest #ShowStopper. DuVernay was there to field Hester’s request. “Send me your address,” DuVernay replied. “My DMs are open to you. xo.”

Hester tells Rambling Reporter that she first saw a photo of DuVernay on Facebook where one of her friends posted red carpet shots from Perry’s A-list opening. “I saw her in this dress and I honestly wasn’t sure who she was at first,” admits Hester. "So, I looked her up and I was like, I just kind of wanted to compliment her on it. I never thought in a million years that she’d even see the tweet.”

Hester says DuVernay responded within 20 minutes. “I looked at [the response] and was like, this is not real.” The two exchanged messages about sizing with Hester on standby like “a nervous Nancy” until the dress arrived in the mail three days before the big night. “I put it on and it fit perfectly,” she says, though she had to wait for her husband to get home so he could zip it up for her. Wearing it again for the ball proved to be a night she’ll never forget.

"I had been struggling with depression for six months and about three days before I tweeted at her, I finally started to feel like I could pull myself out of it. Then all of this happened,” Hester explains, who says that her husband kept suggesting other guests go up to her and ask her about her look so she could tell them the story of DuVernay. “It gave me the extra strength. Her simple act of kindness — I’ll never be able to express how grateful I am to her. I don’t have the words.”

As for DuVernay, she tweeted her compliments back to Hester after seeing a photo of her and her husband at the big event: “You wore it well. Hope you had a night as lovely as you.” Even the designer’s Instagram account endorsed the gown’s change of ownership. “Fashion, at its core, has the power to bring us together far better than it can ever divide,” the designer’s account posted on Instagram Nov. 27. The label, founded in 2006, is headed by the design team of Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong. “And to think that a piece of fabric, some stitches and kindness was all it took.” 

Hester plans to keep the kindness chain moving. Raised in the foster care system until she aged out, Hester says her plan — she offered to return it to DuVernay and did not hear back — is to keep the good karma going. “I am going to find a foster child who can use it for their prom. I know how hard it can be, especially for older teens, to be in the system. The dress made me feel incredible and I want to give them that extra sparkle.”

Like a real life fairy God mother. Thank you @ava for your thoughtfulness and kindness. I had an amazing night and I felt amazing.#honor #marinecorpsbirthday #USMC #Marines pic.twitter.com/FjZWXTAE2Q

— Ciara Hester (@CiCihstr) November 23, 2019

You wore it well, @CiCihstr! Hope you had a night as lovely as you. xo! https://t.co/Mfd3qcAJog

— Ava DuVernay (@ava) November 23, 2019
















Fashion, at its core, has the power to bring us together far better than it can ever divide. Perennial #gretagirl @ava, after wearing her custom Greta Constantine poppy hi-lo gown to the launch of Tyler Perry Studios, received a kind tweet from North Carolina native @_breakingcycles_ as the woman pondered what to wear to a gala of her own. DuVernay took note and mailed the gown after receiving her address via DM. Here, Hester proudly wears the garment to the Marine Corp Ball in Myrtle Beach. And to think that a piece of fabric, some stitches, and kindness was all it took.

A post shared by Greta Constantine (@gretaconstantine) on

A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.