Celebrity Dressing: Behind the scenes of a Met Ball gown
The email from Stylist X arrived sometime early March. Would Designer X be
interested to dress Celebrity 1 and Celebrity 2 for the Met Ball in New
York? There was, of course, no decision to consider. Designer X,
jubilantly, accepted the opportunity without hesitation.
The Met Ball gala, as we all know, is not your average fundraising gala. It
is American fashion at its best; the upstate red carpet equivalent to
Hollywood’s Oscar’s, with the international community at large absorbing
every minutia of celebrity fashion as it gets broadcast around the world.
This year’s gala will mark the grand opening of the Costume Institute’s
fashion exhibit “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.”
Brands pay huge sums to ensure they have a presence
With Donatella Versace and Rihanna as co-chairs supporting Anna Wintour, it
will be a fashion extravaganza that no Maison or designer wants to bypass
or be omitted from. That is why a table can cost anywhere up to 500,000
dollars, and why brands including Chanel and Tommy Hilfiger are happy to
pay those sums to have a presence. Not including the fees charged by
celebrities to wear their garments.
Designer X, who is based in Europe, began researching, sending sketches of
possible looks to Stylist X, along with fabric options, colour schemes and
accessories. After a few exchanges, an amendment here and there,
Celebrities 1 and 2 confirmed their looks and Designer X began the process
of creating their gowns.
Everything from the dress to the accessories is made by hand
First came sourcing the fabric, which had to be sustainable. And bespoke.
Everything from the hat to the jewellery to the beading was couture and had
to be made according to the celebrities’ measurements.
The measurements – or rather a full body résumé – requires every dimension
from the circumference of the head to the length of the arms, the width of
the hips and all proportions from the neck down to the actresses toes. The
full report is sent by email to Designer X, who in turn sends it to the
pattern makers and seamstresses who by now have very little time to create
two couture gowns. Without having the Celebrities close at hand for
fittings it will be trial and error until the first dress is finished. And
rarely does any designer get the first sample ‘right.’
The first toile is made of muslin
Which is why the first version is sensibly made of muslin, to accommodate a
plethora of changes and to not waste precious fabric.
Everything went smoothly until the first fitting. A few days before they
were due to fit the toile in New York, one of the celebrities had to film
in Los Angeles. It no longer made sense for the designer to fit the dresses
in person, so each celebrity was dispatched a dress by UPS. Stylist X would
film the fittings and write notes of all the changes necessary, first in
New York, then fly out to Los Angeles.
So many changes, so little time
The changes were considerable and very challenging for the studio. The
amendments ranged from loosening the corset, allowing more fabric to cover
the bust, reduce the décolleté, lengthen the train, replace the fabric of
the bow with something lighter, change the pattern of the beading, and so
forth, and so forth.
The Monday before the actual event, the sample dresses, pinned with
amendments, were due to arrive at the designer’s studio. The New York dress
arrived in time, however the Los Angeles gown was nowhere to be seen.
Stylist X had returned it with courier FedEx, who outsource delivery to
another company and the dress couldn’t be tracked. It eventually arrived
end of day on Tuesday, two days before Designer X was to take the finished
gowns to New York for the final fittings. Any further alternations required
would be done the morning of the event.
At Saturday’s final fittings with the finished gowns – which Designer X had
taken in person through customs and almost got crushed when pushed through
the security scanner – the corset was a little tight on Celebrity 1. “Too
many deserts,” she claimed. When the back zipper split, there was momentary
tension, but thankfully the studio had included a replacement, just as
there were extra buttons, beads, fabric and anything else that could be
anticipated to be a problem.
Celebrity 2 wasn’t mad about the pattern of the beading, but as they were
embroidered by hand there wasn’t much that could be done. The solution was
to paint over them with a dark marker, matching the hue of the velvet
fabric. Gone was the sparkle, which could have looked great in the
photographs as she walks the red carpet, but more important is that the
celebrity is happy and feels at ease in her gown.
Because at the end of the day, celebrities have a sea of choices in which
brand they choose to partner with and which designer they wear on the red
carpet. For many, or even most, there is a price tag attached. The Met Ball
being an opportunity for both celebrity and designer to shine, a contract
which benefits both parties.
Thankfully, for these two celebrities, no commercial fees came into
question. In fact, they were kind enough to make a contribution to the
overall cost, which for a young designer can run into the thousands of
pounds. Something unheard of in the current climate of Influencer and
Disclaimer: Some names and events in this story have been withheld to protect the privacy of all parties involved. These names are known to the publisher who deem it important to relay factual information about the all aspects of the fashion industry while respecting pricacy of the people involved.
Photo credit: via H&M