In the age of ”pay-to-wear” fashion where A-list stars can earn six-figure sums to wear the frocks and jewels of leading fashion houses on the red carpet, Kildare woman Laura Jayne Halton knows how lucky she is.
The 34-year-old is already the proud designer of three Oscar dresses, after her talents were sought out by Ireland’s leading film talent. Now, as the Academy Awards season approaches again, Laura shares her secrets of the blood, sweat and tears that go into making each wearable work of art.
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Speaking to the Sunday Independent, she says a dress can take up to 100 hours to create and involves one-to-one interviews to uncover a woman’s personality so that Laura can divine her dream dress.
“Every time, it has always been the first design that I’ve sketched out. It must be in that moment. I just get a feel or a vibe of what will help them shine on their special night.”
She says her main concern is that “they can enjoy the event and not have to think about or fuss over the dress. That’s my job, to fuss over it”.
It means each stage of the night is carefully considered when choosing the colour, shape and material.
“Shiny fabrics are out because they don’t tend to photograph well. You also have to think about fabrics that won’t crease because the nominee can spend up to two hours beforehand sitting in the limo on the way there. Even though it’s only a few kilometres from the hotel, there is a string of limos going into the event, and it’s not like a stylist will be there when they get out so you have to pick fabrics that will fall gracefully and not hold a crease.”
For her first Oscar dress, Laura was given five days to make it from scratch. She says: “I had to fly to London with the dress, which I minded like it was a child, then I spent about five hours hand-sewing the hem once we had fitted it with the heels.”
Having designed dresses for Nora Twomey (The Breadwinner) when she attended the ceremony with Song of the Sea, and for Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly, who was nominated for her short film Head Over Heels in 2013, Laura says she has been blessed with the “inspirational” women she has dressed.
However, following the #MeToo movement, she knows A-list women have begun to dismiss questions about their red carpet attire.
Laura says this has a knock-on effect on the hard-working women and men behind their perfect appearance. “Once you ask a woman about her job and her work first, then you can include a question about the dress because I think it’s really unfair, especially for small designers who are creating pieces and putting all this blood, sweat and tears into the dress. For that person, most often the pay-off is the mention.”
She also wants women working behind the camera to get the same platform as female stars: “Give everyone their fair dues because that’s the only way we are really going to elevate women in the industry. It’s not just about picking one or two women and pushing them forward. This will encourage younger female students who are watching and show that they can aspire to follow their path.”
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