It ended with a red dress and began with a single tweet. What happened in the middle is open for interpretation. Here’s mine …
Let me start off by saying fashion is a funny animal; at once irreverent, delicate, brash, sensitive and stylishly aloof. There are, without question, inexplicable contradictions inherent in the fashion industry though I can’t begin to understand why or what can be done to effect some serious change.
Exhibit A: The Vetements collective, a gritty, street-style-inspired rejection of traditional Paris ateliers has recently been declared by Vogue as “healthy, exciting and perfectly timed.” Yet true cultural and physical diversity on the highest of high-fashion runways is still, according to many top models, considered a lofty goal. Mix up a hemline and it’s high art; mix up the look of conventional beauty and you must be high?
So, in light of this juxtaposed discord, when I tell the story I’m about to describe, I understand its nuances aren’t painted in absolutes; they exist in the first place because they are tricky to comprehend and even trickier to untangle. But who am I (and what will become of my journalistic integrity) if not a writer up for the challenge?
The facts: At 10:10 a.m. on June 28, a mere 11 days before the well-hyped Hollywood premiere of the Paul Feig-directed, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy-headlined Ghostbusters remake, Leslie Jones, who stars in the move as MTA worker Patty Tolan, sent this tweet: “It’s so funny how there are no designers wanting to help me with a premiere dress for movie,” she wrote. “Hmmm that will change and I remember everything[.]”
The tale may have come to a close right there, with Jones lamenting her sartorial woes to a Twitter following of more than 110,000 fans and receiving the appropriate amount of social media sympathy for a breakout star with nothing to wear to her breakout-star debut.
But aha! The plot thickened when fashion impresario Christian Siriano, like some gallant haute-couture knight ready to dress the dress-less, sent two emoticons to the woebegone comedienne. And with the “stop hello I’m here” response, (roughly translated) Siriano indicated his willingness to take needle and thread where no other designer was willing to take it before:
— Christian Siriano (@CSiriano) June 28, 2016
Jones and Siriano met, laughed, drank lattes with soy milk (maybe), discussed the hilarious pranks Melissa McCarthy pulled on set (I’d imagine), and envied the natural beauty of Kristen Wiig’s eyebrows (OK, I’m making this all up). They did, however, post several giddy photos together because for the newly designer-dressed Jones, life was good and Siriano had saved the day.
Following the happy pairing, many major publications were quick to hop on the Jones-dress train, sympathizing with an actress starring in what will probably be summer’s biggest blockbuster who couldn’t secure even one measly designer to dress her for the film’s premiere. Collectively, fashion reporters across the globe pondered: Was this an issue of race or size or age or worse, a combination of all three? (Jones is African American, 48 years old and about a U.S. size 8 or 10.)
Yes, hollered some. The fashion industry has and always will be a terrible machine of chiffon and smoke, cranking out the not-so-subtle message that most women are fat, ugly and old if not a size 0, cheek-boned to the max and somewhere around age 21. Of course Jones’ problem stemmed from the industry’s unfair, unbending standards of beauty. Roll the credits, we’re done.
Not so fast, yelled back others, like popular fashion blogger Bryan Yambao, who tweeted his outrage that Jones was even distressed about the dress in the first place: “What an entitled actress! She got paid money for her work, please use that money like the rest of us—go shopping!” (Famously, Yambao buys all his own clothes for appearances.)
Then came the backlash from stylists like Jessica Paster, who dresses A-listers such as Emily Blunt and Nia Vardalos. Paster told this to Pret-a-Reporter about Jones’ quandary: “She should have known four to five months ago the date of the premiere and said, ‘I’m not a sample size, I need to go to designers early or buy myself a dress.'”
(Of note: Jones didn’t mention whether the requests were put in months before or whether the timing of the tweet aligned with her/her team reaching out to designers for a dress.)
Hollywood Reporter power stylist Jeanne Yang explained the dilemma as not a philosophical, methodical boycott on the Ghostbusters’ actress but a matter of simple economics. “People have this belief showrooms and designers have racks and racks of clothing in all sizes,” she said. “They don’t. When you’re a designer, sitting with your accountant, you have to think about how much it costs to create a sample.”
Yang’s reasoning makes sense; after the gloss has worn off on the surface of those glossy magazines and after the bright lights of Hollywood cool down for the night, what’s left of a designer’s creation is still one small piece in the larger business picture. And just like any business in any industry, a designer relies on profitability and growth to survive. Whether selling penny stocks, vacuum cleaners or hand-woven chapeaus made out of faux Madagascarian feather-leather, money is money and unfortunately, it makes the world go ’round.
The reality, as Siriano admitted to Refinery29 when asked about the predicament, is that custom dresses are expensive and while those who wear them may look like Cinderella, these dresses don’t appear from the wave of a magic wand and a designer who sing-songs, “bippity, boppity, boo.”
“There are designers that have a hard time with samples, because they don’t have the infrastructure to make things in two days; maybe that’s why some of them said no,” Siriano explained.
Also at work: Unlike other designers, Siriano has the know-how as well as the resources to put together a custom dress at the very last minute. He’s been dressing the likes of Michelle Obama and Oprah for years (both notably and gracefully not sample size) and, as even a quick perusal of his Project Runway reruns might afford, he’s crazy talented at what he does. Mix an egalitarian approach to fashion with deep experience in non-traditional shapes and Siriano’s arbitrary two-emoticon reply to Jones becomes much less an example of digital, altruistic whimsy; instead, his tweet seems to be a show of confidence in his abilities and the very fabric on which his all-shapes-and-sizes brand has been built. In Siriano’s own words: “We should celebrate everybody … We should just try to make every woman feel great about themselves.”
And great Jones felt on the Ghostbusters green carpet, outfitted in a bright red, off-the-shoulder, floor-length custom Christian Siriano dress. “I feel like a dream,” the actress told ET’s Kevin Frazier.
In the end, whether personal slight or timing gone awry, the fact remains that Jones found something beautiful to wear, the public still gets to enjoy the brand-new Ghostbusters movie and yet another actress in Hollywood lives happily ever after … at least until her next premiere.