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Designing for plus-sized stars

Actors who don't fit traditional mould find it hard to get a dress for the red carpet

LOS ANGELES — Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones’s recent online lament about having trouble finding a designer to dress her for the film’s première points to the challenges actresses face when it comes to walking red carpets in style.

While one nice tux might carry a male actor through many a première, it’s customary for female stars to show up in new attire for every photo opportunity, which makes finding fresh, fashion-forward outfits for such occasions a time-consuming task, especially for women larger than a size 2.

“It’s so funny how there are no designers wanting to help me with a première dress for movie,” wrote Jones, who is six feet tall. “Hmmm, that will change and I remember everything.”

But for designers, it’s not just about their star clients fitting into smaller sizes, said celebrity stylist Nina Hallworth. It also has to do with creating a mutually beneficial partnership between the clothier and the star.

“It is about how a designer wants to be represented as an artist,” Hallworth said in an interview. “We have worked with women who are sample sizes and incredibly well known and a designer will say no to that collaboration as creatively it is not a fit — even if we think it is.”

As it turned out, designer Christian Siriano responded to Jones’s call on Twitter last week and agreed to make her gown. He said in a statement that he’s a fan of the actress and her work.

“I can’t wait to create something special for her to wear,” the statement said. “I support all women no matter age or size!”

“It shouldn’t be exceptional to work with brilliant people just because they’re not sample size,” Siriano wrote on Twitter. “Congrats aren’t in order, a change is.”

He followed up later in the week with photos of Jones visiting his studio, where she said they are “making magic.”

It’s not clear how long Jones had been seeking a dress for the première, but she hasn’t been alone.

Other actresses outside the size-2 landscape have said it can be hard to find designers to work with, even for high-profile events. Melissa McCarthy said that when she was invited to the Oscars after the success of Bridesmaids, she couldn’t find anyone to make her a dress.

“I asked five or six designers — very high-level ones who make lots of dresses for people— and they all said no,” she told Redbook magazine in 2014.

McCarthy has since launched her own clothing line and she helped design the dress she wore to this year’s Golden Globes.

Bryce Dallas Howard, who wears a size 6, said she bought her own gown off the rack for the Golden Globes, as she does for most Hollywood appearances.

“I like having lots of options for a size 6, as opposed to maybe one option,” she told E! News on the red carpet. “So I always go to department stores for this kind of stuff.”

Hallworth notes that designers who loan their dresses might have specific demands for how they’re worn.

“Free clothes can come at a cost to your own authentic style,” she said. “If you own those pieces, you own your image and can wear things in a way that speaks your narrative, not the designer’s.”

It comes down to an actress establishing a personal, individual look, she said, which then becomes a magnet for designers.

“Collaboration between designers and actors is symbiotic,” Hallworth said.

“A great image can last a lifetime; a bad one longer.”