Last January, “Glee” actress Lea Michele attended the Grammy Awards in a navy one-shoulder Romona Keveza dress with a feathered chiffon skirt. She couldn’t remember who designed the dress but offered a sassy apology to host Ryan Seacrest.
“I had an insane wardrobe malfunction today,” Ms. Michele said. “I chose this white dress, which was beautiful. I was so excited to leave … I stand by my window, and you could see through it all!
As Ms. Michele’s red carpet tour ricocheted the web, Ms. Keveza’s name as the designer of the feathered finalist dress also ricocheted, which at least one reviewer said was Ms. Michele’s best look of awards season. Three months later, Sofia Vergara donned the designer’s lace cocktail dress for the Glaad media awards. Then, in November, Ksenia Solo drew acclaim in a tall red chiffon Romona Keveza dress at the New York premiere of “Black Swan”.
In the vibrant, albeit hermetic, field of bridal fashion, Romona Keveza is a name to be reckoned with. In June, when Crystal Harris marries Hugh Hefner, she will be wearing one of the designer’s dresses: a powder pink mermaid number, at least that’s been reported. Not the wedding of the season, of course, but a major event nonetheless. What’s curious is that Ms. Keveza, virtually unheard of outside of sparkling wedding salons, has become a presence on the red carpet, if not overnight, at least faster than fashion watchers could comprehend. .
“Who the hell is Romona Keveza?” Stylist Karla Welch remembers thinking after the Golden Globe Awards in January. Ms. Welch, along with her partner, Kemal Harris, dresses actresses like Hailee Steinfeld and Olivia Wilde for the red carpet. “We have a client who is a very high fashion person,” Ms. Welch said, “and she texted me after seeing the Globes. I had never seen Romona’s stuff before.
Dress to dress with Marchesa and Armani Privé on the Golden Globes red carpet, Ms. Keveza’s dresses were worn by Julia Stiles, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Christina Hendricks. It was Ms. Hendricks, in an asymmetrical red silk crepe number with an extravagant ruffled neckline, who took the designer to a heady new level.
“It was one of the best dresses Christina has ever worn,” Ms. Welch said.
Lawren Sample, Mrs Hendricks’ stylist, told the story. “I stopped at Film Fashion, and Carla Blizzard had really stood up for Romona there,” she said, referring to a Los Angeles showroom that specializes in celebrity dressing. “Christina has worn red before, and she doesn’t tend to wear one shoulder, but I sent her the dress anyway, and it was an amazing fit: that Hollywood screen mermaid look.”
Ms Blizzard, Vice President of Film Fashion, also persuaded Ms Welch to consider Romona Keveza for another client, “Glee” actress Heather Morris. “Carla urged me to check out a rack of Romona dresses, and I couldn’t get over it,” Ms. Welch said. “The quality was there. “
Two weeks after the Globes, Ms Morris wore a crystal-embellished Romona Keveza chiffon flowing gown to the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
CONTRARY to speculation, Ms. Keveza (pronounced ke-VEY-zha) is no newbie to fashion. Years before Ms Michele launched her first note, Ms Keveza had her own evening wear business in London, Ontario.
“I opened my first store, La Maison, with $ 15,000 of my own money,” said Ms. Keveza, beaming with pride. “I didn’t have a rich dad or sugar daddy who funded me along the way.”
Ms Keveza, who was dressed in a loose denim sweater, black stretch pants and flat fur boots on a recent Friday afternoon, oscillates between a folk warmth and a steely and controlling nature. Of Lithuanian-Canadian origin, she grew up on a farm in the small town of Rodney, Ontario (population 35 at the time). “It was the country, but my mother was still very attached to the European way of dressing,” she said. “She always had French Vogue hanging around the house.”
After studying business and fine arts at the University of Western Ontario, Ms. Keveza opened La Maison in 1986. A year later, she opened a second boutique in Washington at the Four Seasons Hotel.
“I wore Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera,” she said. “But my clients in Washington were afraid to show up at a gala in the same dress, so I started designing a private label.”
In 1989, with strong sales, Ms. Keveza sold both stores to focus on her own brand. “I wasn’t even thinking of the bride and then the recession of the 1990s hit,” she said. “A VIP client requested this black velvet dress in white satin for her wedding, and I said no first. Then she came back and said she would pay $ 10,000.
Today, Ms. Keveza’s line, which has been based in New York City since 1999, is primarily bridal, stocked at retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, and includes a secondary line called Legends. Prices range from $ 3,000 to $ 5,000 for her Legends designs and can go as high as $ 35,000 for a silk organza wedding dress with hand-applied flowers and petals. Spurred on by customers who wanted her dresses in more colors, she returned to the evening wear market in 2009.
Ms Blizzard first became aware of Ms Keveza when a number of stylists visiting the Film Fashion showroom mentioned her in passing. Last October, she called the designer – she has yet to meet Ms Keveza in person – and asked her to see a selection of dresses. Two months later, an agreement was reached. (The designers pay the showroom a monthly retainer. Both parties were decidedly silent on the details.)
Any up-and-coming designer, especially one struggling for media attention, is well aware that the red carpet is a very effective introductory letter.
“With something like the Globes, buyers, buyers and publishers are all watching,” said Ms. Blizzard, who can be kind of a star when it comes to wearing designer dresses on actresses’ backs. that will be obsessively photographed. Pamella Roland, a Film Fashion client since 2003, languished in semi-darkness before her red carpet placements. The same goes for wedding designer Zuhair Murad.
“Zuhair had been working in Europe for a while, but maybe he wasn’t showing his designs in the right way,” Ms. Blizzard said. Since signing Mr. Murad in 2007, Film Fashion has dressed Katy Perry, Christina Aguilera, Fergie, Jennifer Lopez and Taylor Swift in their designs.
It’s also a smart way to manage costs. “The posts are all doing some sort of red carpet coverage now,” she added. “It’s a way to get into fashion magazines without being a big advertiser.
DESPITE the positive feedback, Ms. Keveza is wary of this new attention. “I have been doing the same since years, “she said.” I’m not a flash in the pan.
Nevertheless, his brand is clearly growing. Last weekend, during the Spring 2012 Wedding Show at the St. Regis Hotel, the editors of Vogue and InStyle attended her show for the first time, and “Entertainment Tonight” sent a camera crew. . Among the dresses was a white organza version of Heather Morris’ SAG Awards dress.
Ms Keveza plans to continue her relationship with Film Fashion, but if her career advances in the same arc, she has bigger ambitions.
“I’ve always wanted to do a big show for New York Fashion Week,” she said wistfully. “All these years, and I’ve never done that. But it’s expensive, so we’ll have to weigh all our options. I’m here for the long haul. I am more the tortoise than the hare.