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Oscars: Ariana DeBose’s Look Is a Custom Gown/Tux Hybrid by Valentino


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For Sunday’s 94th Academy Awards’ red carpet, Ariana DeBose, the best supporting actress winner for her role as Anita in West Side Story, had given her stylists Zadrian Smith and Sarah Edmiston a clear directive.

“She said, ‘I don’t want to be a princess; I want to be a queen,’” Smith tells The Hollywood Reporter.

A full-skirted ball gown or other expected red carpet look, however, was never a consideration for DeBose’s Oscar night experience, according to the styling duo, known as Zadrian + Sarah.

“We are doing nothing traditional,” notes Edmiston. “There is not a single traditional element to anything that’s happening — not the jewelry, not the composition, not the styling. The reason is that it would be disrespectful to someone who is smashing every glass ceiling to put her in something traditional or which reflects any kind of conformity. This is the moment to break with tradition and really go for it.”

Indeed, DeBose — already a winner at the SAG and Critics Choice Awards —  is wearing what is certain to be among the night’s most-discussed looks, a custom design by Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino.

Blending masculine and feminine elements, Piccioli has created a hybrid look that combines the details of both a gown and tuxedo pants, all in a bold red that’s a Valentino signature. The look is finished with a dramatic coat that draped from DeBose’s elbows and matching shoes by Valentino Garavani.

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Ariana DeBose

Mike Coppola/Getty Images

The LGBTQ+ actress agrees wholeheartedly with her styling duo about the nontraditional strategy. “I firmly believe that for an event like the Oscars, you have to show up 100 percent firmly and authentically you,” she tells THR. “The look that I’m wearing and the designer is a reflection of that; it shows me as myself in every way. It’s bold and it’s a choice that maybe you don’t typically see at the Oscars. It celebrates femininity and masculinity in the same breath. For me it was the choice because when you see it and you get chills, you just know.”

Back in February, Edmiston and Smith were invited to view Piccioli’s latest haute couture collection prior to its debut and were only too pleased to see that he had introduced inclusivity into the rarefied world of haute couture, building his dresses on models in average and plus sizes, versus the size-zero women who typically populate couture runway shows. “We fell in love with Pierpaolo not only because he’s an amazing designer, but also because what he represents aligns directly with what we want to represent as stylists,” Smith says.

“To see him the day before his collection debuted, fitting each dress on these incredible women, we knew we were working with the right person,” Edmiston says.

DeBose’s look is likewise a reflection of those values, stretching the boundaries of both gender and haute couture. “We’ve seen men blur gender lines on the red carpet, but we do not see women do it enough,” Edmiston adds. “For Ariana, we wanted to give this person a moment to celebrate and to speak to all the nuances of self and also do that with pride and at the highest level of luxury.”

The crimson hue, meanwhile, also is meant to evoke thoughts of the red crinoline that joyfully reveals itself as DeBose performs with the West Side Story cast in the iconic Stephen Sondheim-Leonard Bernstein number, “America.”

“We wanted to create a little homage to that,” Smith says. “But it’s also a message from Ariana to all little girls who look like her, an idea of, ‘This is how I took this part and made it mine, you don’t need to conform to anything that anyone says you need to be.’”

DeBose is accessorizing the look with more than 80 carats of diamonds by De Beers jewelers and a diamond-embellished Omega Constellation watch. “For menswear and a tuxedo you always do a great statement watch, while for women, it’s always about pretty lady dress, pretty lady jewelry,” Edmiston says. “So we thought, let’s keep the element of the menswear by pairing a great watch with bracelets and fusing the idea of menswear and women’s wear.”

Smith and Edmiston have experienced an unforgettable awards-season run with DeBose this year — and made THR‘s best-dressed at the Oscars list in 2021 — a relationship that all agree transcends the notion of client and stylists.

“The longer we work together, the more that I realize that what Zadrian and Sarah represent as a duo actually embodies a lot of parts of my identity, both as a human and in terms of my fashion identity,” DeBose says. “I feel best represented by classic lines with modern twists, and that literally sums up Zadrian and Sarah. Put them together, and you have Ariana DeBose-chic! [The entire West Side Story press tour] was just about topping ourselves, doing something we loved even more than the last look and how we could convey an even deeper reflection of who I am through the clothes. The Oscars looks will be the culmination of all of that.”

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