Octavia Spencer Oscars Dress: Inside Her Journey with Go-To Designer Tadashi Shoji [PHOTOS]

 @nadinedeninnon.deninno@ibtimes.com
on February 29 2012 1:29 PM
  • Octavia Spencer
    Designer Tadashi Shoji talks about his journey making an Oscars dress for Octavia Spencer, who won her first Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for "The Help." Spencer dominated the red carpet, evident in photos thanks to her go-to designer. Reuters
  • Octavia Spencer
    Designer Tadashi Shoji talks about his journey making an Oscars dress for Octavia Spencer, who won her first Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for "The Help." Spencer dominated the red carpet, evident in photos thanks to her go-to designer. Reuters
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When stars strut the red carpet to be photographed by members of the media where they will inevitably be judged by fashion pundits and fans, it is easy to overlook the designers, who create not just beautiful, but artful, dresses and gowns for celebrities to wear. For the Kentucky Derby of awards ceremonies - the Oscars - in terms of fashion, the focus is more on the Hollywood heavy-hitters, or newcomers to the ceremony, like Octavia Spencer, who won her first Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for The Help.

"Get a great designer because you don't know if you're going to be on TV or not," Spencer told On The Red Carpet after her win.

But vying to be the best dressed, Spencer turned to not just a great designer, but to her favorite designer, Tadashi Shoji, whom she has worked with all season for the many awards ceremonies she attended for her role as Minny Jackson in The Help.

Shoji, a prominent designer of women's clothing and dresses, is a coveted celebrity favorite, having dressed A-listers from Helen Mirren to Blake Lively on countless occasions. However, Shoji said the relationship that he and Spencer have fostered over the course of her career -- which has skyrocketed since her role in The Help -- has a special dynamic like no other celebrity he has created designs for.

"It's not so often this kind of chemistry [exists]," Shoji told me of his relationship with Spencer. "When we design, some people take it for granted. She was really appreciative and I appreciate her generosity and also her appreciation. It's real, real mutual."

Shoji said Spencer first contacted him in August last year for her first awards show for the season, which he made a dress especially for her. Then Spencer started picking up dresses more often and eventually adopted Tadashi Shoji as her go-to designer.

"For all of the shows, she was wearing my dresses," Shoji told IBTimes, emanating an emotion of utter happiness.

Then in January, while he was shuttling back and forth from China, where his dresses are made, to the U.S. in preparation of his show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York for February, Spencer caught a glimpse of a sketch he was working on and fell in love.

"She saw my sketch and she loved my design," Shoji said of the dress she wore to the Oscars. "Just one sketch, that's it. It was just a sketch, a fabric swatch, in a pale cream color" seen throughout his Spring 2011 collection.

"She told me she liked that color so I picked that color," Shoji said.

Shoji crafted the foundation of Spencer's Oscar dress, a simple high necked sheath with draping in a pale cream color, for the first fitting. Spencer fawned over the dress, which was incomplete at the time in its first stages, sans handmade beading embellishments.

"We did a fitting and that time she cried," Shoji said. "Without beading, just for the draping of the dress. She literally cried."

As a team, Spencer and Shoji crafted the beading design, which Shoji said flattered her figure perfectly, during that fitting.

"She was so excited. Her stylist was giggling about how it was so, so pretty. [Everyone] was giggling and smiling because it was so pretty on her. So happy," Shoji said.

The last time I spoke to Tadashi Shoji was backstage moments before his show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, where he was quite elusive about his plans to dress celebrities for the Oscars.

"Oh jinx, if I name them I think that they, before, they may not wear, so I cannot say," Shoji said backstage in February. "Surprise, surprise, surprise!"

Turns out that all along, he was collaborating with Spencer for the Oscars, which comes as no surprise as she wore designs by Tadashi Shoji for the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the Critic's Choice awards and the SAGs, to name a few.

While the design process with Spencer was so easy, as Shoji puts it, problems arose when it was being handmade in China. According to Shoji, just ten days before the Oscars, the company they utilized to ship the dress from China, where Shoji's workers stitched the beading details on one-by-one, had an error in tracking its shipments overseas.

"For three days we couldn't locate our dress from Shanghai. I was so nervous," Shoji said.

Luckily, Spencer saw the dress digitally and fell in love.

"They showed to Octavia just pictures...in China on the mannequin and she loved that one because of all the beading on the finished one. So she kissed the pictures. That time I figured, 'Oh we are safe.'"

Finally the dress arrived in time for the big day and Spencer, true to form, loved Shoji's design.

"She really loved it when she put it on. She literally cried and hugged me," Shoji said. "She was very sweet about it."

Spencer topped many of the best dressed at the Oscars lists, including The Telegraph, Perez Hilton, and E!'s Fashion Police, to name a few.

"She wore my dress and she looked so pretty and everybody in the media was saying she's one of the best dressed," Shoji said of the dress paired with Jimmy Choo shoes, a Judith Leiber clutch and Neil Lane jewelry. "I was so fortunate to design for her."

After the Oscars, Shoji posted a photo to his Twitter account showing him celebrating with a cake in the theme of The Help and a bottle of champagne, though he says he usually doesn't drink alcohol.

"She gave us a special champagne and she asked me, 'You have to drink for me if I win.' So we opened the bottle and we celebrated," he said.

And dressing Octavia Spencer was not only a pleasure for Tadashi Shoji, but her endorsement has helped his business, as well. According to Shoji, his phone has been ringing off the hook from buyers.

"All over the world, we have international customers calling us asking what price. We haven't decided a price yet because it is one-of-a-kind," he said about Spencer's dress. "They don't care about the price, they want it. So we are going to make it exactly the same style."

That style dress was more than just a beautiful dress; The sparkles were not just purposefully placed to catch the gleaming lights in photos, but to enhance Octavia Spencer's figure. Shoji said that he designed the dress specifically for Spencer, to hide problems areas while focusing the beautiful detailing on her curves, which took some alterations and changes here and there.

In fact, Tadashi Shoji is known for dressing women of all shapes, from the pin-thin models donning his designs on the runway to fuller figures like Spencer.

"No problem," he said of creating designs for women of all sizes. "Our forte, our strategy are specialty designs. We can fit any type of women. It was so easy."

Maybe it was so easy, as Shoji puts it, since the duo has worked together so many times before, which made Spencer's decision to don Tadashi Shoji a no-brainer.

"My dress chose me," Spencer told Pop Sugar before winning the award. "Tadashi Shoji is an amazing designer and he did a costume dress just for yours truly."

Speaking of winning the award, I asked Shoji if he believes in superstition when it comes to winning awards, that perhaps, while her acting talent is unarguably amazing, Spencer won so many awards and honorable mentions this season because she was so finely dressed. But Tadashi Shoji is not egotistical.

"No I don't think so. Nobody picked up so many awards for my dress," he said. "This is her acting. Her acting was great in the movie."

And as for next Oscar season, Tadashi Shoji just hopes he can emulate that chemistry he has with Octavia Spencer and wishes to dress "whoever appreciates my designs."

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