Emmy red carpet: Winning the gown wars

Emmy red carpet: Winning the gown wars
Host Jane Lynch performs onstage during the 63rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in a dress by David Meister. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

When the dust settled after last spring's red carpet season, two of Los Angeles' most familiar hometown designers were christened, somewhat surprisingly, award show "phenoms." In actuality, David Meister and Tadashi Shoji have been prominent fixtures on the celebrity-dressing landscape for

years, and the fashion universe will undoubtedly be anticipating their handiwork at the Emmys.


Meister's name seemed to crop up on every red carpet, starting with last year's Emmys, where he dressed host Jane Lynch in a series of custom-designed looks. Then it was on to the Golden Globes, where he outfitted Maya Rudolph, followed by the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where Diane Lane, Jessica Lange and Mary Steenburgen donned his gowns. Jane Seymour chose him for her Oscar attire, and he scored post-season points with the slinky tangerine halter gown that Sophia Bush wore to the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards in June.

Shoji's banner year revolved around his work with multi-award nominee Octavia Spencer ("The Help"), from the Golden Globes, where she wore his pale-orchid gathered-front gown, to the SAG awards, where she chose a platinum sarong-style satin dress with beaded bodice, to the Oscars, where she resisted the overtures of other designers suddenly interested in the actress after her string of supporting-actress wins. When she accepted her Oscar, she wore Shoji's ivory crystal beaded gown, a design that took more than 1,000 hours of work and a team of 10 to assemble.

What both of these designers share is the ability to dress major Hollywood names with more than enough style to sail through demanding public appearances and the 360-degree scrutiny of photographers with clothes that are superbly crafted, painstakingly fitted and on-trend but not trendy. To quote an old adage: First you notice the woman, then the dress.

"They're not master couturiers or crazy fantasia people," says Sasha Charnin Morrison, fashion director of Us Weekly. "They make beautiful clothes — for women," she adds, noting their curve-friendly appeal.

In the process, Meister and Shoji are continuing an esteemed Hollywood tradition and bringing customers to their popularly priced lines of cocktail and evening wear. They can be found at department stores such as Nordstrom, Saks and Bloomingdale's, along with their upper-tier designer offerings: Meister's exclusive Signature collection for Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus and Shoji's runway collection, recently seen at New York Fashion Week.

The designers share a background rooted in stage presence and the demands of performance. Meister got his start as a designer for Danskin in New York where he showed a flair for body-conscious glamour before moving to Los Angeles and starting his eponymous line in 1998.

"Bob Mackie is like my god," says Meister of his lifelong obsession with Hollywood's allure. "I've always been all about gowns.... It's innate. It's something I just love."

"Watching David create his look for you is an amazing and exciting thing to watch," Jane Lynch said in an email. "He jumps up and down. Nothing is middle of the road."

Shoji, born in Japan, had an art background before he landed in L.A. and worked for legendary music biz costume designer Bill Whitten (Elton John, Neil Diamond and the Jacksons). Shoji later studied fashion design formally and then launched his line in the '80s. Now he divides his time between Shanghai, New York and L.A.

Reached in New York on the day before his spring show in New York, juggling final fittings and sending dresses to Florence Welch's stylist in London, Shoji was moved as he recalled the experience of working with Octavia Spencer.

"It was a great match," he says. "We really became friends."

Because of that, Spencer trusted him as he put her in his trademark soft shades that provided enough fashion detail to satisfy the ever-present photographers and critics, including Morrison, who said Spencer was memorable "day in and day out."

Shoji likes to say that local designers have an advantage during awards season. When celebrities need a gown at the last minute they can send a team over with seamstresses, pattern makers, PR help — whatever it takes.

But in the end, what makes it special for him is the possibility of developing a great working chemistry with the women he dresses.


"That is really a gift, so you have to appreciate it."