Photo corsets wholesale Romona Keveza backstage last Saturday at her bridal show. Credit Michael Nagle for The New York Times LAST January, the “Glee” actress Lea Michele attended the Grammy Awards in a Romona Keveza navy one-shoulder frock with a fluttery feather-chiffon skirt. She couldn’t remember who designed the dress but offered a saucy excuse to the host Ryan Seacrest.
“I had an insane wardrobe long gown dress malfunction today,” Ms. Michele said. “I picked out this white dress, which was gorgeous. I was so excited to leave … I stand by my window, and you could see through the entire thing!”
As Ms. Michele’s red-carpet turn ricocheted across the Web, so too did Ms. Keveza’s name as the designer of the feathery runner-up dress, which at least one reviewer suggested was Ms. Michele’s best look of the awards season. Three months later, Sofia Vergara donned a lace cocktail dress by the designer for the Glaad media awards. Then in November, Ksenia Solo drew raves in a sweeping red silk chiffon Romona Keveza gown at the New York premiere of “Black Swan.”
In the vibrant, if hermetic, realm of bridal fashion, Romona Keveza is a name to be reckoned with. In June, when Crystal Harris marries Hugh Hefner, she will wear one of the designer’s gowns: a blush pink mermaid number, or so it has been reported. Not the wedding of the season, to be sure, but a high-profile event nonetheless. What is curious is that Ms. Keveza, virtually unknown outside frothy bridal salons, has emerged as a red-carpet presence, if not overnight, then at least faster than fashion watchers could take in.
Photo Models waiting to present Ms. Keveza’s line of bridal gowns at the St. Regis show. Credit Michael Nagle for The New York Times “Who the hell is Romona Keveza?” the stylist Karla Welch recalled thinking after the Golden Globe Awards in January. Ms. Welch, 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 that after seeing the Globes. I had never seen Romona’s stuff before.”
Continue reading the main story Going gown for gown 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 a red silk crepe one-shoulder number with an extravagantly ruffled neckline, who elevated the designer to a heady new level.
Continue reading the main story”It was one of the best dresses Christina’s ever worn,” Ms. Welch said.
Lawren Sample, Ms. Hendricks’s stylist, filled in the story. “I stopped into Film Fashion, and Carla Blizzard there had really been championing Romona,” she said, referring to a Los Angeles showroom that specializes in celebrity dressing. “Christina has already worn red, and she doesn’t tend to do one-shoulder, but I sent the dress to her anyway, and it was an amazing fit: this Hollywood screen-siren look.”
Ms. Blizzard, the vice president of Film Fashion, also persuaded Ms. Welch to consider Romona Keveza for another client, the “Glee” actress Heather Morris. “Carla urged me to check out a rack of Romona dresses, and I couldn’t get over them,” Ms. Welch said. “The quality was there.”
Two weeks after the Globes, Ms. Morris wore a floaty peach chiffon Romona Keveza gown with crystal embellishment to the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Photo Bridal gowns are the main part of Romona Keveza’s business, but her dresses on the red carpet have attracted attention. Credit Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
CONTRARY to speculation, Ms. Keveza (pronounced ke-VEY-zha) is no fashion newbie. Years before Ms. Michele belted out her first note, Ms. Keveza had her own evening-wear business in London, Ontario.
“I opened my first shop, La Maison, with $15,000 of my own money,” Ms. Keveza said, beaming proudly. “I didn’t have a rich father or sugar daddy funding me along the way.”
Ms. Keveza, who was dressed in a loose denim pullover, black stretch pants and furry flat boots on a recent Friday afternoon, wavers between a folksy warmth and a steely, controlling nature. Of Lithuanian-Canadian extraction, she grew up on a farm in tiny Rodney, Ontario (population 35 at the time). “It was the country, but my mother was still very much about the European way of dressing,” she said. “She always had French Vogue lying 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 shop in Washington at the Four Seasons Hotel.
“I carried Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera,” she said. “But my Washington clients were worried about showing up at a gala in the same dress, so I started designing a private label.”
Photo Christina Hendricks in a Keveza at the Golden Globe Awards in January. Credit Jason Merritt/Getty Images In 1989, with sales brisk, Ms. Keveza sold both shops to concentrate on her own label. “I wasn’t even thinking about bridal, and then the 1990s recession hit,” she said. “A V.I.P. client requested this black velvet gown in white satin for her wedding, and I originally said no. Then she came back and said she would pay $10,000.”
Continue reading the main storyToday, Ms. Keveza’s line, which has been based in New York since 1999, is principally bridal, stocked at retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, and includes a secondary line called Legends. Prices hover around $3,000 to $5,000 for her Legends designs and can reach $35,000 for a silk organza wedding gown with hand-applied flower and petal appliqué. At the urging of customers who wanted her dresses in more colors, she re-entered the evening-wear market in 2009.
Ms. Blizzard became aware of Ms. Keveza when a number of stylists visiting the Film Fashion showroom mentioned her in passing. Last October, she telephoned the designer — she has yet to meet Ms. Keveza in person — and asked to see a selection of dresses. Two months later, a deal was struck. (Designers pay the showroom a monthly retainer. Both parties were resolutely mum on the specifics.)
Any up-and-coming designer, especially one who is struggling for attention in the news media, is well aware that the red carpet is a highly effective letter of introduction.
“With something like the Globes, shoppers, buyers and editors are all watching,” said Ms. Blizzard, who can be a star-maker of sorts when it comes to getting a designer’s dresses onto the backs of actresses who will be obsessively photographed. Pamella Roland, a Film Fashion client since 2003, languished in semi-obscurity before her red-carpet placements. The same is true of the bridal designer Zuhair Murad.
Photo <strong>DOWN THE AISLE</strong> Hugh Hefner and Crystal Harris. Credit Kevin Winter/Getty Images “Zuhair had been working in Europe for awhile, but maybe he wasn’t having his designs shown 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 his creations.
It’s a savvy means to manage costs as well. “The publications all do some kind of red-carpet coverage now,” she added. “It’s a way to get into fashion magazines without being a major advertiser.”
DESPITE the positive feedback, Ms. Keveza is wary of the newfound attention. “I’ve been doing the same thing for years,” she said. “I’m not a flash in the pan.”
Continue reading the main storyNevertheless, her brand is on an obvious upswing. Last weekend, at the spring 2012 bridal show at the St. Regis hotel, editors from Vogue and InStyle attended her show for the first time, and “Entertainment Tonight” sent a film crew. Among the gowns was a white organza version of Heather Morris’s SAG Awards dress.
Ms. Keveza plans to continue her relationship with Film Fashion, but if her career hurtles along the same arc, she has grander ambitions.
“I have always wanted to do a big runway show for New York Fashion Week,” she said in a wistful tone. “All these years, and I’ve never done that. But it’s expensive, so we’ll have to weigh all our options. I’m in it for the long haul. I’m more the tortoise than the hare.”