Is Mariah Carey really a diva to dress? What does Jennifer Lopez absolutely NOT want to wear on stage? What made Sophia Loren suddenly feel self-conscious about her body? To get the exclusive inside scoop on dressing four decades of Hollywood royalty from Angelina Jolie to Joan Collins, I had the pleasure of catching up with couture designer Mark Zunino. Get ready to pick your jaw off the ground…
Britney Spears at the Billboard Music Awards – talk about a defining career moment in that red outfit?
It was pretty fabulous. I thought it was going to be a huge moment because people hadn’t seen her for a while. She knew she wanted red, and she knew she wanted some kind of coat opening up, and her body is phenomenal. We only had like four days, that was such a rushed, rushed project.
Your Atelier is nestled in the heart of Beverly Hills behind paparazzi-proof windows but I heard that you kept Queen B waiting for you outside the front door?
Unfortunately, I did. I had just come from New York and I did a fashion interview, and they asked, “Who haven’t you dressed that you’d like to?” and I said, “Beyonce.” Came back to L.A. the next day and called the office, or my shop, and said, “I’m going to go to the gym, I’m not going to come in right away,” and they said, “No, come in. Beyonce’s here waiting,” and I was like, “Shut up! Now everybody’s going to tease me for the next two months,” and I went to the gym. So, I’m driving, I went to Starbucks, I take my time coming in, and as I pull into the parking lot, Beyonce’s like, “Hi, I’ve been waiting for you,” and I’m like, “Oh my god. I am so sorry,” and I just said, “I thought everybody was lying to me.” Hopefully it was worth the wait, because this is one of the outfits that I was making for her. Nobody’s even seen this yet – nobody. Not even she has seen this or even tried this on yet, so you get the first look at it.
Your couture constructions are a favorite of Jennifer Lopez…
Jennifer Lopez is a client., the first thing I did was a gold and sort of orange/teal fringe, and that was for the opening number [for her new show]. Somebody else, another designer, did her costume for that, and she hated it, so I did this, and that was the one thing she said, “I’m not a fringe girl. I don’t like a lot of fringe,” and then I did it, and they ended up actually changing the choreography to that number, they ended up changing all the costumes to the back-up dancers so everybody had fringe, and it really turned into a really fun number.
You recently dressed Mariah Carey for her Las Vegas residency, what was that like?
I made eight costumes, and we had about four days. It was crazy. I mean, literally we worked 24-hour shifts.
Tell me about what goes into creating that gravity defying number you put her in for the GLAAD Media Awards?
Well, it was the first time I worked with her, so I wasn’t sure just what it was she was looking for, but when she put that on, I mean, it did it, and she also said to me, “And, I’m not giving back the dress. I want this dress for my archives.”
Did you have a long time to create those costumes?
You know, what’s strange, I never have a lot of time. They wait until the last moment, or like, I’ve sent sketches for Mariah, and I haven’t heard back.
Do you often do costumes for performances?
No, I rarely ever do, and there’s a lot involved. Plus, I approach costumes different than everybody else. They are pieces of couture clothing. Actually, Sophia Vergara was the one who started the ball rolling with…I did an outfit for her when she danced at the Grammy’s with Pitbull, and I had been doing her red-carpet gowns and she called me. And that, we had to do three days. At first, she didn’t want all the fringe, and I knew, there has to be something that moves. That’s what makes it sexy. And so, I ignored what she said, and then it ended up working, and she absolutely loved it.
Every bit as impressive as the look of your gowns is the intricate detail beneath them, how much goes into the construction?
Even though the outside is beautiful, the secret is inside, and that’s what I’m known for, and that’s pretty much really why everybody comes to me. I can take two to three inches off of anybody’s waist.
Did you always want to be a designer?
No! I was studying architecture and I had gotten a phone call from one of my instructors, and said, “I want to recommend you for a job,” but it was for fashion, and I’m like, that’s not my thing at all, but she said, “It’s for Nolan Miller and Aaron Spelling,” at that time, Nolan was an enormous Hollywood designer and Aaron a big producer, so I wanted to meet them. I ended up getting the job, and that’s how I started the business.
That must have been a big transition from architecture school!
My first day on the set was dressing Joan Collins, and that was an education right there. I mean, she came in after a scene, slammed the door, turned around and saw me, and started screaming, “Who are you? Who are you? Get out of my dressing room!” She thought I was like some fanatical stalker. I panicked, I didn’t know what to do, and Heather Locklear grabbed me. She opened the door, grabbed me, and said, “Come with me, don’t worry,” and I was trying to explain, and she said, “Joan’s not here today, it’s only Alexis.”
You probably have a lot of very famous women’s measurements…
A lot of the women hesitate when they know we have to take full body measurements.
Will Joan Collins let you near her with a tape measure?
She’ll tell you what her measurements are, and then they’re usually what her measurements were.
So, basically, you give people the measurements they want, not necessarily what they have.
Exactly, and as long as you’re okay with minimal breathing, you’re fine. I can squeeze. You know, Elizabeth Taylor, we called her a mouse, because we could just pull and pull and pull that waist in, it never stopped. I think at the smallest, her waist was 23 inches. That’s tiny.
When I walked in, I saw Sophia Loren, and this is not how I imagine Sophia Loren?
No, and Sophia Loren doesn’t like seeing herself like this either. This is not Sophia’s body. We actually used her dress form and padded it for a private client we’re working on. But, Sophia came in and saw this and said, “Get that out of this room now, and take all of that padding off!”
Of course, a gal can only spend so long surrounded by this much silk, tulle, and talent before she has to try something on – for research, of course….i was directed to a couple of Sofia Vergara’s famous frocks…one from the Grammy’s and one from the Vanity Fair Oscar Party.
Sadly I was not able to keep them, but I did try!
You can watch Kathryn’s interview with Mark Zunino for The Morning Show here.