Ready for the Red Carpet

by Rebecca Tavernini ’11 MA

Expensive dress

The Oscars, the Grammys, the Golden Globes. The gowns, the jewels, the glamour. For Carla Blizzard ’86 BS, whose L.A. agency Film Fashion matches designers to the stars, awards season is not so much glitz as “it’s like air traffic control,” she laughed.

“There’s an award show every weekend for two months and we work every single day. It’s a lot of decision making. We are arranging fittings based on celebrity status. One star wants a dress that another one has. We run all over town dropping off and picking up. A zipper breaks, they change their mind, they need jewelry or a handbag as they run out the door...” 

But when Blizzard and her staff of six are watching the awards shows in their Pacific Design Center offices and seeing such actresses and musicians as Jennifer Lawrence, Mindy Kaling, Julianne Moore, Andra Day, Chrissy Teigen, Priyanka Chopra, Sarah Silverman and Saoirse Ronan wearing the dresses, shoes and accessories of the fashion designers they represent—and looking stunning—Blizzard said “it’s such a good feeling.”Top: Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model Hannah Davis in a Zuhair Murad gown at the Met Gala. Bottom: It girl Kendall Jenner on a night out sporting a Film Fashion designer.

As senior vice president of the boutique agency that represents clients including Chopard, Zuhair Murad, Swarovski, A Pea in the Pod, Tadashi Shoji, SAFiYAA and Sarah Flint, Blizzard and her team aren’t reclining on couches sipping champagne and munching popcorn as the red carpet is walked, nominees are announced and winners take the stage. They are emailing press releases and touching base with media contacts to ensure that everyone is aware of who is wearing whom. Blizzard estimates that about 40 press releases are sent out in a single awards show evening. In the People magazine that came out right after the Oscars, she had dozens of Post-Its marking the pages in which Film Fashion had a guiding hand. “This year all of our clients had placements at the Oscars and some at the Vanity Fair party as well,” she said. Some were even noted as best dressed.

While it’s an intense and rewarding few months, the work starts long before. “We have to be very knowledgeable about films and television. Sundance is usually an early indicator of what’s coming down, as well as the Cannes Film Festival. Then there’s Telluride and Toronto. You see what’s getting buzz, like the movie Spotlight, this year.

“We also have to be ahead of the game if there’s a new actress. For instance, a few years ago we saw The Help and told designer Tadashi Shoji about Octavia Spencer and he started working on pieces for her. We reached out to her early, while she was on press tours long before the Oscars, and helped dress and style her throughout the process. It’s really become a great relationship that has resulted in three Oscar placements for the brand. It’s wonderful to work with someone early on in their career.”

Film Fashion often makes that opportunity arise. Blizzard explained that sometimes younger rising stars will come in who don’t have a budget for a stylist and who may have last-minute tickets to an event—and they will help. “We guess at a trajectory of a career. We start early on to find how we can get in the door, often through a stylist, and work with a celebrity to create brand loyalty.”

The same is true with up-and-coming designers, Blizzard said. “Our job is to get them exposure to help with sales and brand recognition.  It’s the most fun for us to do something with a new client and see them get placements.”

It’s not just red-carpet events that keep Film Fashion on its well-pedicured toes. Film Fashion works with all facets of the entertainment industry including film, television, music and fashion editorials. Their goal is to get celebrities in their designers when they are just living their everyday lives as well. On the day we met, Blizzard mentioned there was an earlier sighting of the pregnant Anne Hathaway wearing A Pea in a Pod while she was out and about. Recently Vogue ran a shot of model Kendall Jenner on the town wearing Film Fashion’s fur client Lilly e Violetta. They target the not-so-everyday as well, for instance, dressing Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara in a custom hand-beaded Zuhair Murad wedding gown.

A photo subscription service, IDS—basically Star Tracker central—helps the team keep tabs on whose bodies are sartorially sporting their designers, in real time.  “It’s 24/7 now,” Blizzard said, recalling when she first joined Film Fashion in 1999 fashion news was more slow motion: waiting for phone calls and photos to be developed and faxing press releases. Even today, they’re never sure if stars will be sporting the looks they’ve hooked them up with until it’s proven in pixels.

Before moving to California from her native Chicago, Blizzard put her management and marketing degree from NMU, along with her post-bacc. associate degree in fashion merchandising from the Ray College of Design (now the Illinois Institute of Arts), to work with the Windy City’s Bagby & Company, overseeing marketing for national accounts including Jim Beam and Bridgestone/Firestone. “I always wanted to go into fashion, but I knew getting a marketing and management degree would be very beneficial,” she said. 

That instinct paid off. Drawn to NMU’s unique location, Carla said, “I loved my education, and the teachers and how small the classes were and all the interaction. My friends at other big schools often never even saw their teachers. I really did get an education directly from my teachers and not through a system. The friendships, the teachers, the small town—it was just so much fun to be in Marquette.”

Blizzard not only made lifelong friends with roommates and fellow students Linda (Olsowy) Waltersdorf '86 BSN, Sara (Wirick) Rainwater '85 BS, Barb (Schaller) Weiblen, Karen B. (Kelly) Winter ‘86, Dottie (Baker) Motley, Bob Thomson ’07 and Paul Millenbach ’84 BS—she also met her future husband, architect Scott Weeks, at Northern. She noted that “the epic winters taught us how to enjoy the cold and snow!” Nonetheless, when Scott got a job offer in California, and Carla could forsee her place in the growing field of fashion public relations and celebrity endorsements, they jumped on the chance for some sunshine in the heart of the entertainment world.

Blizzard has helped propel Film Fashion from a small agency with four clients to an international brand with up to 25. She has received numerous national accolades from the Public Relations Society of America, Hermes Creative Awards and the MARCOM Awards.

With $250 billion in U.S. fashion industry sales and a $546 billion media and entertainment market, fashion, movies, music and magazines aren’t just interesting distractions, they’re big business.

But with racks of hundreds of gowns, ranging from shimmering Hollywood glam with sweeping trains to post-modern punk micro mini dresses; shelves of strappy stilettos; and displays of sparkling Swarovski clutches; the feeling that it’s Christmas every day is pervasive in the office, despite the long hours and frequent drama. “It’s so exciting to get new dresses in and open up the package,” Blizzard said as she pulled a $20,000 dress from the rack. 

“Everyone wants to see celebrities when they come to L.A., but it’s not a zoo. Personally, I geek out over comedians,” she said, mentioning one particularly exciting geek-out moment when SNL’s/Portlandia’s Fred Armisen accompanied his wife at the time, Elisabeth Moss, to a fitting in their offices. But that’s a rare occasion. “When celebrities are here, it’s all work.”


Quote: 'Hand stitched and sewn, these dresses define craftsmanship and the pinnacle of garment design '