Whether you turned up at 4am to watch last week's royal wedding or slept in and scrolled through all of the best-dressed roundups on Instagram, you probably found yourself thinking, Who's the woman in that stunning orange dress? Actress Janina Gavankar was regrammed across the globe following her superstar squad strut with Abigail Spencer and Priyanka Chopra — and Los Angeles-based stylist and designer Niki Schwan is partly responsible for making that magical moment happen.
"I have worked with Janina for many years, so she had mentioned the wedding a few months ago," Schwan tells us. "Honestly, I really didn't overthink the wardrobe or styling stuff. I was just excited for her to be a part of this special moment with her friend Meghan. I can't really start requesting current product from designers and showrooms until a few weeks prior to any event anyways, so I was looking forward to the project, but had no idea it would turn into all of this."
As Schwan revealed on social media, Gavankar's unforgettable outfit came together after "several designer brands and showrooms…denied [our requests] or just ignored us." Instead of borrowing a look from a big-name fashion house, Schwan explains that she decided to put her creativity to use and raided the racks of LA's legendary Western Costume in search of The Dress.
In addition to lending her fashion knowledge as an on-camera expert, the LA stylist is also multi-hyphenate force behind Atelier548, a full-service studio offering styling, branding, creative direction, and more. We sat down with Schwan to find out more about how she works on the daily, her now-iconic salmon fringe dress (yup, it's not quite full-on orange), what budding stylists need to know about borrowing from designers, and much more — read on below.
How long have you been planning her royal wedding look? What was the process like, and how did it differ from other styling projects?
Every styling and costuming project is unique, truly. I create and curate looks for everything from red carpets, editorials, commercials, music videos & tours, to album packaging(etc). Each project varies based on the looks, styles required, if custom work is involved, if current designer labels are required etc. For this particular project, it was my instinct to partner with a large American designer house — which is where I started: By sending emails and outreach "requests" to the showrooms, PR agents, and representatives for the designers.
Generally in high profile situations like this, I would collaborate with a designer brand to either create a look for this, or I would make a selection from their existing product. Since we were not receiving the response we had hoped, and we didn't have the time or budget to have me custom design and create a bespoke piece, we both agreed that finding something vintage was our next move.
I know my skills, and I can re-work anything to create magic. I just need a classic silhouette, and decent quality! Once we received an offer to pull from Western Costume (which they do not do — they do not loan, they are a costume house, so this was a rare opportunity), I jumped right in there. I literally searched through decades of product and literally millions of dresses and narrowed down my selects to one single rack.
Janina met me later in the day, at Western, and we had a fitting. The infamous "orange dress" (which is really more of a salmon color) was ironically the very first dress I found and pulled that day, and the first dress we tried on, no joke! We also loved a 1940s-style Dior suit, but nothing compared to the color and drama of the fringe of that dress. The issue was the dress was floor length, and our requirements were strict that the dress had to be knee-length. Also, the dress was a flat bias cut in style, and had a small hole in the front. We went directly to my tailor, and got to working.
We re-worked the skirt of the dress to add the draping and gathering, which automatically adjusted the length. We also had to some minor repairs on the dress. We also pulled the vintage black disc hat from Western Costume, which we took to one of my fav milliners in LA, The Millinery Guild, who helped us reshape and restore the hat to its glory.
Normally I would request the final shoes and accessories, but by this time we were exhausted by requesting, and time was super limited, so we rented the YSL clutch, as well as the Sigerson Morrison pumps, from the popular fashion library, The Ruby. We were graciously loaned the incredible jewels from Coomi jewels, represented by Wetherly Group.
How did you feel after seeing endless regrams and coverage of the reworked vintage dress that you created for her? You must have felt pretty empowered.
I feel really proud — of course it feels really great to be acknowledged (by the world), but I'm more overwhelmed by the countless women around the globe who could relate to this moment on so many levels (and their incredible messages and testaments to me). Having a platform to share a message, even if for just a quick moment, has meant the most to me. Truthfully, I wish the attention was not so much on the designers denying or ignoring us, because that's ultimately not our message or reason for speaking up; this story is more about perseverance when you are denied, getting creative, and thinking outside the box.
What else do you think we can learn from Janina's big moment?
I think the other huge takeaway from all of this is the message behind sustainable fashion, and to inspire women to look beyond the trends and the unattainable designer labels. We literally proved to the world that you do not have to wear designer brands to be the Belle of the Ball. I loved that I could share that we chose a vintage dress, which I reworked. I hope every young girl (and grown women, too) across the world knows she can go to her neighborhood thrift store and find something timeless, that flatters her unique beautiful body, and be "best dressed" in her own life!
We all know Janina's powerful "strut" was a huge part of this moment. So in the end, it's really as simple as finding something that's timeless, flatters your body, makes you feel special, beautiful, and even sexy. And then chin up, head high: Own all of that!
What were some of the other options that you found at Western Costume Co., and how did you know that the orange dress was "the one"?
I have accessed Western Costume for many years, as a stylist and costume designer, but I have never had access to their private designer archives. It was the single most epic library of clothing you could ever imagine! Please note that when I pass, I want my ashes sprinkled throughout the designer archives at Western Costume, haha.
But seriously, Western is a highly organized massive costume house; it's THE costume house major movies and television shows access for product. It's literally a library of clothing filled with every type of product you can imagine, from every era, every style, and so on. A true costume house is less about "fashion" and so much more about costuming, and curating a story, through clothing and style. Can you only imagine if those clothes could talk?
When it comes to borrowing looks, what can stylists and designers take away from your experience?
I hope stylists (as well as women in general) know that styling is so much less about designer brands, and current trends (or runway head-to-toe looks) and so much more about empowering the client: Finding something that is unique, and styled and tailored to them. Give the client (or yourself) the tools to feel confident, and own it. You are familiar with my good ol' hashtag #InPursuitOfSexy — I am always saying sexy is so much less about what you are wearing and has everything to do with how you feel.
We are SO curious but also know you don't want to talk trash — can you give us any clues on who missed out on dressing Janina?
Haha yes, I am a lady and mindful of name dropping! What I can say is we had hoped to partner with an American brand. But at the end of the day, there is nothing as American as this Pretty Woman moment!