Indian style has captured the imagination of the West: Hollywood fashion guru

Michael O’Connor talks about the growing demand for Indian fashion in the West.

By Isha Roy

REHOBOTH BEACH (Delaware): Hollywood style guru Michael O’Connor, who has worked with the likes of Eva Longoria, Steve Carrel and Debra Messing, is considered one of the leading experts on fashion, jewelry and celebrity trends. He has more than 25 years of experience reporting on red carpet fashion, styling celebrities for the Oscars, Golden Globes and Emmys, and collaborating with major fashion editors and producers. In a wide-ranging interview just days before the Academy Awards, O’Connor speaks about how the red carpet look is influenced by the fashion portrayed in Hollywood films and the growing interest and demand for Indian fashion and jewelry in the West.

You have been a part of the fashion world for over 25 years. Tell us how you got involved with the glitzy world of Hollywood style, fashion, and jewelry?

I actually started as a jewelry designer and then over the years, the company I worked with wanted to present their products on television. This led to half my job being jewelry design, while the other half involved me being a spokesperson. The company then had a brilliant idea about going to Hollywood and presenting the products to celebrities, who were getting ready for award shows. The company also wanted to be the forerunners in letting celebrities borrow jewelry for these shows. Over the years, celebrities started coming back to me to borrow jewelry and also asking for my thoughts on their style. Next thing you know, a lot of television shows became interested in putting together shows about how celebrities get ready for the awards shows and wanted me to be part of them. This eventually led to what I do today, which is a mix of television commentary, critiquing, styling and everything else in between.

You have been styling celebrities for years for the Golden Globes, Oscars, Emmys and other major events. Can you walk us through the process that’s involved in putting together the complete red carpet look and what is your role in this process?

I sometimes help celebrities with their entire look and, at other times, for just a specific thing that they are looking for. For example, if I was going to style a celebrity from head to toe, I would first get to know them and understand what they are looking for in a look and how that compares to the latest trends. We would then get down to the “nitty gritty” and discuss stuff that celebrities don’t want anyone to know such as their waist size and other measurements. We would then talk about the character traits that they want to bring out with their look. As a stylist you have to pay attention to all these details because your goal is to enhance the things the celebrity wants to be seen and camouflage those things they don’t want to be seen. Next we focus on color and cut of the gown; then actually go shopping where we work with couture designers or sometimes off the rack. Once complete, we move on to hair and makeup. Finally we focus on the accessories, such as jewelry, handbag and shoes, which ultimately complete the look.

Who are some of the celebrities you have worked with in the past and this award season?

I’ve worked with the cast from Desperate Housewives and The Office, including Eva Longoria and Steve Carrel. I’ve also worked with Amy Adams, Debra Messing and James Woods. From a Bollywood perspective, I’ve worked with Malaika Arora during last year’s Academy Award.

You are considered one of the industry’s leading resources on the latest fashion trends both on and off the red carpet. What are some of the major trends that you are noticing this award season that really stand out and you think will last a while?

We’re seeing a tremendous amount of really rich, vibrant colors. It’s not to say that people are going to forsake colors like black or grey and, specifically, ivory, which have been really big on the runways. With that said, we are seeing a lot more of rich vibrant reds such as in Jason Wu’s collection and also rich vibrant blues and plums. We’re also seeing a lot of ornamentation come back into clothing. Bigger jewelry like larger earrings are also coming back to compete with the ornamentation on clothing.

You have been reporting on red carpet fashion for years. In general, do you typically see a correlation between the fashion portrayed in the nominated films and what’s represented on the red carpet?

The movies that are out there have a tremendous impact on what’s happening in fashion. We have been seeing a lot of 50s-inspired looks because of shows like Mad Men that are really glamorizing the 50s. Leonardo DiCaprio is working on The Great Gatsby, which is a movie on the 20s. We are starting to see men wear tuxedos in a way they haven’t really worn them before. Cuts are getting fuller, shoulders are getting stronger, the double-breasted tuxedo is back, the pocket square is very chic for men, and the fedora is making a comeback. For women, we are seeing a lot of headpieces. Charlize Theron was wearing a beautiful Cartier diamond headpiece at the Golden Globes that was a very 20s-inspired look. On the runways, we are seeing a lot of dropped waists which is also very 20s-inspired. So films really do have a lot of influence on fashion.

The red carpet look is obviously not a very budget-friendly look. What advice would you give to people who also want a super glamorous Angelina Jolie-type look but that’s also wallet friendly?

Fortunately, these days what you see on the red carpet ends up in the department stores in a few weeks. People have the opportunity to find dresses of similar caliber for whatever budget they are going for. There are many easy ways to get the high-end look at a very affordable price. I personally believe in the high/low concept, and I think this is very easy to do. Even when you are wearing jeans for example, you can look like a million dollars just by mixing the right accessories with it. A jeans and T-shirt look can really be dressed up by a fabulous pair of sunglasses, an amazing bracelet, and a fabulous pair of shoes, or belt. With those few elements, you can really take a jeans and T-shirt look and make it look very chic. The same rules apply with the red carpet look. There are lots of elements that you see on the red carpet that can be incorporated into your look. For example, if you need a little help in the mid-section, draw attention to your shoulder. You don’t really need to spend a million dollars to look like a million dollars. Just pay attention to what looks good for your body type and pair with the right accessories.

Traditional Indian jewelry, as you know, focuses mainly on intricate gold work. You have collaborated with jewelry designer Farah Khan from India. Tell us about that experience, and is there a demand for Indian jewelry and fashion in Hollywood? Also, these days you find more and more Indian-inspired clothing, shoes, and accessories. What are your thoughts on the Indian style and how it’s influencing the U.S. world of fashion?

I love working with Indian jewelers like Farah Khan. Her designs are beautiful, thoughtful, and people really gravitate toward them. Celebrities that I work really love her pieces. Indian style overall has really captured the imagination of the West, specifically Hollywood because there are so many things that are happening in fashion that are influenced by India. For example, we are seeing a plethora of paisley styles, which originated from Indian design. We are seeing more ornamented jewelry, such as items with beads on it and various color stones that people never really had in the U.S. So I think that there is a lot Indian fashion and Indian jewelry design that are really creating a big impact on the West. I have a lot of celebrities coming in and asking for those pieces. So if there are any jewelers in India wondering which market to break into, they should really consider the U.S.

In addition to styling celebrities, you have also collaborated with various editors, producers in preparing photo spreads and storylines. What has been the most memorable collaboration of your career so far?

A lot of times when I work on television especially on shows like the [NBC] Today show, I end up collaborating with the producers to find looks that are affordable to the average viewer. The average viewer doesn’t really get the opportunity to buy or borrow that kind of look. My goal is to ensure that the average viewer can relate to all that fashion and glamour without necessarily breaking the bank. (Global India Newswire)

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