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Festival News
Dressing to dazzle the stars
The Globe's TRALEE PEARCE goes shopping with a pair of on-air beauties as they set out to beat the film fest celebs at their own game

By TRALEE PEARCE, The Globe and Mail
August 31, 2002

Liz West and Larysa Harapyn are both gorgeous, tanned and tall - perfect examples of Moses Znaimer's penchant for on-air pulchritude. But faced with the prospect of standing cheek-by-jowl with buffed and styled celebrities on the Toronto Film Festival red carpet next week at their company's Festival Schmooze, the bar seems higher. And the dresses the CITY-TV/Star! correspondents choose have to be more than perfect.

West and Harapyn's dresses will have to hold up for at least four hours without drooping, allow for a mike pack to be clipped on the back, and strike the perfect balance between informed observer and classy participant. With such clothes bunnies as Kate Hudson, Hilary Swank and Michelle Pfeiffer as potential guests, receiving a "Where'd you get your dress?" would be gravy.

This week, I tagged along on their respective shopping trips to see how they would meet the challenge. And I found that each woman took an entirely different approach to the task. Where Harapyn sees herself as a co-designer with her chosen couturier, Misura's Joeffer Caoc, West is optimistically off-the-rack.

"I enjoy the theatricality of dressing up for the job," West says as we make our way to Fashion Crimes on Queen Street West. "But I have to look good that night - and look good for the camera. Those are two different things."

The theme of the party this year is old Hollywood glamour, so the first dress West makes a beeline for is what she calls the "The Marilyn Dress." It's a bias-cut silk halter in a black and white print featuring Golden-era movie images.

As she emerges from behind a black and white striped curtain, the slinky dress plays off against her blond hair and deep tan in a Jennifer Aniston kind of way.

"I wear a halter bathing suit, thank god," she says, a fact that's confirmed by the lack of tan lines showing on the mirrored wall.

Fashion Crimes owner and designer Pam Chorley - consider her Canada's rail-thin Betsey Johnson - works a sheer shawl in 18 different ways to add flair to the dress. Then, she proposes an underskirt of black satin, with a tulle fishtail. When it is pulled on under the dress, the outfit is transformed into goddess territory.

"It's such a relief. I already know I could wear this dress," West says.

But shopping is all about choice, and West decides to prolong the thrill.

She leaves the underskirt in place and is laced into a top of the same fabric as the Marilyn dress. Well, it's really just a front, to be exact, with almost invisible string holding it there.

"This is a little dicey. It's a little naked for me," West says, pointing out that there would be no spot to clip her mike. And since the camera is likely to be peering over her shoulder, and CITY-TV has not yet entered the nude news business, this look is nixed.

Next is a clingy nude-toned number, paired with a Muppet-esque fake fur stole. Chorley seeks out a pair of killer pointy heels identical to the black pair West wore with the Marilyn.

"I'd need my nude strapless bra," is West's practical pronouncement. After prancing around for a few minutes, though, a transformation is underway. The look is tougher, a little elegantly wasted.

"I could see Courtney Love wearing this - she'd wear it with a black G-string! I just love this so much."

West had picked out others, including a long turquoise version of the Marilyn dress, but there's really no point. After a stop at the jewellery bar, she bubbles back out the door, promising to return with her proper underthings for a final fitting. She will be paying for the shoes and borrowing the rest.

Over at the Misura studio on Spadina, there isn't actually a dress for Harapyn to try on. Instead, Joeffer Caoc pulls and drapes and pins exquisite white double-face satin around the leggy babe.

"For me, going to a store to pick a dress means I'm only shooting for average," Harapyn says.

She looks at Caoc. They have already brainstormed.

"I want this dress to be glamorous, but not in a Veronica Lake way, in my way," she says.

This means more leg, more back - and forget the demure, eye-covering hair. Harapyn is all va-va-voom. She was born to be pampered this way. This will be a one-off dress, worth about $1,350 at retail, but she will be paying cost.

Harapyn's favourite jewellery designer, Tryna Kane - hot off a meeting with new client Sharon Stone - is matching miniature silver Grecian coins, pearls and other gems to the fabric. Caoc stands flush behind his muse, debating whether the imagined asymetrically hemmed, one-shouldered gown should have one sleeve or none. It is agreed that that the dress will ride short on the left leg and flow into a train on the right.

The delivery hour seems less secure. Last year, Harapyn's Misura gown arrived at 5 p.m. on the day of the party.

"I hadn't even tried the final dress on. Joeffer just called me and said, `Don't worry, I tried it on, it's fine.' "

This year, Caoc says the dress dictates that he can't pinch hit as a fit model. But again, he impishly asks for the exact hour the party starts.

Both Caoc and Harapyn know the rush is all part of the glamour.

As Vogue contributing editor Plum Sykes writes in the September issue, having Alexander McQueen make her a couture gown taught her that "a really glamorous dress fit for a really glamorous moment isn't ready until an hour before the party."

And, as it was with West, the deal is sealed over talk of underthings.

"Am I wearing underwear?" Harapyn asks.

Caoc doesn't flinch.

"No," he says.

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