Red Carpet Copycat: Natalie Portman in Dior Couture

This is the first in what will be an occasional series, which I’m calling “Red Carpet Copycat”. It’s intended to replicate the style of the red carpet on a small budget using recycled materials.

First in the series is this incredible dress worn by Natalie Portman at the Oscars 2012. It is such a stunning retro look; the dress is actually 1954 Dior Couture.

Clearly, I’m going to have to pull something pretty special out of the bag… Luckily for me, then, that I found this extremely fabulous Liz Claiborne dress on a recent trip to San Francisco. It came from my favourite SF thrift store (Thrift Town in the Mission District) and cost $9.99. The scarlet colour and black polka dots make it a dead ringer for the Dior.

It has buttons all the way down the back!

Yes, it is 100% polyester. Yes, it has a stain on the back. Yes, the inside of the Dior probably looks something like this. But I’m going to have a bash at it anyway.

First thing I did was look for a pattern for the strapless bodice. I couldn’t find anything suitable in my back catalogue of Burdas, so in the end I decided to adapt my ‘Grace Kelly‘ pattern, which fits nicely and has the required seam line under the bust.

All I did was to place the upper pieces together and draw around them, adding a new neckline, and reducing the length of the dart slightly. For the lower bodice, I cut the front part in half vertically. I wanted there to be a seam there so I can add boning to it (since this is usually sewn to the seam allowance). See red lines on diagram below. The back was the same as Grace Kelly. I had to draw a front  and back facing too which took a couple of goes to get right.

I got out the scissors and chopped the skirt from the original bodice – just above the seam line so the gathers were retained (I know, I’m cheating!). I also cut the sleeves off. Next I cut all the new bodice pieces and the facing from black calico, and the lower front pieces and the back piece from the bodice of the original dress. All the fashion fabric pieces were basted to their calico counterparts.

Next I began to assemble the lower bodice. I cut some strips of sew-in boning and added them to the side seams and the seams at the front.

For the upper bodice, I cut one out of black calic0 and added four pieces of boning in strategic places.

Here’s a better view of the shape of this section:

For the upper bodice fashion fabric, I used the fabric of the sleeves, sewn together in the middle.

I sewed basting (long) stitches along the top and bottom and pulled the threads tight to gather the material, then pinned it on to the black calico. I had to arrange the pleats so that they looked pleasing (and hid the seam down the centre front).

Next thing to do was remove from the dummy and sew both pieces together, trimming any excess…

…then attach to the lower bodice like this! It’s starting to take shape in this picture.

After that I made and attached a front and back facing from black calico, attached and pressed it. The finish looks so much better with the facing done! Since I preserved the gathers when I cut off the original skirt, all I had to do was sew it on.

I then cut off the buttons and the button stand from the skirt, made a back seam, and sewed in a black zip down the back. Here’s how the completed dress looks on the stand. Not bad!

And here’s how it looks on!

I wore this to the closest thing East London has to the Oscars. The Limelight Film Awards is an awards programme for short films made by emerging British film makers, and they have a big annual awards ceremony, which I was lucky enough to be able to attend this year with some friends.

They have a red carpet and a photo-board thing with paparazzi-style photographers. Unfortunately it rained on the red carpet but here we are in front of the photo board looking like proper movie stars!



  1. Marie

    I’ve said it before, but you are a genius! A fearless genius! I just love your can-do attitude and the fact that you see such potential in thrifted items is incredible…I just don’t have that level of creativity!

  2. Melissa

    You are so very talented. Wow, I don’t know what I envy more your sewing gift or your vision. Either way you do fabulous work!

  3. colorriot

    it looks gorgeous! did you start sewing since your youth or was it something you picked up along the way? I tried a sewing class once but nearly fell asleep…

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