There has been an unexpected element of fashion fun in Sarah Polley’s awards season wardrobe. Dress-up has never been the Canadian director/actress/activist/writer/producer’s thing — she has had a complicated relationship with fame and its accoutrements since her days as a childhood actress — but in this Cinderella moment she seems to be enjoying the spotlight. The big outfit reveal is yet to come on Sunday night: Polley is nominated for two Academy Awards, for her adapted screenplay from Miriam Toewes novel “Women’s Talking.” Polley directed and produced the feature, which is nominated for Best Picture.
A creative collaborator by nature, Polley has spent much of the week on Instagram sharing the spotlight with her longtime behind-the-scenes colleagues, but you can find the occasional pre-awards glam shots mixed in. About this she wrote in a caption: “And yes I am posting obnoxious fancy photos of myself in a manner that is downright unseemly, cause I have exactly 7 days left of this bizzarro life before I return to sweatpants and school drop offs.”
Polley, who lives with her family in Toronto, has been back and forth to Los Angeles a lot this year. She seems surprised to be having so much fun with the mad rush of awards season fetes and functions. As she told the Star in an interview for the Canadian Consulate in LA reception earlier this week: “I don’t think I realized how much joy I was going to get out of the experience because, ultimately, art is not a competitive sport, but I’ve been surprised how meaningful many of the moments have been.”
Polley has been working with Canadian-in-LA stylist Karla Welch, who has a dazzling rota of clients, including Sarah Paulson, Tracee Ellis Ross and fellow Canadians Feist and Justin Bieber. She has also been travelling with Toronto hairdresser Kristjan Hayden to keep up with all the photo calls.
There have been a few high-glam looks: a tuxedo-caped sparkling Valentino gown for the Golden Globes this past January and a stunning Greta Constantine black dress with cut-out at the arm for the SAG Awards.
That was a big moment for Kirk Pickersgill, the designer of Greta Constantine.
“It was such a thrill,” says Pickersgill. “The experience brought us back to dressing her for the world premiere of ‘Take This Waltz’ in 2011 at TIFF. This particular silhouette was all about the power in subtlety — the exposed shoulder, the asymmetrical seamed detailing in the skirt, the contrast between matte and sheen. From afar, any one of these detail may be easy to miss, but upon closer inspection, there’s an undeniable elegance.”
We’ve also seen some creative takes, such as Polley in a black turtleneck under a belted maxi skirt at the Costume Designers Guild Awards; a black gown with pockets — every woman’s true dress-up dream — at the Scripter Awards, which she attended with Toews, and a long grey skirt with a button down and tie (the ultimate smart-woman chic with a hint of Avonlea nostalgia layered in) to the Independent Spirit Awards. Polley remains firmly committed to flat shoes, and in many cases this season, chunky combat-style boots.
There are many ways to dress up for awards shows, from the sexy to the outlandish, from avant-garde to Old Hollywood. A red carpet, after all, is a place to draw attention to the project a creative is promoting. It can also be used by some to gain exposure, or spark a viral moment. Actresses dress up as part of the contract. Serious actresses can care deeply about fashion — see Tilda Swinton. Male actors, serious or not, are finally starting to have fun with fashion, too.
One thing Polley has been adamant about in the past is not being an advertisement for a fashion brand. She famously objected loudly to Vanity Fair crediting an advertiser, Tommy Hilfiger, with the vintage jacket she wore in a photo for the magazine. (This was back in 1999: magazines used to credit advertisers routinely for things they did not provide, as a sort of a bonus thank you.) Polley told the New York Times, “I’ll sell the movie, but I won’t help sell Versace or Calvin Klein or smear makeup on my face.”
This occurred during Polley’s transition from child star on “Road to Avonlea” to grown-up actor. By 2007, Polley was back at Cannes on the red carpet as a jury member. This was around the time she had just finished her first directorial feature, “Away From Her.” She told The Star’s Peter Howell how she was beginning to adapt to red carpet life, bringing along work by Canadian designers as she still does today. “It’s not me to be on a red carpet and posing, but I’ve found a way to have fun with it,” she said over lunch on the Riviera. She also brought up re-wearing fashion, a current trend for everyone from Princess Kate to Cate Blanchett, well ahead of its time. “It’s an odd thing, because I feel here if you wear the same thing twice you are making a statement …. But at the same time am I going to buy 14 ball gowns? I don’t think so.”
The Oscars is the big finale for a long awards season. There will be much fashion and spectacle to ogle on the red carpet, trends to be set and best and worst prizes to be awarded. But Polley’s long body of film work, plus her excellent 2022 memoir (”Running Towards the Danger: Confrontations with a Body of Memory”) and 2012 documentary (“Stories We Tell”), has been an exploration of perspectives, of memory and the world around us.
In a way, Sarah Polley has already won the fashion stakes this season: she always looks like herself, even when she is a bit more polished up like these past few weeks, which should be the goal of successful outfit choices. That, and to have some fun with fashion.
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