Behind the Scenes of Maria Bakalova’s Princess Oscars Gown

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Leigh Nordstrom
·4 min read
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When 24-year-old Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova was completing her breakout film, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” she couldn’t help but daydream about what she wanted to wear to its premiere.

“I had this vision in my mind that I want my dress, my premiere dress, and later, my festival dress, to look like this…but then none of that happened,” Bakalova says over the phone, the day before the 2021 Academy Awards. “And award season started, and with all of the great recognition that happened around the movie, I started digging even more there.”

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Together with her stylist Jessica Paster, Bakalova has gone for soft and romantic gowns throughout award season, leading up to a custom Louis Vuitton gown for the Oscars, at which she is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role.

“I just know that it’s going to feel like a fairy tale,” Bakalova says.

When Bakalova and Paster first met, they immediately agreed upon a narrative of romantic, soft dressing for the award circuit, a contrast to Bakalova’s Borat character, Tutar.

“It’s kind of a crazy character, she’s going through three completely different, but really hard places,” Bakalova says. “So with me, separating me from screen to Maria in real life, we wanted it to be something softer, something more feminine, something romantic, something that is going to be timeless.”

“Any dress that Maria wears she brings grace and elegance to and I love that,” Paster says. “Even though she is new to all of this, she is very highly intelligent. When we first talked about all of this, her character was so full on and so intense that she and I both said at the same time that we wanted to go soft and romantic. She is a 180 to this character. We just wanted to keep it very pretty, very different from what her character was. We’ve continued that story. It started with the Armani and it’s going to end with the Louis Vuitton.”

“I’ve been a fan of Nicolas’ work for a while,” Bakalova says. “And I knew I wanted him to make my Oscars dress and he sewed all of these amazing tulle skirts. I wanted this dress to be timeless, but also have a bit of an edge. And I knew Louis Vuitton could give me that.”

Though they didn’t discuss an Oscars look until she had been nominated — they’re both superstitious — Paster started looking at the big European houses as soon as the nomination came in.

While some actors have opted for luxe pajamas, more creative ensembles or even sweats for the virtual awards, Bakalova has gone high glamour from home for each event, save for slightly higher heels than she might’ve done in person. She’s anticipating that her Louis Vuitton gown will be comfortable and easy for the demands of the real red carpet Sunday night.

“The skirt is created with layers and layers of the softest tulle in natural white and each layer was beaded. And the top is embroidered with little crystals and beads,” she explains. “I just want to walk on the carpet in that specific dress for my first award show with my first Oscars. We’ll see. I hope it’s going to be beautiful. And I hope that my vision will be understood.”

“It’s been cool, because you’re at home, and at the end, we’re all lucky to be healthy and just keep surviving the coronavirus and making movies and be safe,” Bakalova says about the virtual format. “Though it’s joyful, it’s not the same as an in-person event, but at least you’re on the Zoom calls with all of these talented people. And you’re able to wear flip-flops.”

Easily one of the fashion breakouts of the season, off-carpet Bakalova says she is still searching for her sense of style.

“I’m going through different phases of me liking things,” she says. “Definitely has been edgier and now, it’s because of Jessica Paster, I’ve been experimenting with things that are more feminine, more softer than me. So I’m not quite there yet.”

Her plans for after the big night involve maybe getting dinner and bringing it to a park to enjoy safely with friends, before she heads to New York soon to film Judd Apatow’s new movie “The Bubble.”

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