By Megan Dooley
By the time the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces its big winners Sunday night, Miriam Cecilia Carlson will already know if she's an Oscar winner. But her award will have nothing to do with film.
Carlson is a local clothing designer, 2009 graduate of Dominican University, and participant in the Oscars Designer Challenge 2011. For the Challenge, nine up-and-coming designers from Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles vie for a chance to outfit a trophy presenter in a gown of their design at the annual awards show.
"It's been six days of voting," said Carlson in an interview Monday, as she waited on pins and needles to hear the final results. The winner was scheduled to be informed yesterday, though the public won't be privy to the information until the red carpet event on Sunday.
"I was asked to create a design that would be an Oscar-worthy gown," said Carlson of her initial nomination for the contest. She quickly sprang to action, creating three sketches within two weeks. Shortly thereafter, she found out she'd been chosen as one of the nine finalists.
It was only the beginning of the whirlwind experience. Some two weeks after being selected, Carlson had to have her gown completely ready. "It was pretty busy, along with everything else I had to get done," she said. The "everything else" included finishing her spring 2011 clothing line. "There was never a breather," she said.
Her Oscar-worthy garment is a blush-colored flowing chiffon gown with a plunging neckline and mica embellishments. The mineral, Carlson explained, was self-extracted from a mine in Minnesota, and has become a sort of signature adornment for her designs.
Last week, Carlson was flown to Los Angeles to introduce the gown in a runway show at the Academy headquarters in Beverly Hills. While there, she had the opportunity to be filmed with Jay Manuel, of America's Next Top Model fame.
"It was surreal walking into the studios in L.A.," said Carlson. "Before and after the fashion show, we had interviews with the international press. ... Just the ability to have that exposure and just to be at that level and among great designers ... it was great."
Her first brush with fame for her runway artwork is not likely to be her last. Since graduating from Dominican with a major in apparel design and a double minor in apparel merchandising and communication, Carlson has been plugging away at a career in fashion design and is showing the talent and foresight to tackle a tempestuous industry.
She was one of six young designers chosen last year to participate in the exclusive Chicago Fashion Incubator Program, a non-profit organization-run clinic designed to help push newcomers to the next level of the fashion universe.
Her tenure there is up. "I'm actually getting kicked out next week," she joked about her graduation from the Incubator. As scary as this moment sounded when she entered the program a year ago, she said she's ready to forge ahead.
"I'm ready to go. I'm ready to be on my own," Carlson said. "As scary as that is, I'm ready."
In fact, she's already making her way around the city. Her spring line will be sold out of Cerato Boutique in Wrigleyville, and other work will be featured in a pop-up shop, a trunk show and fashion show at the 900 Shops on N. Michigan Ave. And this week, if all goes as planned, she'll close on a storefront space in Lincoln Park for a showroom and studio. It will help Carlson continue designing her custom, handcrafted pieces, and contribute to her larger goal of establishing a presence for herself in Chicago.
But for now, she'll settle for establishing a name for herself in Hollywood. Even if she doesn't win, she's thrilled to have had the opportunity to get her foot in the door.
"The way I see it, it's been a wonderful experience," Carlson said.
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