Show Navigation

From Runway to Red Carpet: Conversation with Lorena Sarbu


Life & Style

The red carpet is not exactly a place for the faint of heart, nor those who prefer the shadows to the spotlight. But it’s just the sort of platform where some people thrive—like fashion designer Lorena Sarbu. Since 2009, Sarbu’s gowns and dresses have graced the red carpet and have been donned by Emma Stone, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Walsh, Blake Lively, Nicole Ritchie, Taylor Swift, Minnie Driver, Carrie Underwood, Allison Janney and Andie McDowell. The Romanian-born designer is known for embellished looks that dazzle during awards season. Forget unimaginative black frocks. No—when you wear a Sarbu dress, you are making a statement in texture, in fabric, in color, in silhouette.

As we march toward the pinnacle of all film awards events—the 87th Academy Awards ceremony—we asked Sarbu about everything from making her gowns stand out at the podium to how she translates her design aesthetic at home.


Previews Inside Out Your dresses have been worn by everyone from Hayden Panettiere to Carrie Underwood on the red carpet. Why do you think these young women have been drawn to your dresses? 

Lorena Sarbu Carrie and Hayden are both very feminine, yet still modern. Their message is very strong on the red carpet. They’re drawn to femininity and, often, color.

Previews Inside Out Do you have a muse? 

Lorena Sarbu I design for myself. I design for a woman who has confidence—a woman who wants to stand out at a party. She is elegant, tasteful, timeless.

Previews Inside Out What has been your most memorable red carpet moment to date and why?

Lorena Sarbu The very first one. I wasn’t established at the time when I worked with Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo—who won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress for “House of Saddam” in 2009. It was an ethereal dress in blue Italian silk chiffon. I didn’t think anyone was going to take notice—but they did.

Previews Inside Out If you could give only one piece of red carpet advice, what would it be?

Lorena Sarbu I would give this advice to friends or a stylist: dress for your body type. A lot of times, people want to be too trendy, and they forget what fits their body type.


Previews Inside Out What are your basic design principles? 

Lorena Sarbu It’s important to match the right dress to the right person. If a gown is overly designed, it can take away from the person. I don’t want people to see the dress first. I want them to see the person first.


Previews Inside Out What trends can we expect to see on the red carpets during this year’s award season?

Lorena Sarbu Trends are cyclical and they repeat…but I think we’ll see more modern looks: very clean silhouettes and patterns with beautiful silvers and golds and pops of color. Maybe even some deeper burgundies and perhaps some blushes as we move into spring. We’ll see what happens.

Previews Inside Out What would you say is the common thread among your red carpet gowns?

Lorena Sarbu The modern, feminine, young look. I want eveningwear to look young. If it’s done tastefully, you need the right amount of glamour. From the beginning, I was drawn to glamour, so a lot of my gowns have embroidery and sew-ins, so they really pop. Even my home has a lot of sparkle in the right places, so it’s tasteful. It’s my style.

Previews Inside Out Speaking of your home—how has your design aesthetic impacted how you live?

Lorena Sarbu My home is a Tudor home in Beverly Hills. I worked closely with interior designer David Dalton to create a classic look, but with unexpected colors and sparkle inside. Each room has a different theme based on color. For instance, my living room has a lot of blues and turquoises, while the floor is dark-stained and the ceilings are white. It’s a crisp environment, with a sparkly Swarovski chandelier. We pulled crystal embellishments into the adjoining dining room, so both rooms connect visually. It’s inviting and lively—a happy place. It’s where I do all of my entertaining. It’s very “me.”


Previews Inside Out Were any rooms in your home inspired by one of your collections?

Lorena Sarbu The living room was inspired by the colors in my resort collection—the turquoises and lavenders. The media room—which is red with a dark ceiling and has gold, oversized Asian-inspired knobs—was a nod to my first collection. 

Previews Inside Out Where do you seek inspiration?

Lorena Sarbu For me, it’s everywhere. I am frequently inspired by my travels. For example, I took a trip to Turks and Caicos recently, and I was so moved by all of the beautiful blues of the sea. All of those breezy colors came out in my resort collection. I’m even inspired by old movies! I love the Grace Kelly period and those classic silhouettes. It’s an internal process, but inspiration happens all the time, as I am living. Creativity never sleeps.


Previews Inside Out What do you love most about creating custom and couture gowns?

Lorena Sarbu That’s my favorite thing to do—to create a custom piece. I love the collaborative process. Sometimes I work with a stylist; sometimes I work directly with the client.

Previews Inside Out Can you walk us through the custom design process?

Lorena Sarbu First, I need to understand the event, where she is going, and, most importantly, who she is. If I’m working with a stylist, she could be very specific with her requests—i.e., she wants to use a certain color palette, a certain fabric, or a certain silhouette. Then, I create a number of designs based on the client’s personality. We select a few designs out of that batch and narrow it down from there. Once the client has selected the design she loves, we start with fabricators in New York and India. Our turnaround time is about four to six weeks.

Previews Inside Out You recently designed a number of custom dresses for Carrie Underwood at the Country Music Awards. How was that?

Lorena Sarbu Carrie knows what she likes. She also tends to be less trendy, gravitating toward elegant and timeless silhouettes and colors. So, for her red carpet look, we created a design with dégradé sequined embroidery and champagne-pink tones, which work well for her skin tone. For her stage performance ensemble, we created a beautiful blue chiffon dress in deep navy. She is also pregnant, so it was a fine line between creating something soft and beautiful to enhance her figure and making sure she had coverage. I try to think outside the box and look for ways to enhance the person.

Previews Inside Out What is the one thing that most people would be surprised to learn about awards season when it comes to fashion design?

Lorena Sarbu People are often mesmerized by the outcome, but fashion design is a business first. Yes, it’s creative. And yes, sometimes our deadlines are tight. But if you’re organized with your time and you have the right people in place, it’s not that hectic. It’s just like any other job. I have a pattern maker, an assistant and a creative director, and I will hire extras during the season. I will always find a way to make it happen.





You Just Read:

From Runway to Red Carpet: Conversation with Lorena Sarbu

More Life & Style Stories