Renowned American fashion designer Carmen Marc Valvo is the top-selling evening-wear designer at Neiman Marcus. His lines include everything from eyewear to lingerie, Victoria’s Secret swimwear and home décor. His dresses have been worn by starlets such as Beyonce Knowles, Kate Winslet, Lucy Liu and Catherine Zeta-Jones on the red carpet.
And the fashion concierge couldn’t help but to be disappointed about the lack of attention to detail on the red carpet at this year’s Oscars. The hair was sloppy, he told us, and they didn’t put as much thought into their jewelry as they could have. He noted Scarlett Johansson, Nicole Kidman and Helena Bonham Carter as just a few who missed the ball. If you’re going to dress fabulous you can’t miss those details, he says.
Some of Valvo’s favorite looks included those of Gwyneth Paltrow, Hailee Steinfeld and Helen Mirren. Valvo noticed a lot of shimmer and shine and blushes and whites on the carpet this year. Is this a sign of what’s to come this spring? Valvo is thinking not quite. “For spring, it’s about color,” he says. “It’s about coral. It’s about blue because blue is the new black in my opinion.”
Why blue? As a survivor of colon cancer Valvo is taking a stand against the disease and a blue star is the symbol of his efforts. He will be teaming up with the makers of Dulcolax and the Colon Cancer Alliance to fight the fears of the colonoscopy that saved his life. “There’s a lot of blue in my new collection this season to celebrate colon cancer awareness this month and the importance of early screening,” he says. Keep an eye out for Valvo as he spends next two months traveling to promote his book and and his mission to make colonoscopies fashionable. Read below for our interview with Valvo about his journey from cancer survivor to colonoscopy crusader, and his tips on making fashion work for you.
Photo by Melanie Dunea
What inspired you to write and put together your book Dressed to Perfection: The Art of Dressing for Your Red Carpet Moments?
[Laughs] It was just a dream and an idea that it’d be nice to have a catalog of your work, not retrospective but just a beautiful art book. But we had to find the right publishing partner, which was Rizzoli, and timing is everything is life and it wasn’t the right time. I was like if I ever do this book, I really want it to be more then a book about me. I wanted it to have a deeper meaning and the deeper meaning here was that the proceeds are going to colon cancer research. When they realized the proceeds were going to colon cancer research, they moved the launch date up from Christmas 2011 launch to a launch that would coincide with an advent of Colon Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a great vehicle to get that message across. The partners of Dulcolax donate a percentage proceeds to colon cancer screenings to those in need as well as those who don’t. There’s a great energy and synergy that’s happening for the first time that I’m aware of that you have all of these players coming together in such an incredible way to really join forces because we all have the same message.
What do you hope the reader will get out of it?
I think the book is beautiful, and there’s a lot of helpful hints of how to get ready for your red carpet moment. I’ve dressed a lot of Hollywood celebrities in my career as well as normal woman, you know the every day woman, going to the wedding, her Bat Mitzvah, the celebration of her life that she may have. We all have our red carpet moments so that’s the whole point of the book. It’s to empower women to feel beautiful and glorious as if they were a Hollywood starlet for their red carpet moment. It’s not a night at the Oscars, but those events are important to her. It has beautiful imagery and artistry and it has great helpful hints and it’s kind of educational and historical at the same time. The proceeds go to colon cancer and that in itself is an important factor because everybody’s been touched by cancer. If you buy the book the proceeds go to colon cancer, yes, but the genome between colon cancer and all the cancers are so highly related that research dollars that go to colon cancer may end up finding the cure to breast cancer. Research dollars going to ovarian cancer may find the cure for pancreatic cancer. So any money that’s donated by anybody in any way shape or form to any cancer research helps everyone affected by cancer and I think that’s a really important message.
Why did you decide to partner up with Dulcolax and the Colon Cancer Alliance? When did this all take place?
There had been conversations to partner up with CCA and Dulcolax for a couple months and it was all in preparation of [National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month] to continue into Colon Cancer Screening Month which is April. The reason I partnered with them is I feel it is really important to partner with the people who have the same dream and image and vision as I do, which is to promote the importance of early screen for colonoscopies and early detection of colon cancer. I’m a colon cancer survivor, so I love to team up with people who share the same message because the more you partner with people the bigger the voice becomes and more important the message. Ultimately, it falls on more ears.
You insisted on getting a screening for colon cancer two years earlier than the recommended age of 50. Do you think people should get screened before then?
The doctors believed that 50 is a prescribed age and that is normally a safe age for a normal colonoscopy. In my particular instance there was two cases of colon cancer in the family — one on my mother’s side and one on my father’s side — so with that my chances of having colon cancer is stronger and higher risk. If I had known that I probably would have had my first one at the age of 40 or 35. The most important thing here is the fact that you need to know your family history. People don’t usually talk about these things. It wasn’t something that was talked about in my family so you really need to figure out if there’s family history number one because that would move up your screening day. Again, it’s a simple fact. The second cause of cancer-related deaths in the country is colon cancer, but 90 percent is curable if detected early. So those statistics are really staggering and don’t make any sense.
What was it like to find out there really was something wrong and that it was cancer? Did you have a support system?
That was very bizarre. That was strange. I was preparing for my collection and when preparing for the collection you’re under a lot of stress but I’m usually okay. This time something seemed to be a little bit off. I wasn’t too sure what it was, so I went to a doctor after the show and did a battery of tests. Nothing was found and my doctor said lets have a colonoscopy, so I was like, ‘Why not?’ Thank God I did. They discovered a cancerous growth the size of a lemon, and then they had it surgically removed about two weeks later. I’m really fortunate that I’m alive today because I caught it in time. That’s really the message. If you have the screening, you can catch this.
Of course when you’re diagnosed with colon cancer or any type of cancer for that matter you go through and emotional roller coaster of ups and downs fear, panic, anger. I mean there’s so many emotions that run through you and I guess that’s normal. I was really quiet with my journey with cancer until maybe about a year after that somehow I thought I really needed to do something. Maybe it was to help me in the healing process. So I ended up teaming up with Katie Couric and Olympus and I basically came out of the cancer closet during fashion week eight years ago. I’ve been a crusader and an advocate for early detection and colon cancer health ever since and it’s been a great platform for me. Something I truly believe in.
You think about breast cancer 20 years ago people didn’t talk about breast cancer and now we have an iconic pink ribbon. Katie made incredible bounds, I think, nine years ago and they even said it caused a big spike in the rate of colonoscopies. We call it the Couric factor, because she’s done so much. I think we have another 10 years to go and if my partners at CCA and Dulcolax and the incredible people I partner with are able to make the message more prevalent hopefully in ten years we’ll have the iconic blue star. Blue is the color of colon cancer and we have the star, which is our logo, but most people don’t even know that. I’m hoping we can make it as iconic as the pink ribbon.
Your book, the runway and often times the red carpet feature so many, to put it simply, skinny women. How can the average woman adapt these styles for herself?
In the book there are helpful hints for finding the perfect dress for you. In the book we have pictures of Queen Latifah who is hardly a skinny woman. [Laughs] It has Marcia Gay Harden and [H.R.H Princess Madeleine of Sweden], so not the whole book is dedicated to the twiguettes of the fashion runway. There are photographs purposefully picked that show a variety of body shots.
The ones that are used in editorial or on the runway, they have the 6-foot-tall, size 2 or 4 model, and most women are not 6-2 or a size 2 or 4. I want the 6-foot girls on the runway to look like they’re ten feet tall because, if they look like they’re 10 feet tall when it translates to a normal American woman, she’s going to look like she’s 6 feet tall. It’s the same artistry and the same tricks that you use in real life and the book really points a lot of those helpful hints out to the reader.
You’ve dressed so many superstars, but who has really caught your eye or even your heart?
One of the people I’ve dressed and have a great admiration for is Taylor Swift. She’s so into [my] book that she’s posted it on her web site and she’s trying to promote it that way because it’s such a great cause. I’ve had the pleasure of dressing so many important beautiful women, not only celebrities, but every average woman, and they’re incredible. I love Vanessa Williams. She’s a dear friend, and she contributed to the book and all of the celebrities who graced their faces on the page of the book I’m very indebted to.
What is your No. 1 tip for picking out the perfect dress?
There are two or three silhouettes that are always good. One shoulder is extremely flattering. Anything that takes the eye up to the face is usually a home run. Double Vs are flattering on most bodies as well as halters and empire silhouettes. All of these silhouettes elongate the body, minimize the horizontal and they accentuate the vertical.
What is your favorite color?
My favorite color is definitely black but I think color is gorgeous. Red is gorgeous. Purple is gorgeous. Anything that makes you feel good is the color you should be wearing.
Right. It has to feel good. You have to feel good.