Kelsea Ballerini brought a bright ray of sunshine to the red carpet at the Grammy Awards Sunday night with an eye-popping yellow gown custom made for her by Atelier Prabal Gurung.
The country music artist, who was nominated for Best Country Solo Performance for her hit “Heartfirst,” made a pit stop in New York City on Wednesday for a final fitting with the celebrated designer.
The gown boasts a made-to-measure bustier as the foundation, draped with silk chiffon to create an etherial feel, with handmade trim and a thigh-high slit.
Gurung said this is the first time he’s worked with Ballerini, but that he’s been a fan of her music for some time and was especially impressed with her appearance as an adviser and coach on “The Voice.” But it was when she attended his show during New York Fashion Week last season that the deal was sealed.
“I dress celebrities and musicians from different genres — from pop stars to hip-hop,” he said. “Growing up in Singapore, we listen to a lot of different kinds of music and it was only after coming to America that I realized there was such a segregation of music. To me, music is like poetry. I’m such a word person. So I love anyone who writes as self-identity, and country music has a lot of this kind of thing. So when this opportunity came to dress Kelsea, I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I’m so excited for her for embarking on this new journey.”
The anxiety that comes with being nominated and walking the red carpet is bad enough, and creating a dress to her specifications will not only alleviate some of the stress, but “make her look beautiful” as well, he said. The bright yellow is also expected to help her stand out. “It requires a certain amount of confidence and understanding of yourself to be able to wear colors,” Gurung said. “You can hide easily in black, but in colors, you’re really trying to say something.”
Ballerini said she specifically asked for Gurung to create something in bright yellow because it was the same color she wore on the cover of her latest album, “Subject to Change,” that came out last September.
“I did my first New York Fashion Week in the fall. And I just wanted to experience as much as I could,” she told WWD during her final fitting at the designer’s showroom last week. “His was my favorite show. The music and the colors just connected with me. And at the end, during his Walk of Fame, he went straight to his mom. Wanting to share those moments and those successes with the people who brought you there really touched my heart. So I was really eager to be able to do something with him.”
They worked on the specifics of the dress over Zoom and Ballerini told him she was hoping to replicate the album cover where she’s spinning around while wearing a yellow dress. “There’s motion around it. And to me it represents growth and an evolution and stepping into a new season. I really wanted to bring that to life on the carpet, so this is our take on the album cover coming to life in a much more fashionable, regal, dramatic way.”
Ballerini admits that she has always loved fashion, and played dress-up as a kid growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“I remember going to old vintage stores and getting a bunch of clothes. Then I would just dress up in the clothes and hats and all these different pearls and necklaces — anything glittery — and I still feel that way.”
The dress is also intended to be a statement for the singer who has undergone some dramatic changes in her life in the past few months. She divorced her husband of nearly five years, fellow singer Morgan Evans, at the end of last year, and she’s become tabloid fodder with her reported romance with “Outer Banks” actor Chase Stokes.
Although she hasn’t confirmed their relationship — despite some shots of them getting cozy at various spots around the country — she did say that her most recent album, and its Grammy-nominated single, is “all about trusting yourself and your gut. It’s been a big season of change and growth for me and I want to embody and honor that. So showing up on the red carpet for the Grammys, being nominated for that song talking about trusting myself, I wanted to wear something that matched that energy.”
Ballerini said that when she started out in 2015, she opted more for “glittery rompers. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just think fashion is another form of self-expression, just like songwriting is for me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a little bit more confident. I don’t worry too much about what people think of what I wear anymore.”
And with the high-end designer outfits that she wears at awards shows and other appearances — at home, she’ll opt for chic jeans and T-shirts — she’s doing her part to up the ante for women in country music. “There’s this stigma around fashion and country music where it’s like: jack your hair up to Jesus and put on your shoulder pads. I love that country has such a specific kind of style, but I also want to be a part of this generation of country music that expands people’s minds that you can be in mainstream fashion too.”
Ballerini said she went to “the school of Shania Twain,” and was mesmerized by the now-famous outfits she wore in her videos that were extensions of her songs, such as the top hat and tuxedo in “Man! I Feel Like a Woman,” and the leopard cloak she wore in “That Don’t Impress Me Much.”
Ballerini did her part make a statement too, with the blue Carolina Herrera dress she donned to fly through the air at the end of the “Heartfirst” video.
The ease with which she can now work with designers is also a change for Ballerini. “As I’ve made an effort to involve myself in fashion week, and show up more and get to know the designers personally, I’ve definitely felt that shift. In the beginning, it was really hard to get anyone to dress me or pay attention. So that’s been nice. But I also think it’s because I really do admire the art of it. I try to express to them that I write songs and they create these beautiful pieces. So there’s a parallel to our worlds and I think that’s what draws me to being more a part of the fashion community.”
And her connection to the industry was in full view at the Grammys when she showed up in the Prabal Gurung dress.
But who was on her arm at the big event? “My momma is my date,” she said with a smile.