Bills pile up for ball belles

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

Olivia Bollen 16, is fitted for her gown.
Photo / Jason Dorday
Olivia Bollen 16, is fitted for her gown. Photo / Jason Dorday

The battle to be the belle of the ball is underway and some girls are buying multiple designer dresses for the rapidly approaching school ball season.

Parents seem happy to fork out thousands to ensure their girls have a unique look when the season kicks off in Auckland next week and through the peak of June to August.

And just like a bride, a manicure, organic spray tan and personal hair and makeup styling is non-negotiable.

A custom-made dress costs about $1000 and hair and make-up artists charge about $100 an hour, but bookings are piling up.

Mac Cosmetics in trendy Newmarket is so popular even the earliest morning appointments have been snapped up throughout the ball season.

The season is so lucrative, make-up artist Phoenix Renata rings all the secondary schools at the beginning of the year to find out ball dates and plan staff rosters.

"The ball season is up there with the wedding season and the Christmas party season," she says.

Danielle Xi, who freelances for Mac, charges $100 for a 45-minute house call and says most of her school clientele go for fake tans.

"Parents are happy to invest more money," she says.

"All the girls have iPhones and they're putting the photos straight on Facebook, so they have to have hair, nails, everything done perfectly."

At Blaze hair salon, girls have even been coming in for trial runs, stylist Michaela Powell says.

"It's crazy madness. They are willing to pay twice," she says.

For the budget-conscious ball girl, Blaze offers an express style for $35. A one-hour session will set the parents back $84.

Stephen Marr salon runs a $230 "Belle of the Ball" package with a spray tan, manicure, makeup and hair styling. "They tend to come in groups, it's like a big girl party," stylist Lily Montana says. "It's like a bridal party. It's actually quite similar."

Dress designer Natalie Chan says many girls are channelling the bridal look this year, choosing floor-length gowns in shades of white, cream and ivory. "Many of them are dresses that a bride could wear as well," she says.

She needs two or three months' notice to make a bespoke gown to allow enough time to source fabric from overseas, design and fit.

"Nowadays, the girls have such hectic schedules so we have to work around that."

Chan concedes it is not cheap, but says most of her clients are well-mannered and grateful.

"It's refreshing to see that," she says. "Some years, with some of the behaviour I used to think, 'If you were my daughter this would not be happening'." Ponsonby designer Sera Lilly keeps a record of the school a girl is from when she buys a dress, so there is no risk her customers will be dressed the same.

"I've done no short dresses this year. There's lots of pastels and creams, all the bridal colours. I guess it is a bit like a wedding night," she says. "It will be interesting to see what the girls do when their wedding does come along."

Students shopping for labels

Diocesan student Olivia Bollen, 16, moved from Christchurch last year and says she has been surprised to learn how seriously Auckland girls take the ball.

"Lots of them have incredible dresses. Fashion is really big here, especially coming from Christchurch.

"Up here it's very extravagant," she says.

"At school, all the girls wind you up. Everyone's talking about the ball, heaps of people are freaking out."

Bollen says her classmates started thinking about ball night over the Christmas holidays. Some even picked up gowns in the US and Europe.

She says she tried "a million" dresses, in Auckland and the Gold Coast, before finding two perfect outfits at Natalie Chan's boutique in Parnell - one for her own ball and one for the St Kentigern College ball in June.

For her own ball, she opted for an ivory dress with tulle skirt and delicately beaded bodice.

For the other, she will wear an ultra-sophisticated black number that falls to the ground.

Chan sourced a pair of silk-covered stilettos, embellished with chunky jewels, from Australia.

Freelance makeup artist and hairstylist Alexandra Clark will take care of Bollen's hair and makeup on both nights and she is considering having spray tans too.

The preparations do not come cheap - Chan's designs cost upwards of $700 a piece - and Bollen says she would work for a family friend next holidays to contribute.

- Herald on Sunday

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