Turning heads wearing this season’s most glam — and colourful — gala gowns

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A stunning emerald green silk and chiffon dress from Dina Bar-El’s 2012 gown collection flows like water down the body ($539 from Holt Renfrew). Matching crystal flower set of “Love” earrings ($59.99), “Star” necklace ($99.99) and “Lucky” bracelet ($75.99) from Osolee of Ottawa. (Photograph by: Julie Oliver/Ottawa Citizen)

The invitation may say ‘black tie,’ but this season’s gala dresses are RSVPing with a riot of colour.

Just as Ottawa welcomes the spring gala season, designers like Aidan Mattox— whose über-chic frocks have been recently seen on young actresses Keira Knightly and Hayden Panettiere — are eschewing conservative black for eye-catching, look-who-just-walked-in colour.

From cherry reds and emerald greens to regal purples and citrus yellows, colour dominates but is softened in featherlight chiffon, soie de chine and silk, accented with feminine pleating, ruching and bead work.

And Mattox, whose dresses are everywhere from Holt Renfrew to Saks Fifth Avenue, isn’t the only one using Tulip Festival colours for the red carpet, says Rebecca Moffs, national dress buyer for Holt Renfrew. The spring-summer 2012 collection from Vancouver’s Dalia MacPhee, a University of British Columbia business grad whose vegan dresses have been worn by Vampire Diaries star Nina Dobrev and Canada’s GotTalent judge and singer Measha Brueggergosman, is also a joyful mash of red, orange, lime green and yellow. So, too, is the elegantly sinuous silk and satin evening wear collection from German-born designer Dina Bar-El.

“The colour story is all about bold, bright neons and strong hues. Every label I’ve seen from 20 different brands I buy from are into colour,” Moffs says. “And because they’re so strong, you don’t need to over-accessorize.”

Matching the dominant colours are stronger, asymmetrical profiles, as well as a heavy reliance on figure-flattering draping, particularly by McPhee and renowned L.A.-based designer David Meister, whose dresses are favoured by figure-conscious celebrities Katherine Heigl, Diane Lane and Fergie.

“There’s been a big departure from stiff fabrics to chiffon and silk. One of our biggest sellers is a ruched metallic woven into silk and linen,” Moffs says. “But this season overall, there is a movement toward fluidity and all-over sequin, a bit more red-carpet style. The key silhouette is still one-shoulder; it’s very chic and elegant. Beading detail isalways pretty, but the bigger trend is pleating, which is wonderful for hiding figure flaws around the stomach and bottom.”

That may make it easier to wear an evening gown with style, says image stylist Kat Newmann of Confident Image, but women should still “consider their body type and the features you want to highlight” when choosing a gown. As for selecting a colour, she says, be aware that you won’t disappear into the background, so choose something vibrant, but “not Day-Glo — that typically makes a dress a bit more casual.”

Whatever else you do, Newmann adds, don’t be beguiled by Hollywood’s fascination with exposed flesh. “You also need to be careful about showing too much skin at these events, which are classy and refined. It’s easy to be tempted by the Hollywood red-carpet looks — but we have different standards in Ottawa.”

Special thanks to the National Arts Centre and model Linda Brownrigg

Upcoming Galas

Snowflake Ball, Springtime in Paris

When: April 28

Where: Hilton Lac-Leamy

Why: Raising funds for education and awareness of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and colorectal cancer

Info: snowflakeball.com

20th Annual Governor-General Performing Arts Awards Gala

When: May 5

Where: National Arts Centre

Why: This year’s winners include Janina Fialkowska, Paul André Fortier, Denis Marleau, Deepa Mehta, Rush and Mary Walsh.

Info: ggpaa.ca

Destination 2012, University of Ottawa Spring Alumni Weekend

When: May 12

Where: Canadian Aviation and Space Museum

Why: Alumni awards. Guests include Roch Voisine, Jully Black and Erica Ehm.

Ottawa Community Builder of the Year Gala for the United Way

When: May 17

Where: Ottawa Convention Centre

Why: To recognize extraordinary contributions to the community by people, organizations, partnerships, agencies and neighbourhood groups

Info: unitedwayottawa.ca

Connect with Julie Beun |life@ottawacitizen.com