Designer Stitches Good Fortune into Every Gown

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Laguna draws giving people into its orbit, often pulled by a powerful sense of community fueled by people of a similar bent.

Rising fashion designer Oday Shakar, who moved here just three years ago, felt Laguna’s gravitational tug. After working for other designers in the fashion industry, Shakar, 28, opened his own design studio just 16 months ago, but is already donating his time and talent for a second year to the Beckstrand Cancer Foundation’s annual fundraising extravaganza, which raises over $1 million to aid cancer patients with their daily survival needs. And, like last year, his custom-made gowns will be the prize draw of the live auction at the sold-out Diamond and Pearl Ball, slated for Oct. 16 at Newport Beach’s Balboa Bay Club & Resort.

A southern California native of Iraqi descent, Shakar’s artistic talents showed up early in his sketches of women and horses. Ironically, his first foray into fashion resulted from a holiday visit to Iraq that turned into a prolonged detainment due to political circumstances. Cut off from his friends and family in the U.S., he was taken into the custody of an Iraqi aunt, who recognized his talents and mentored him in draping, pattern making and sewing. When he returned to California, he enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising knowing he had found his calling. “I love what I do. It’s a blessing for me,” said Shakar.

Shakar relocated from Los Angeles to be closer to his mother. His partner, Hans Ewer, had lived in Laguna previously, and Shakar had often visited while growing up. When they began looking for a place, they found Irvine “too suburban,” but felt immediately comfortable with Laguna’s vibe.

“It’s wonderful to have a community, that feeling of a small little city,” reflected Shakar, adding that when he drives home through the canyon from his design studio in Costa Mesa, he feels he’s entering “a little bubble of escape.”

Shakar connected to the Beckstrand Cancer Foundation through its executive director Lil Spitzer. She patronized designer Roberto Cavalli, where Shakar worked. He “stood out as the most amazing guy, one of those one-in-a-million kind of people,” said Spitzer, describing their initial encounter. “I just never forgot him.”

Spitzer told Shakar about Beckstrand and its mission, providing cancer patients with advocacy and direct financial assistance for bills, food, transportation, medical insurance, and prescriptions.

When Shakar had his own battle with thyroid cancer and lacked health insurance, Beckstrand’s mission hit home for him. Though he was fortunate not to need the foundation’s assistance, he understood what its safety net meant to others. After he underwent surgery in 2008, Shakar launched his own label, but was already itching to find a way to give back.

“Out of the blue, he called me to have lunch,” Spitzer recalled. Now on his own, Shakar volunteered to help with the Beckstrand gala, donating a custom couture gown last year that raised $17,000 in a live auction.

This year’s “An Evening in Havana,” will honor Rich Saul, three-time cancer survivor and former Los Angeles Rams center. The winning bidder for Shakar’s gown can actually have her pick of any gown from his previous three collections or the fourth in the works now, and it will be made to order. Six models will also wear Shakar’s gowns in an informal runway walk during the live auction and reception.

“It’s been a really wonderful experience for me,” admitted Shakar, who since he struck out on his own has attracted celebrity clients such as Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock. She wore Shakar’s sequined mini dress at the MTV movie awards this past June, which generated tabloid buzz for him as well as the actress.

Shakar’s meteoric rise comes as no surprise to Spitzer. She said that not only could he make any woman look good, no matter what her figure, but he also has the gift of making each client feel special.  “I’m so proud of him, so excited for him, and so grateful for his support of us.”

To see some of Oday Shakar’s gowns, visit www.odayshakar.com. You can also follow the designer on Facebook.

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