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The story behind Rita Ora’s spiked spine – and Primark dress – on the red carpet

Rita Ora at the Fashion Awards 2023 at the Royal Albert Hall on December 4 in London
Rita Ora at the Fashion Awards 2023 at the Royal Albert Hall on December 4 in London - Karwai Tang/Karwai Tang

Wearing Primark on the red carpet is a daring move in itself. To select something from the fast fashion, cheaper than cheap, high street giant would usually be considered a faux pas by the celebrity elite, who typically compete to wear the most expensive and exclusive looks by famous designer names.

Yet on Monday night, Rita Ora did just that at the Fashion Awards. Granted, it was in her business interest to do so – Ora designed her first collection for the retailer back in September. But still, to wear Primark to a black tie evening is quite the statement. Especially when the event was organised by the British Fashion Council to honour the nation’s highest design talents.

Perhaps more interesting though was the way that Ora chose to accessorise said dress. Ora enlisted the British makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench, famed for creating otherworldly beauty looks using prosthetics and extreme makeup techniques, to create an outline of spikes running down her spine. The dress was low-backed, meaning Ora could gamely show off the result when she arrived on the red carpet at the Royal Albert Hall.

Ffrench and Ora shared details of how the “chrome dino spine” was created in collaboration with prosthetic artist Francesco Fabiani. At the same awards ceremony last year, Ora had made headlines with marine-like fins on her face, and decided that she wanted to “go bigger”. This year’s effect took three hours to put on, and was hand applied to a base that matched Ora’s skin colour and texture.

Rita with her husband Taika Waititi
The Primark dress from the front – Rita with her husband Taika Waititi - JSML

“I’ve got this incredible Primark dress which I decided to wear to the BFAs which has never been done before,” Ora explained of her overall image. “We went really simple on the dress because the spine is such a big part of the look.”

A limited edition run of 500 copies of Ora’s black jersey dress will go on sale in Primark on Tuesday, with all proceeds going to Breast Cancer Now.

Many attendees – including Ora’s husband, actor and director Taika Waititi – wanted to take selfies with Ora’s back on the night, stroking it, or letting it poke them in the eye. You can imagine some difficulties sitting down during the ceremony, putting a coat on to go home at the end of the evening, as well as an extensive removal process before going to bed.

In a room where Anne Hathaway wore a vintage Valentino dress inspired by spaghetti, and Gwyneth Paltrow stood out in a scarlet feather coat, Ora’s efforts made her one of the night’s big sartorial talking points. In that sense, it was a case of mission accomplished.