A fantastical collection calls for a forward-thinking front row. And at Maria Grazia Chiuri’s mystical, tarot-themed Dior event, that meant tapping some of Hollywood’s most exciting new talents, including actress Maria Bakalova. Few performers can claim to have delivered a breakthrough performance and shaken up the political news cycle, but Bakalova can. The 24-year-old from Burgas, Bulgaria, was the standout of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, the 2020 mockumentary that sees Sasha Baron Cohen’s famous Kazakhstani character return to take on Washington D.C. Bakalova plays his daughter. The film, which broke streaming records on Amazon Prime and landed Rudy Giuliani in hot water, was a game-changer, one that pushed Bakalova into the spotlight. “Being part of Borat 2 turned my life upside down in such an amazing way,” she shared via email. “I’ve never dared to imagine [this] even in my wildest dreams.”
Though she’s new to American audiences, Bakalova has been acting since her teens, and her skill is evident in the way she holds her own opposite, Baron Cohen. When it comes to style, she isn’t a rookie either. A former punk who eventually moved towards a more feminine look, she’s interested in classic pieces with an edge—precisely what drew her to Dior. “I’ve always loved fashion and clothes—before this, I was very into vintage shopping,” says Bakalova. “The house of Dior has always been iconic and beautiful.” Naturally, when Bakalova was invited to sit in the front row of the brand’s virtual spring/summer 2021 couture collection, she jumped at the chance.
Bakalova’s interest in clothes was evident during her Borat press tour, which saw her wearing sharp-shouldered, floral mini dresses from The Vampire’s Wife as well as Emilia Wickstead’s sleek tartan jumpsuits. Working with stylist Jessica Paster, the woman behind Emily Blunt and Aubrey Plaza’s refined wardrobes, opened Bakalova’s eyes to the transformative power of event dressing. “I’m learning more about myself through it,” she says. “[Learning] how it can speak with me. I approach it with fresh eyes so that I can be excited about all the pieces that are out there.”
Dior’s atmospheric collection film by director Matteo Garrone and the accompanying lookbook were filled with arresting outfits, several of which caught Bakalova’s eye. “One of my favorite looks was look number one, where she was holding the horse, and it looked like a beautiful painting,” she says. “Another look I loved was look 11 because of its playfulness [and] Maria Grazia’s sense of humor when it comes to making a dress. I would be so lucky to wear that dress.” Chiuri’s skill for storytelling also left an impression. “What I love most about Maria Grazia is that there is always a story behind something she designs,” says Bakalova. “This time, it was very mystical. Usually, at a couture collection, it’s at a beautiful location, and this time, they took pictures, and it was just as beautiful and haunting.”
Only time will tell when Bakalova will get to grace a virtual red carpet in Dior couture or pay a visit to 30 Avenue Montaigne, but for the moment, she’s enjoying the thrill of tuning in from the comfort of home. “Wearing couture and having all these beautiful pieces like [the ones from] Dior is one of the best experiences of my life,” she says.
Here, the rising star takes Vogue along for her virtual couture experience.