Is There a Stylist Backlash on the Red Carpet?
At the recent Golden Globes, it was no surprise that always-on-the-mark actress Diane Kruger looked stunning in her shimmering silver Emilia Wickstead gown. What may be more surprising: Kruger does not employ a stylist to dream up her look. She’s just one of a growing number of A-list actresses who has chosen to take on the red carpet alone, or at least with minimal help. Kruger along with Marion Cotillard, Blake Lively and Emmy Rossum proudly dress themselves, while others — including Katie Holmes, Gwyneth Paltrow and January Jones — volley back and forth between relying on a professional and making their own fashion choices.
It’s a bold move, given the high stakes of awards season, when actresses — particularly nominees — are photographed multiple times a day at different events, and subsequently scrutinized on dozens of platforms, from Instagram to weekly glossies, about their ensembles. In the last decade, stylists like Rachel Zoe and Brad Goreski have become stars in their own right, walking the red carpet almost as frequently as their star clients. That’s changing. “I think we’re in a really interesting period for stylists right now,” says Jessica Morgan, co-founder of Go Fug Yourself, a blog that pokes fun, often mercilessly, at the best and worst of the red carpet. “When we started GFY in 2004, lots of celebrities were styling themselves. Which is, I think, why we had so many fun fashion mishaps in the early aughts,” such as Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake’s matching head-to-toe denim outfits, or Paltrow’s braless goth look. “Then it became really de rigueur for everyone to have a stylist, and now I think the pendulum is swinging back a little bit.”
“I think that there is a bit of a shift, but it all depends on who’s paying,” explains US Weekly fashion director Sasha Charnin Morrison, author of Secrets of Stylists: An Insider’s Guide to Styling the Stars. If a star is about to embark on a junket—a series of press appearances that are often required when promoting a movie—then the film’s studio will usually pay for a stylist. Same goes for when an actress is nominated for an award. If it’s a big enough ceremony, like the Golden Globes or the Oscars, a studio might pony up for styling services, which can cost upward of $10,000 a day for an top-tiered stylist. When a star is on her own, though, those rates can seem exorbitant, especially if you know and like fashion. Even if a celebrity is worth millions, “it’s a little jarring if you then have to pay for it yourself,” says Morrison.
However, there are many stars who just simply can’t go without help. “I’ve seen a decrease in stylists working with celebrities for personal style—the stuff they wear in paparazzi shots, let’s say, grabbing coffee,” said one fashion publicist. (Which is maybe why everyone is being photographed in their workout clothes, not perfectly put-together day looks.) “But not much has changed when it comes to awards season or when they are promoting a movie or an album. They’re too busy with photo shoots, junkets and personal appearances to be out shopping for—and tailoring—their clothes.”
Indeed, fit is one of the biggest reasons celebrities need stylists. (Not everyone can be Kruger, a former model with a sample-size body and plenty of fashion knowledge.) “Proper fit is so important,” Morrison says. “If it’s too small, or too short, the internet will go bananas.”
While many A-list stars have broken away from traditional stylists in the past few years, others have looked to up-and-coming talents to help craft more daring red carpet personas. Stylists Erin Walsh (who works with Kerry Washington and Sarah Jessica Parker ), Ilaria Urbinati (Lizzy Caplan, Shailene Woodley) and Micaela Erlanger (Lupita Nyong’o, Michelle Dockery) are all earning accolades for dressing their clients in less-expected looks from a range of designers. These stylists have helped to shape—or reshape—the images of their clients.
“Stylists are like shepherds in a way,” says Go Fug Yourself co-founder Heather Cocks. “When it’s time for a starlet to revamp her image, she’s going to look to her clothes, and she’s going to want the keen eye of someone who can help see the big picture and steer her in a new direction that serves her needs.”
Cocks thinks Urbinati’s work with Nina Dobrev, star of The Vampire Diaries, is a great example of when a stylist’s touch has actually made a difference. “Viewers were buzzing about Nina and how talented she is, but because she’s on a CW show, it’s harder to get noticed and taken seriously [fashion-wise]. Then she paired up with Ilaria, and boom, it was a parade of really cute, lively dresses, mixed with big-deal gowns, and then they slowly worked her into some more edgier stuff,” Cocks says. “Now all of a sudden she’s going to couture shows in Paris. I think all that red-carpet attention bumped her up a rung on the celeb ladder.” Selena Gomez's transformation from Disney kid to Jennifer Aniston's BFF, has a lot to do with stylist Kate Young, who dresses her in elegant, if just a tad sexy, designs from iconic fashion houses like Gucci, Armani and Versace.
Nyong’o, who was virtually an unknown to the scene when she got nominated for her work in 12 Years a Slave, became an instant red carpet star thanks in no small part to Erlanger. “She just came out of nowhere,” says Morrison, citing Nyong’o’s caped Ralph Lauren gown as the turning point. “It was so exciting and exhilarating.”
Whether or not a star is relying on her own eye, or that of a stylist, the red carpet has become a lot more interesting lately. “It was getting extremely stale and predictable,” says Morrison. “The biggest difference I’ve seen is that celebrities and stylists alike are willing to take more risks and not be so safe.”