SAVVY ROAD Stylists Cristina Ehrlich, Erin Walsh, Leslie Fremar, Kate Young, and Elizabeth Stewart, crossing Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
Here’s a thing one notices when hanging out with Hollywood stylists for a couple of weeks: their doorbells ring a lot, day and night, 24-7. Messengers are constantly picking up or delivering boatloads of Dior or Valentino or Versace or Prada clothes, shoes, bags—you name it—or perhaps an elaborate arrangement of white roses as a thank-you from someone at Calvin Klein, or even a special present for the stylist herself. At the capacious Tribeca loft where I’m standing, the one owned by Leslie Fremar, stylist for Julianne Moore, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, and Scarlett Johansson, it’s like a hole in the earth has opened up and a funnel of luxury goods is pouring in. “We’re showered with presents,” says Fremar, a cucumber-cool brunette in a rose-colored mohair sweater, with the willowy looks of the model she thought about becoming in her teens in Toronto. “My son do designers pay celebrities to sit in the front row or vice versa? freaks out every time the doorbell rings: ‘Is that a present for me?’ ” She laughs. “How do I explain that? ‘No, it’s not Christmas every day.’ ”
In 2013, The Hollywood Reporter’s 25 Most Powerful Stylists list (the very existence of which makes one question the priorities of the modern world a teeny-tiny bit) had Fremar in the No. 1 slot. She says she owes her success to her clients. “There are stylists nowadays who could probably list 20 clients, but I choose to work with a few fascinating women,” she says. “They’re charismatic, they’re interesting, they’re smart, they’re dynamic, and they’re beautiful. There is a reason they’ve been famous for years—the ones who aren’t as great fall off.” Fremar’s occupation... which may sound trivial, but hold on a second... is to interpret the images these women want to present to the world for a coterie of top fashion houses, who desire that their garments be hung on these women. It is a symbiotic relationship: the celebrity looks glamorous, and the brands get a free—well, free-ish—billboard. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and it’s become relevant as a business during that time,” says Fremar, and then adds, “A big business.”
Today, with some of the media transforming itself into little more than a scrapbook for images, the sheer number of events (award ceremonies, red-carpet walks, advertising shoots, breakfast salon parties) at which stars must appear in order to be photographed, resulting in pictures that are disseminated in nearly real time across the Web, has exploded. Therefore, a stylist’s doorbell never stops ringing for long, though it rings a bit more around awards season as she prepares her pièce de résistance: the Oscar gown. At the A-list level, stars rarely wear an off-the-rack gown to the Oscars. In January, the world’s top designers start sending sketches from Europe, with the hopes—and prayers—that they have the chosen dress. These sketches, which Fremar shares with me at her loft, are amazing: Stella McCartney’s fanciful figures, with gowns dripping off lean bodies like cigarettes drooping from holders; Balenciaga’s archival photo, an inspiration for a future gown, stamped with its Paris address, and with a handwritten note in capital letters on the side—“TO GIVE YOU A BETTER IDEA OF PROPOSAL A, AN INTERPRETATION OF A CRISTÓBAL BALENCIAGA”; Giambattista Valli’s bizarre aliens, with enormous oval-shaped heads and impossibly long, tentacle-like legs protruding from under ruffled dresses. “I look at the sketches when they arrive,” says Fremar, who evaluates them much as a producer judges an actor’s reel, “and then if we say to the designer, ‘These are extremely beautiful, but we were thinking about another direction,’ they listen,” she says. “And another will arrive.”
Given the remarkable number of media outlets that are devoted to chronicling the Oscar-dress process, we’ll offer only a shorthand on what happens next: Fremar picks a sketch, the atelier makes the dress, and then, a week before the ceremony, the garment arrives in Los Angeles. Sometimes the star—or the star’s boyfriend, or the star’s mom—goes bananas and the star refuses to wear it, and sometimes the stylist goes bananas and hates it; once in a while, as happened last year, something odd will occur, like Anne Hathaway’s deciding at the last minute that she didn’t want to wear a dress similar in color and cut to Amanda Seyfried’s, her co-star in Les Misérables, and switching from a beaded Valentino to a pink Prada column gown. Fremar shrugs. “It all works out in the end. No one ever misses the Oscars because she doesn’t have a dress.” Even if she’s being a bit circumspect, Fremar is right: eventually, everyone attends the Oscars clothed, their bodies bathed in the light of a thousand photographers’ cameras as they preen on the red carpet’s catwalk—or is it a gauntlet?—hoping for the best but prepared for the worst. The heirs of mean Joan and the online rabble are on the sidelines, sharpening their spears to attack—You are a star, you are at the top of the world, but we hate your dress—and yet one of these dresses might be a lucky talisman, a fashion moment that catapults an actress’s career forward or cements her place in the pantheon of legends.
Afterward, though, the dress becomes what it always was: a costume. It’s returned for the designer’s archives, to be preserved for posterity and sent to museum shows. Unless, of course, the actress wins an award. “If you win an Oscar in a dress, you generally get to keep the dress,” Fremar exclaims, adding, “How sad if you had to send back the dress you won an Oscar in!”
Andy Warhol may have been right about pop culture, but he didn’t predict the rise of the stylist: he didn’t say that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, as long as they wore designer clothes. But today, celebrity stylists, with their location at the red-hot nexus between fashion and Hollywood, have become power brokers in a world that has never been more brand- and celebrity-obsessed. “You know how in Outliers Malcolm Gladwell talks about the Jewish lawyers who took mergers and acquisitions on because the posh lawyers thought the work was beneath them, and then the Jewish lawyers ended up billionaires?” says Kate Young, the intense, bleached-blonde stylist for Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams. “When I worked at Vogue, years ago, I remember an assistant saying, ‘Why do you like working with actresses? Isn’t it the worst? Nothing fits them! They have opinions!’ But I like people, and I like clothes even more with people in them. And it all worked out for me in the end, like the Jewish lawyers.”
Today, fashion advertising is saturated with celebrity images. Magazines and blogs that used to report on celebrity peccadilloes and gossip have redirected their efforts to focus on celebrity clothing: by our count, about a third of the pages of magazines like In Touch are now devoted to covering the clothes, creams, and hair bands worn by stars. Suburban moms are encouraged to become “stylists” by companies, like Stella & Dot, that run the modern iteration of Tupperware parties, with bags and accessories in the offing instead of plastic tubs. And major newspapers run stories with headlines like SELENA GOMEZ’S NEW FISHTAIL BRAID. When Jennifer Lawrence styled her hair into a pixie cut, CNN issued a breaking-news alert. “That was the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me in my entire fucking life,” Lawrence told Jon Stewart, when she went on his show. “Can you imagine getting your hair cut and finding out about it on the news?” Stewart laughed. “It’s a prank!” he said. “It feels like a prank.” Then Lawrence laughed. “Terrorists in the Middle East know I got my hair cut!”
This exchange was funny, but there’s little about the style industry in Hollywood anymore that’s a goof. It is a stone-cold gangster business, in which allegiances are everything, even more than deep pockets. “The people who look like they are wearing their own clothes and jewels,” like Ingrid Bergman in printed Chanel silk dinner pajamas from her own closet, “make the best Oscar moments,” says fashion arbiter André Leon Talley. “That’s rare now—it’s an industry, a system. They are all afraid not to follow the herd.” Devotion to the cult of beauty—the art of the fashion sketch, the art of the jewel setting, the art of the tailoring—is a big part of it. Fremar and the other top stylists enjoy lives of aesthetic splendor, surrounded by the planet’s most exquisite couture, jewels, and custom accessories. Many stylists are former magazine editors: Fremar was Anna Wintour’s first assistant at Vogue, and Elizabeth Stewart, perhaps this moment’s most in-demand stylist, worked at the fashion department of The New York Times Magazine for years.
Over the past year, Stewart has attracted quite a few important clients, including Cate Blanchett, Julia Roberts, and Sandra Bullock. “Elizabeth’s got three women who were nominated for Oscars,” says someone close to her, delving into the amount of stress such a situation creates. (Stewart herself declined to comment.) “People close to them think that each star is the biggest star in the world—‘Who is going to get the best Alexander McQueen dress for the Oscars? Cate, Julia, or Sandra?’ It’s a high-class problem, but it’s a nightmare … a political quagmire.”
Project Red Carpet
Worrying about the choice of ball gowns does seem like an almost comical problem. And there are some designers for whom celebrity dress is not part of their communications strategy, like Hermès. But, for others, the stakes are astronomical. “The creative and the commercial” parts of Hollywood are intrinsically “associated” now, says publicist Kelly Bush, the founder of ID PR, noting that CAA and the other big talent agencies have actually split their businesses into commercial and creative departments. “Stylists are absolutely changing the way that stars are perceived,” she continues. “They make the introductions to designers, get them front-row [seats] in fashion shows, and from that, a lot of opportunity results. When an actress makes fashion a priority, she can get an endorsement of a major fashion house.” This fashion savvy can then get her on major women’s-magazine covers that weren’t interested before. “And that brings awareness to decision-makers who maybe didn’t think she was beautiful, sexy, or desirable enough to open a movie. This is now an integral part of the Hollywood business.” Fremar adds, “Young girls can get famous today without having huge roles in blockbusters, just by having style.”
Unlike agents and managers, who tend to stay in the background, stylists promote themselves along with the star, as a way to gather more clients and land bigger deals, such as starting their own fashion lines. It’s stunning that they’re stars in their own right when what they do, day in and day out, is essentially create a “temporary” closet full of clothes to dress a star for one moment. It’s a job which requires huffing up and down Rodeo Drive or the Garment District of Manhattan, darting in and out of designers’ showrooms, persuading designers’ representatives to give them the dresses they want, then stuffing garment bags into the backs of BMWs, and finally returning home to hang them on racks. Some have been to fashion school; others are merely wizards with footpads and the type of tape that creates perfect cleavage. (“Leslie Fremar’s great, but she’s Miss Anti-fashion Intellect,” says a competing stylist. “I mean, come on—you’re putting boob tape on a celebrity. Don’t act like it’s a higher pursuit.”)
They do know the tricks to make someone look good for photographs, like fitting a dress as snugly to one’s body as possible—“Any unnecessary volume photographs as a bigger body,” says Young—and using a lot of color. “A black gown is the most elegant thing in the world in real life, and then, in a photo, it’s pretty boring,” she adds. They know never, ever to dress a star in something that another has worn—a fireable offense—and to pick clothes from designers’ commercial collections, not the runway collections. “Dress No. 22 from Gucci may be the ultimate evening dress on a model body, but my clients are not five feet ten and 100 pounds,” says Young. “You have to think about their bodies first, and what’s the most flattering.”
The bigger the stars a stylist works with, the better chance she has of becoming one herself. Fremar has a line of T-shirts with Fruit of the Loom, sold at Bloomingdale’s. Young has mass influence and a line at Target. And Rachel Zoe, the stylist for Jennifer Lawrence, Anne Hathaway, and Kate Hudson, has her own fashion line and has completed five seasons of her reality show, The Rachel Zoe Project—the latter of which has not endeared her to some stylists, who feel she has gotten too big for her britches.
The stylist’s life that everyone covets, though, isn’t Zoe’s. They want to be (former VANITY FAIR stylist) L’Wren Scott—the massively chic, tall, raven-haired, Mormon-raised girlfriend of Mick Jagger, who has her own gorgeous line including eveningwear, a new collection at Banana Republic, and one terrifically famous client, Nicole Kidman. “When you have Nicole,” says a stylist, “you don’t need anyone else.”
The way that stylists talk about their clients—“having” them—tells you a bit about the relationship. A lot of them land clients by working the girlfriend thing, admits one: “ ‘Oh, we love to hike together with our dogs in Runyon Canyon,’ ‘Oh, our kids go to school together at pre-school in Tribeca.’ ” It is a possession thing, too, though submission comes into it. The stylist and the star often become close. In the dressing room, the star is naked, and the stylist is providing what you could call a shield between her body and the world’s cameras.
One afternoon, I went shopping with Erin Walsh, a tall blonde stylist, with a Bardot pout, for Sarah Jessica Parker, Kerry Washington, Greta Gerwig, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. That day Walsh needed stockings. “I’m looking for tights in a lot of different textures and colors,” she told the saleswoman at the Wolford boutique, who seemed to think she herself might be a star, and was taken aback when Walsh said the stockings needed to fit someone who stands just above five feet. Walsh rifled through a bin of tights with geometric prints like a gallery of Mondrians, explaining that stylists buy lingerie for their stars, or “V.I.P.’s,” as they’re called in the lingo. For underwear, “Commandos or Spanx are great,” she said earlier. “The Cosabella G-string is popular too, though it leaves a line. Calvin has a line called Invisibles that come in a tin box. Those are good.”
It wasn’t always thus. Stars did at one point select their own underwear. Celebrity styling began in earnest in the 1980s with the rise of Armani, though Hollywood stars have always had an influence on fashion—if you were a bride in the 1950s, there’s a good chance you copied Grace Kelly’s wedding dress—and design houses have long desired cozy relationships with actresses, like the one between Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn. Before the 1960s, studio costume designers like Edith Head also made gowns for stars for events; when the government broke up the studio system, there was no one left to pay for these garments. Giorgio Armani, one of the first European designers with a stand-alone shop in Beverly Hills, moved into this space. A movie buff, he popularized his soft suits on Richard Gere in American Gigolo and had the foresight to hire Lee Radziwill in New York and Wanda McDaniel, a journalist and the wife of producer Al Ruddy, in Los Angeles as ambassadors for his brand.
It’s accepted in the business that Armani and McDaniel (followed by Gianni Versace) began the trend of designers’ dressing stars for the red carpet, forming the notion when Jodie Foster was criticized for wearing an unfashionable dress with a big blue bow while accepting her Oscar for The Accused in 1989. The next year, Armani dressed a dozen stars for the event, and Women’s Wear Daily christened the ceremony “The Armani Awards.”
When Cate Blanchett was nominated for Notes on a Scandal, says Roberta Armani, Blanchett picked a dress from her uncle’s couture show in Paris and ran backstage to slip it on. Giorgio approved, saying, “ ‘We will make it long. Goddess column gown.’ ”
‘Back in the beginning, there was no such thing as a Hollywood stylist,” says McDaniel. “Assistants picked up clothes if the clothes even left here, but usually Julia Roberts would just walk up the front stairs and say, ‘O.K., what am I going to wear?’ If there was anyone on the team who had a vote, it was the publicist, like if Tom Cruise would come in, Pat Kingsley would be here saying, ‘I like you in the double-breasted instead of the single.’ I remember going to Michelle Pfeiffer’s one year, and she was blowing her hair dry.” In 1992, she says, when Foster and Annette Bening wore virtually the same Armani long-sleeved, beaded tea-length gowns to the Oscars, agreeing beforehand in Armani’s salon that “I don’t care if you don’t care,” it wasn’t a big deal.
In the 1990s, as other designers who understood the value of the red carpet early—Gucci, Valentino, Calvin Klein, Gaultier, Alberta Ferretti, and Carolina Herrera—began to enter the game, stars became overwhelmed with choices. It made sense for them to hire stylists to make a selection and bring the dresses to their homes so they could choose in peace. “I remember, when the stylist era started, a stylist came in, having gone next door, with a garment bag from another designer,” says McDaniel. “I said, ‘Excuse me—I thought Mr. Armani was dressing that star,’ and she said, ‘Well, you know, everyone wants to dress her.’ I said, ‘Well, you know, Mr. Armani doesn’t audition, so we’ll either work with you or maybe I’ll hold these dresses for those people who have accepted our offer to work with them.’ ”
Other brands began to hire well-connected ambassadors like McDaniel to massage relationships with stars, such as Carlos de Souza, the “languid Brazilian lion,” as he was called by The New York Observer, at Valentino; and Mario Grauso, a former Carolina Herrera employee who helped dress Renée Zellweger in Herrera’s gowns. They’re executives, but one stylist has another name for them: “dress traffickers.” The brands did their jobs well. Within a decade, many top designers were established on the red carpet, such as Escada (Kim Basinger’s pistachio taffeta gown), Halston (Minnie Driver’s red column dress with matching stole), Versace (Jennifer Lopez’s plunging, green dress), and Elie Saab (Halle Berry’s burgundy gown with sheer top).
If fashion had stayed on the red carpet, maybe things would have remained in control in the celebrity-fashion world. But around 2002 the hydra-headed fashion monster of Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, and Lindsay Lohan—respectively, an heiress famous for a sex tape, the daughter of Lionel Richie, and a child actor on her way to becoming her generation’s biggest train wreck—took the amazing clothes that Rachel Zoe was able to get for them from designers like Versace and brought them out on the street. And the promiscuity with which they appeared in public, concomitant with the rise of aggressive European paparazzi in Los Angeles, who were literally willing to put their lives on the line to snap a celebrity at Starbucks, changed the experience of the A-list vis-à-vis fashion. As the celebrity tabloid magazines began to explode, with their coverage of Hollywood figures running errands, not only were big stars more fearful of appearing in public than they had been before, but now they knew that if they left their houses and didn’t look good they risked images of themselves (with bags under their eyes, or in sweatpants, or what have you) being disseminated across the globe. Fashion, more than ever before, was armor.
Celebrity fashion, of course, also became a marketplace, and an increasingly welcome one in the past decade as actors’ fees for films began to crash to earth. The power in this economy is held by A-list celebrities and the designers themselves, but influence is exerted by powerful middlemen, including agents, managers, film-studio executives, and, of course, stylists. For designers, Hollywood’s “love affair,” as the media have called it, with fashion has been a boon to their businesses, with some studies demonstrating that the 18-to-35 set is distinctly influenced by celebrities’ fashion choices. This cohort may not be shopping for ball gowns, but they will buy fragrances and accessories from brands that their favorite celebrities wear. In terms of ego too, dressing Hollywood stars is important to many designers. “If we didn’t dress anybody, I’m not sure you would see a blip on the business radar, but I work for a real live human being who likes people coming up to him and saying, ‘Wow, that dress was amazing at the Oscars,’ ” says an executive at a fashion house.
Some designers establish sophisticated relationships with their favorite stars. Valentino invites those he’s cultivating aboard his yacht or to one of his villas. Armani’s long relationship with Cate Blanchett has included providing funding for the theater she built in Sydney, Australia.
In Hollywood, it’s no secret that celebrity deals for jewelry and clothing range from “gifted” items to multi-million-dollar advertising contracts, which, say sources, include clauses about stars wearing the designer’s garments on the red carpet. Hollywood talent agencies, working on behalf of celebrities, have established deals with some high-end jewelers—though not all of them, by a long shot—in which stars are paid to wear a piece of jewelry on a sliding scale according to the value of the picture. Since most photographs tend to be close-ups of a star’s face, a star would be paid, say, 5,000 for wearing earrings,,000 for wearing a necklace,,000 for wearing a bracelet, and,000 for wearing a ring. Some deals are even more lucrative, particularly those with designers who are relatively unknown in the United States. According to an industry source, Gwyneth Paltrow was offered approximately million plus round-trip first-class airfare to wear Chinese jewelry designer Anna Hu’s diamond cuff to the Oscars in 2012, a deal brokered by her stylist and manager.
But a star must truly be part of the A-list to land such deals. Far more common, according to an industry source, are “relationship contracts” with brands that are less established. “The brand will call and say, ‘We want to have a relationship with a certain star, and we would want him or her to make their best efforts to wear our clothes to five public appearances a year, and also do two personal appearances for us,’ ” says an industry source. “You can do these deals all day for 0,000. If the star’s manager brings the deal, she gets a cut. And if the stylist brings the deal, they get a cut.”
Top design executives say they don’t care if their competitors, or lesser designers, pay celebrities to wear dresses, but in truth they’re not happy with the situation. They say the astronomical fees celebrities are receiving to wear jewelry, and sometimes dresses, has gotten out of control. (Let’s be clear that some fashion houses are not offering payment: “There are a lot of stars who would be highly offended if you offered to pay them to wear something,” says one fashion executive.)
If actresses were rappers, we would know all about these deals—they would love flaunting the way they’re getting paid. (See Jay Z’s double-entendre-heavy body of work, summed up by his lyrics “I’m not a businessman / I’m a business, man.”) But there are many deals they’d rather keep under the radar. Did you know, for example, that many of the beauty products or hair bands that you see stars wearing in tabloid magazines are reportedly ad buys by companies like Procter & Gamble? Did you know that when stars attend galas sponsored by some fashion companies, they are paid tens of thousands of dollars just to be there? What about fashion shows? When a star is in the front row, that deal has sometimes been struck beforehand as well; for example, they might be flown first-class to New York, usually with the stylists as well, and put up in a five-star hotel, as long as they remain “exclusive” to the designer and don’t show up at any fashion shows before the one they’re being paid to attend.
The stylist, alongside the star in intimate moments, is obviously an important part of this economy, though revenue flows her way in a far less straightforward manner. A few years ago, stylists were making thousands of dollars per day working with major film actresses, but studios have now insisted on capping their pay at between,000 and,500 a day, fees that many of them note are lower than the fees budgeted for celebrities’ hair and makeup artists—though stylists make a lot more on advertising jobs. From the stylists’ point of view, if the studios are going to force actresses into worldwide press tours, then they should pay for styling every day of that press tour. “But the studios don’t understand why they have to pay,” says Margaret Maldonado, the ex-partner of Jermaine Jackson and founder of a top agency that manages stylists. “They’re like, ‘We just paid her million to do a movie. Are you kidding—she can’t pay for her own stylist? She can’t pay for her own dress?’ ” According to Maldonado, many stylists make up for the shortfall in payment by asking the celebrity if they can speak about the work they have done for her publicly. “If the star doesn’t want to pay the stylist’s rate, then, O.K., the stylist should be able to talk to the press about what she’s doing for her. It’s an exchange.”
Studios are also now insisting that celebrities pay for their own tailoring, which can be expensive—“My tailor drives a Mercedes and wears head-to-toe Marni,” Jessica Paster, stylist for Emily Blunt and Miranda Kerr, says only slightly ironically—and also their own FedEx charges for all those packages that arrive at the door at stylists’ homes or offices, like Fremar’s in Tribeca. “People want to make it sound like stylists are so powerful and we make so much money, and that’s bullshit,” says Paster. “We fight for every penny. Studios don’t want to pay. Publicists don’t want to back us up. And, trust me, the actor doesn’t even know what’s going on.”
An executive at a studio says, “We think stylists jack up prices for us, and they say designers aren’t giving them things for free—we never know whether that’s true.” The executive also mentions that there’s a difference between “good stylists” and “bad stylists.” “We’re sending the talent out on long press tours, and nothing’s perfect. You want a stylist who isn’t a shit stirrer, but there’s a lot of, ‘The studio’s making you work six hours? You should only work four,’ and ‘I can’t believe I don’t have tickets to the premiere tonight, I don’t know what I’ll do’—and then talent’s asking for an extra 0 ticket to a dinner gala for a stylist.” Men’s styling, which studios cap at 0 to 0 per look, also rankles. “Styling for male actors doesn’t matter,” the executive says. “Female fans don’t latch on to guys because of their clothes. Brad Pitt might have the best jeans on, and maybe Bradley Cooper a notch down, but no one notices that.”
On the other hand, one could argue, the rise of the stylist is good for the studio and its publicity machine. “Doing press is hard for most actresses—they don’t like it, because they just want to act,” says Young. “I make sure that the image they project is how they hope to be viewed … and I make sure they feel good…. The more they feel good about themselves when they’re doing press, and feel beautiful, the easier press is for them.” Think of it this way: there’s a better chance that an actress will be up and smiling at eight A.M. in Hong Kong on the 15th day of her three-week-long press tour if the stylist and her ironed Donna Karan outfit are waiting for her in the next suite.
The other pressure on stylists are the designers themselves, who have become increasingly unhappy with the way that some stylists operate; Fremar, Young, and the rest of the ex-Vogue crew are widely admired, as are most New York-based stylists, but not everyone is met with approval. “Stylists are so frustrating—they’ve gone from being the person who organized the wardrobe to a person who is more powerful than the star wearing the clothes,” declares an executive at a jewelry company, none too happily. “I can’t count the number of times I’ve run into actresses I know really well and tried to talk to them about wearing something, and they say, ‘Oh, great, fantastic.’ And then, somehow, you end up working with a stylist, and it never happens.” Says an industry executive who makes deals between celebrities and brands, “Stylists have so many side deals now.” Many are now under contract to one big house, because the house wants them as insurance policy: they want to make sure the stylist puts clothes from their house on her racks. “There’s no transparency. We have no idea who is working for [a house] under contract.”
Another common complaint is that some stylists insist on dramatically altering designer dresses, often to create the plunging necklines that actresses desire. “We will do some alterations with stylists,” says an executive at a fashion house, “but sometimes they ask for sleeves to be cut off, or long skirts to be made miniskirts. It’s nuts.” Stylists who don’t ask for such alterations are against the practice. “I don’t cut new necklines in the dresses,” says Young. “I am not someone who chops up dresses…. I don’t in any way want to seem like I’m critical of what people do, but I spend a lot of time with pattern-makers, and the people who actually make the clothes, and it would be hard for me to cut into their work.”
Say Yes to the Dress
Designers do have one extremely powerful weapon in their arsenal to combat stylists’ power: they control the dresses. Today, design houses maintain lists of which actresses they will and won’t dress. The top houses want to dress the top 10 actresses, like Blanchett, Chastain, and Bullock, and actresses who have proved they have style—a list that includes such actresses as Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde, and new actresses with buzz. (This year, the most coveted name is 12 Years a Slave star Lupita Nyong’o, whose red Ralph Lauren gown was the hit of the Golden Globes.) On the other end of the spectrum are reality-TV stars—even the big ones—who, according to a stylist, are on the “Do not shoot” lists for many designers. Top designers “won’t lend to you. You can’t get any clothes. It’s embarrassing,” says a stylist. Kim Kardashian’s fashion is influenced by Kanye West, and she can pay for her own clothes. “Kim has money,” says stylist Deb Waknin. “Kanye [Kardashian’s fiancé] bought the Balmain dress she wore to Cannes, and she looked fabulous and turned it out.” Says Cristina Ehrlich, the stylist for Penélope Cruz, Allison Williams, and Tina Fey, among others, “For Penélope, I can get whatever I want [from designers], but for an actress you’re trying to build up, sometimes I sit on the e-mail all week long to Italy, requesting clothes for clients, without getting e-mails back. A box from Europe finally comes at the end of the week, and you get what you get.”
Sahar Sanjar, the head of La Chambre, an L.A. public-relations company that represents designers Charlotte Olympia, Reem Acra, and Elie Saab, says, “I’ve dressed an A-lister in Elie Saab, and before a stylist will confirm the dress with us, she’ll get on the phone with me—I’ve even had the A-lister get on the phone at the same time—and say, ‘I’m just letting you know if you dress B-, C-, and D-list, I’m not wearing the brand anymore.’ ” Even though Sanjar says she is open to dressing actresses who are not quite A-list (thinking outside the box, as it’s called in the business), “at the end of the day, when I call Mr. Saab and tell him that an A-lister doesn’t want a certain type of person in the brand, he says, ‘O.K., then we don’t dress that person, because the A-lister is the girl I want to dress.’ ” For Saab, dressing the A-list is particularly important, because it fuels sales with Middle Eastern royals. “Princesses care what Nicole Kidman is wearing, and Mr. Saab is a couturier who sells to princesses,” says Sanjar. “I’m not keeping the buyer at Barneys in mind when I work—I’m thinking about Queen Rania.”
Walsh, the stylist for Kerry Washington and Kristen Wiig, among others, shares an e-mail that she received from a designer declining her request for clothes. “This is what getting blown off looks like,” she says, scrolling through it. The note is courteous, but if you read between the lines, the point is clear: “Our sample situation is beyond low at the moment…. [She] is not really on our radar at the moment…. I can be in touch if things change.” Walsh purses her lips. “Yeah, you’ll be in touch—if she’s on the cover of Vogue tomorrow!” she jokes.
Walsh is being diplomatic, probably for my benefit; every time a designer turns a stylist down, it’s a blow, because part of her worth is measured in the warmth designers show to her. Her clients are aware of which designers she can and can’t get into that “temporary closet.” “Actresses read magazines, and when they come to shoots, they look at what you have on the racks, and they ask, ‘Where’s the couture? Where’s this? Where’s that?’ ” says Ehrlich.
Pressure from designers to control the process of selecting gowns for the Oscars has also streamlined that process, at least a little bit. Ehrlich says, “Six years ago, it wasn’t unnatural to have many dresses made for the Oscars.” But she’s decided against this practice now, and, like Fremar, usually has one gown custom-made and another on backup—that’s it. “When a dress doesn’t work, even though it’s usually the client who doesn’t like the dress, the stylist gets the blame,” says Ehrlich. “No high-fashion house will come down on a celebrity, but especially the European designers, much more than the Americans—and Italians, especially, are so emotional—take it personally if something doesn’t work out.” It’s not worth it for her to ask them to make gowns for a client, just to have as an extra option. “I understand it; they’ve had an atelier working for 45 hours on a dress and then they get a stylist’s e-mail: ‘Didn’t work, sorry.’ ”
Fremar says, “I am as straight up as possible. When you play tricky business, you get tricked.” Her relationships with the design houses are of paramount importance to her. Like many stylists, she is a fashion nerd, and respect from top designers motivates her to do her work. “People don’t understand that I collaborate with [Dior creative director] Raf Simons,” she says. “This never would have happened before. Giorgio Armani would not have known who I was 10 years ago. He would only have known [Vogue’s] Grace Coddington and Carlyne Cerf [de Dudzeele, fashion editor-at-large at Lucky]. If I run into [Lanvin’s] Alber Elbaz, he says hi to me.” She raises a hand and waves a little. “ ‘Hi, Leslie … ’ ”
Stylists are freelancers, and celebrities don’t need to sign retainer contracts with them. When the star is ready to fire a stylist, she just takes off. “Every stylist always wants everyone else’s clients,” says Maldonado. How do you get those clients? She laughs a little. “How do you steal someone’s husband?” she asks. “You’re breaking up a relationship, and there are a lot of ways to do it. You can go one route, running around telling clients, ‘If you come with me I won’t charge you anything,’ or you can have their hairstylist drop something,” like their current stylist was telling tales out of school about them.
In the stylist business, there’s not a lot of loyalty. Michelle Williams was a Young client, and then she jumped to Zoe, and then back to Young. Gwyneth Paltrow left Anna Bingemann for former VANITY FAIR fashion director Elizabeth Saltzman. Cate Blanchett left Jessica Paster and is now with Elizabeth Stewart. Jennifer Lawrence left Elizabeth Stewart and turned to Zoe. Sofía Vergara’s been with everybody. Round and round it goes. There’s always someone on the bottom. Over the past year, stylist Deb Waknin, a 27-year veteran of the business, lost Vergara and Sandra Bullock. “I hate to use the word ‘lose’ a client,” says Waknin. “A relationship has run its course. It’s a marriage. I lasted with some of my clients for 7 years, 17 years. You take a girl who is not the girl whom everyone wants to dress, and you build her, and you build her, and now she wants a change. It’s O.K. As long as you both walk away feeling good about each other, and it’s not awkward. That’s the thing.” Says an executive at a design house, “Stylists have no security. Sometimes she’ll have eight million clients, and then she has two. But she will come back. Actresses hear about new hot stylists, and it’s like a great restaurant—they want to try it.”
Recently, a bit of rebellion by stars has cropped up. “Some stars just think of it as something extra they need to do with their days: I need to get my hair done, I need to get my nails done, and I need to meet with a fashion designer to try on some dresses,” says Waknin. A fairly A-list group, which includes Diane Kruger and Blake Lively, have decided that perhaps the most A-list move is to rise above the chaos, to be the exception to the rule: none of these women is using a stylist at all.Do you have what it takes?Test your knowledge of the Seven Kingdoms with Vanity Fair’s Game of Unknowns.Make your predictions
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