Janelle Monae


In one awards season, Janelle Monáe has gone from newbie actress to one of the season’s most-watched breakouts, with two films — “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures” — up for best picture. And her red carpet style has evolved along with her.

WWD chatted with Monáe’s stylist of four years, Maeve Reilly, on how they approached her Oscars look and how the musician’s style has evolved as she moves into acting.

WWD: How did you go about selecting Janelle’s Elie Saab gown?

Maeve Reilly: When I saw this dress — it’s from the couture collection, not the most recent but the last couture collection — it was one of those where I was like, “Could it be? Could it work?” It’s one of those where it’s stunning but it’s very different for her. So we got the dress in and there was actually a conflict; the brand had potentially promised it to somebody else through the designer. We [were making the decision] back in December if this was going to be our dress, and it was just sort of a moment where we saw her in the dress, and, I mean, I literally cried. I’d never seen anything so beautiful in my life. It really felt like the dress that you wear to your first Oscars, when you have two movies that are potentially going to win. It’s special, it’s different, it’s definitely our finale of awards season. It’s something nobody has ever seen her in, silhouette-wise. It’s really interesting.

WWD: Janelle is known for wearing a lot of men’s wear pieces on the red carpet; did you know from the get-go that you wanted to do a dress for the Oscars?’

M.R.: I think so. I have to say, when [Janelle and I] walked into awards season, starting even from Toronto, we were kind of looking at each other like “What are we doing?” We never had a real formal discussion about how we were going to approach awards season. But I think as time went on, we realized that we were kind of falling into a dress pattern, and embracing a different side of Janelle. But I think we’ve done a really good job of keeping it kind of quirky and young and interesting, as opposed to most actresses [who] are like “throw on a dress and go.” We really look for interesting quirky pieces. She wore a suit the other night — it’s not that we’ll never wear a suit again, but we definitely embraced the “actress” vibe.

WWD: And what about selecting her jewelry, by Forevermark?

M.R.: Janelle loves, loves, loves jewelry, and this dress is kind of one big piece of jewelry. The jewelry is a tiny bit different for her because of the colors in the dress. There’s a lot going on in the dress, so we were looking for something simple but something to obviously complement the gown. It is unique in the different colors that we chose with the diamonds, because we were trying to pull out the gold undertones in the dress. A lot of rings, as usual. Jewelry is usually a game day decision. Janelle and I have the same ring sizes, so I can usually plan how the rings are going to look on myself, which helps a lot.

WWD: Of all the looks you’ve done with her this awards season, which has been the favorite?

M.R.: Seeing her in this dress, it was such a special moment for me, coming from her men’s wear background. Coming as far as she and I have come together — it’s kind of the biggest moment of our fashion life together. It’s definitely the perfect grand finale.

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