Elizabeth Stewart has been getting Hollywood leading ladies — Julia Roberts, Cate Blanchett, Jessica Chastain and Viola Davis, among them — red carpet-ready for 15 years, but she shares WWD’s newspaper roots. She started as a fashion editor, first at Fairchild’s former men’s newspaper DNR in New York, then in WWD’s Paris office. Marriage to television writer/ producer Rob Bragin brought her to Los Angeles, which led to the beginning of her life as a “Hollywood” stylist.
It was 1998, and we were just starting to put celebrities on the covers [of magazines],” Stewart says. A seasoned fashion editor used to models who were seen but not heard, Stewart was unprepared for celebrities’ handlers weighing in. “I think it was a Minnie Driver shoot where the publicist walked in and said, ‘I don’t like the hair.’ My jaw dropped,” Stewart remembers during a recent conversation. “I had no idea that other people got a say. Now I like the challenge of, ‘Are we going to get them to do it? Are they going to like it? Is it the proper vibe?’ Shooting a model for an editorial seems too easy.”
Stewart started styling actresses for the red carpet when “Ally McBeal” star Calista Flockhart asked her for help, followed by Kristin Davis of “Sex and the City.” Soon she began to transition away from editorial, but in many ways, the method is similar in both disciplines. “We red carpet stylists now are almost like mini-magazines, because there are different people on my team who work on different categories, just like market editors, and we are competing with magazines for looks,” Stewart says.
Likewise, every choice is carefully considered. “A lot of people think stylists come in and say, ‘This is what you should wear,’ but I never approach it that way. I’m here to channel their tastes and find the stuff they don’t have time to find themselves,” she says. How does she describe her clientele? “Jessica is very strong and independent, loves fashion, loves Hollywood glamour. Cate has a lot of fashion sense, but she has four kids and not a lot of time, so we usually dress her for about 15 events in 15 minutes.”
Stewart says she’s happiest when her clients are happy, not the critics. “Criticism is great, because the fact that there’s such massive interest is what gives us the power to have these brilliant, amazing designers work with us and design pieces for us. So I’ll take it. You can’t have only compliments, so bring it on.”
Because of her time covering couture for WWD, Stewart appreciates the work that goes into each gown. “One of my favorite stories was flying to London with Jessica to be in a room with [Alexander McQueen designer] Sarah Burton while she drew on a toile with a marker the embroidery that was going to become her Oscar dress. That is such an honor and privilege. I’m careful not to wield that power loosely.”
While Stewart doesn’t keep clips of all her looks, she has all-time favorites for each client, such as the lavender Givenchy that Blanchett wore to the 2011 Academy Awards, the neoprene Balenciaga that Amanda Seyfried displayed at London’s “Les Miserables” premiere or the Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy T-shirt Roberts sported at Givenchy’s recent blockbuster show in New York. “In a way, we are entertainment,” she says of the red carpet circus.