Petra Flannery might be the busiest Hollywood stylist that most people never heard of. That’s by design; Flannery began her career in fashion behind the scenes, first as a booker at Elite Models, then in photo production, then as an assistant to stylist-turned-designer Andrea Lieberman.
This story first appeared in the November 16, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
But while her public persona is discreet, Flannery is no stranger to Hollywood’s elite. Since striking out on her own a decade ago, Flannery has crafted red-carpet looks for some of the most stylish actresses in town, beginning with her first two clients, Zoe Saldana and Emma Stone. Who could forget Saldana’s purple degradé Givenchy couture gown at the 2010 Oscars, or Stone’s chic Lanvin jumpsuit at the 2015 Golden Globes? Neither were “safe” choices, yet were lauded by those-in-the-know and amateur couch critics alike.
“I’m always going to be that person who takes a little bit of a risk if I feel that it looks good and my client is 100 percent OK with it,” says Flannery. “You are putting a stamp on something. It should be talked about.”
Flannery had an appreciation for fashion from a young age; her mother sold Pucci at Saks Fifth Avenue and ran her own designer boutique. But she didn’t realize styling was a job until she started working on photo shoots. “I loved that it was about making an image perfect. And when everyone does their part, you get this great result.”
The stylist also dresses Claire Danes, Amy Adams and Reese Witherspoon and starlets Mila Kunis, Emilia Clarke and Daisy Ridley; no matter who the client is, her aim is always to balance the art with the reality. “As much as I love fashion and seeing what the designers put together, I look at an actress I’m working with, the film she’s promoting, and what inspires me,” says Flannery, who likes to give a nod to a client’s movie characters in her work. For instance, for the premiere of Stone’s new musical, “La La Land,” Flannery found a yellow Chanel dress that matched the one the actress wore for a key dance number.
One client in particular could have a big awards season ahead; Adams’ nuanced performance in Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” has been garnering rave reviews. Thus far, Adams has been wearing Ford’s designs to all the premieres. “She should because it really is a continuation of the film,” says Flannery. “Tom is such a perfectionist in his world and aesthetic.”
But Flannery isn’t one for literal interpretations, and her tastes run toward modern, architecturally inspired clothes. She relishes going the opposite direction of what’s expected, such as putting Saldana in a romantic, diaphanous Givenchy gown for a “Star Wars” premiere or Faith Hill in a black bow-necked Naeem Khan for the 2014 Country Music Awards.
Working with designers of that caliber hasn’t always been a given. Flannery remembers the days when she had to fight to secure Saldana’s Oscar gown. “When I really like something I go for it. I had to do that early on when clients weren’t quite known yet,” she says. “Then their movie would come out and fashion houses would be like, ‘Oh, we love her.’”
Things have since changed as her clients have become more famous and designers have become proactive in courting celebrities. “Now, it’s easier in the sense that designers want to create special things for the actresses,” Flannery says. “But it’s harder in the sense they want you to commit early on.”
Flannery, a student of fashion, enjoys being a “connector” of designers and clients, and is on the invite list for most designer dinners in town. “That’s where the knowledge comes in. It’s fun to know the history of anything, especially when it pertains to what you’re stepping out in. It could become your timeless moment.”
So how does she manage to keep her social media posts to a minimum in a follower-obsessed world? “As much as things are changing, you have to focus on the job, which is finding the best things, staying aware of fashion and understanding the designers because that’s what separates you from having the career versus the quick road,” Flannery says.
“There’s a lot of young people who don’t know as much about the past because it’s all about what’s now and based on followers. People who are more ‘out there’ might be recognized first and I am OK with that.”
As for her own design aspirations (she’s done a capsule collection for Genetic Denim and a handbag for Tyler Ellis), Flannery says, “Maybe one day I’ll do something when the timing is right.”
But for now, Flannery is happy to let the spotlight fall on others. “Sometimes you just have to experience the moment, love the moment and learn as much as you can. I would love to still be working with my clients in 10 years, as long as I can bend over and put a shoe on someone.”