THE ACCIDENTAL STYLIST
Byline: Marcy Medina
She transformed Salma Hayek into Marie Antoinette and turned Courtney Love into Eliza Doolittle for the pages of The New York Times Magazine, but for the Golden Globes, Elizabeth Stewart adopted a different M.O.
The only person she wanted Calista Flockhart to look like was herself. The “Ally McBeal” star’s simple lilac Donna Karan gown complimented her, instead of overpowering her with a bold fashion statement.
So how did the creative director of the Gray Lady’s glossy sister wind up dressing a pop-culture icon for a Hollywood awards show?
“By accident,” Stewart said last week from her Santa Monica home. “We met on a shoot a few years ago and realized we had exactly the same taste. We even owned the same clothes,” she added, pulling a green Miu Miu cardigan out of her closet as an example. Dressed in faded Levi’s and a Clements Ribeiro sweater, the lithe, youthful-looking Stewart bears a slight resemblance to the gamine actor.
Given such sartorial synchronicity, it’s not surprising that Stewart was responsible for the Ralph Lauren white-blouse-meets-ball-gown look Flockhart sported at the 1999 Emmy Awards — for which the actor received praise after a few previous fashion disasters — as well as for the red Alberta Ferretti dress she wore at last year’s Emmys.
For Stewart, coming up with the goods isn’t the arduous process that sends many celebrity stylists into hysterics. But with a full-time day job, as well as a two-year-old daughter and a four-month-old son at home, Stewart insisted she doesn’t have the time or the inclination to moonlight.
“Calista is the exception, because I just have to ask myself, ‘OK, what would I wear?’ I like putting her in the latest trends, because I’m a fashion editor. But I don’t think she really cares. The Ralph [ensemble] was the first thing she tried on and the Ferretti was the only thing she tried on,” Stewart said. “She doesn’t get worked up about this stuff. I could show up the day before and say, ‘Here, wear this,’ and she’d be OK. She’s not like other actresses in that sense, which is what I love about her.”
Inevitably, though, Tinseltown has managed to find its way into Stewart’s world. “My son has already met Jennifer Lopez and Robert Downey Jr.,” she said, laughing.
The well-traveled Washington, D.C., native landed at the The New York Times’ New York headquarters in 1994 after a stint as fashion editor in WWD’s Paris bureau. But she never expected to end up on the Left Coast. After marriage brought her to Los Angeles (The New York Times Magazine style editor Amy Spindler introduced Stewart to her television producer husband), she turned her creative powers to Hollywood’s A-list at a time when celebrities were becoming sought-after magazine subjects.
“She is the most inventive stylist working today,” Spindler said. “She does a wonderful job of coming up with high-concept shoots and plugging celebrities into the stories instead of just promoting their movies.”
Whether the story calls for casting Chris Klein as James Stewart in “Harvey” or Christina Ricci as Bette Davis in “Jezebel,” Stewart has a knack for getting stars and their publicists to do her bidding. And despite their tight schedules, few actors have turned down the chance to wear Chanel or Balenciaga for such lensmen as Miles Aldridge and Matthew Rolston. For an upcoming shoot, she even devised a way to put Britney Spears and Frank Gehry in the same spread.
“Can you believe it?” she asked. “I swear, I love this job. There’s nothing you can’t do.”