In an era when Time’s Up and the Trump presidency are two major narratives dominating the news cycle, the role of fashion, specifically red-carpet fashion, could either be diminished or amplified. Given that it is Oscar Week, the culmination of months of campaigning and wardrobe planning that leads up to Hollywood’s biggest night March 4, it is the latter. Those once-behind-the-curtain operators known as celebrity stylists now find themselves more in the spotlight, just as their Academy Award-nominated clients do.
That’s not a new story, it’s a cycle that’s been replayed over and over for decades now. What’s changed is the social and political climate now holding people in all industries accountable for actions ranging from sexual harassment to assault, and the entertainment industry’s unification as a means of affecting change.
The all-black dress code at the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs made a simple yet effective statement, and signaled that fashion, in ways big or small, can aid in amplifying larger movements. It can also rightly claim the spotlight purely on its own aesthetic merit, as we may see on Sunday. All of this generates millions of dollars in the industry, for the brands, the stars, their teams of agents and stylists. So what’s next? Social and political movements aren’t going anywhere, nor is the public’s appetite for celebrity-driven content.
WWD talked to three leading stylists — Elizabeth Saltzman, Kate Young and Micaela Erlanger — who are dressing Best Actress nominees Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie and Meryl Streep, respectively, about how the current times have impacted their work this awards season — from the sartorial narrative they’re creating for clients to their other business ventures and their evolving roles in the public eye.
For Saltzman, who has seen plenty in her 30 years as both a magazine editor and a stylist, going through a second Best Actress-nominated season with Ronan, who is just 23, is both fun and impactful.
“It was a different foot then,” she said of Ronan’s first rodeo with “Brooklyn” in 2016. “That was a small indie film. With ‘Lady Bird,’ everyone loves Greta [Gerwig, who is nominated for best director] So people are starting to know Saoirse. The film industry knows her, but the outside world maybe wasn’t so aware of her name, her talent. And then this film just, boom. Stomp.”
The female-led indie has received wider box office attention because of its critical accolades but also its capturing the zeitgeist of an American teenager finding her voice in the world.
“It’s absolutely right timing. Right place. Perfect equation. And it’s nice at this time of fashion, too, where so many designers are pro-women…and are women,” Saltzman said. “I think that the actors started the [Time’s Up] movement and all the designers that I got to work with were just excited to be on board. And I think to be a part of something as a whole, is really the impact. I mean, in 30 years I haven’t seen it happen. Protests, marches, certainly other events have happened, but not on such a grand scale where it was one message, one note, and everyone sang in tune.”
Saltzman said her “Lady Bird” press tour and awards season red carpet game plan started months before Time’s Up, and that their original M.O. was to be more “editorial.” Ronan was rocking pink hair, fresh off the set of another film.
“I said, let’s just keep it. Hair is good. Let’s come up with an idea, a person. What do you want to say? You’re 23 now. You’ve been through the Oscar run before. The conversation from the get-go, driven solely by Saoirse, was, ‘I really want this to be about me and I want to have fun. I want to enjoy trying different things.’ And that made it really exciting, so when the Time’s Up movement happened, it was just a no-brainer. We were already in process working with our [Golden Globes] designer, Versace.”
The gown’s original color wasn’t black, “but funnily enough the Chanel BAFTA dress was. We were so lucky. And having been through it once, it wasn’t scary. It was, alright, let’s go.”
“We tried to push, without confusing the person that’s not in fashion, because everybody’s a critic today. So, because of Instagram and television shows and [Snapchat] and everything, you get a lot of critics and you want to be able to open their eyes to color and fun and just make it exciting for Saoirse, as well for the people out there,” she said. Incidentally, Saltzman is a social media minimalist and Ronan is a non-participant.
As for her Oscar dress, their first fitting was Sunday and so far all systems are go. “I’m always happy to hit the last one. While everyone always says Oscars is the most important, I don’t know if it’s the most important because it’s also the last one. It’s the home stretch. You’re there to enjoy the evening and not suffer through it. So we try and make it happy.”
For Young, the Oscars is almost counterintuitively anticlimactic. “Honestly, I think of it as the end. I have a lot of nerves because I haven’t seen anything in the flesh yet, and I am ambitious and competitive and want to be the best. All the months of hard work comes down to this. After Margot goes to the Oscars, I have a drink, and as soon as it’s over my stylist friends and I just text each other. Then I go to bed really early. I’ve actually fallen asleep during the Oscars before.”
Young was one of the first stylists to create business relationships stemming from her “day job,” first as a fashion staffer at Vogue, then as an independent stylist. “I always had a design job going on the side. I had a lingerie line with Triumph in Japan for five years, which stopped after the economy crashed in 2008. I did a line of prom dresses with Target five years ago. Natalie [Portman, one of her styling clients] and I had a vegan shoe line. And I’ve had an optical and sunglass line with Tura eyewear that’s been retailing for three years. It’s a very lucrative part of my business,” she said.
Young said she also considers it part of her job as a stylist to be a fashion adviser for her clients, even as they create their own business deals that she isn’t involved in.
“Selena Gomez has her Puma and Coach lines and I don’t formally consult on that, but we talked about what she wanted to do and what she wanted to present herself as. A lot of people in Hollywood are incredibly smart with Hollywood and they don’t necessarily speak fashion, so I can explain how to become appealing to a fashion audience,” she said.
Young said she’s doesn’t see the business of celebrity-driven lines abetting any time soon, nor the stylist-driven projects. “Because of social media, celebrities have become human beings in ways they used to not be. It makes sense that people would want, if possible, to buy stuff that looks like them. Or it feels more tangible to come from a stylist than a corporate brand that doesn’t have a face attached. The appeal of a stylist is they can make you buy stuff. Lori Goldstein is massively successful on QVC because a lot women really want and need that fashion authority.”
Erlanger agrees. “In general, stylists more than ever have opportunities that didn’t necessarily exist in the early years of styling. We are looked at as brands responsible for cultivating or minding someone’s image through a fashion lens, and now there are opportunities related to that. Jamie Mizrahi is now a creative director at Juicy Couture, for example. I just wrote a book and became a fashion director at an online platform [Armarium]. It truly just depends on what your interests are, but I love my work don’t intend to change that,” she said.
Not even Time’s Up, during which Streep has been one of the most vocal actresses, has changed the way she does her job. “The climate in Hollywood is different this year and that’s not something that goes away, but my process is still the same. We might consider different choices or take a more thoughtful approach, but so what if there’s a Time’s Up pin or a white flower on a lapel or we have to wear all black? OK, it doesn’t change the whole process, and in fact, it’s more direction.”
She said she feels the same responsibility to Streep as she does to her six other Oscar-bound clients, including Lupita Nyong’o, Common, Lakeith Stanfield and Oscar-nominated composer Justin Paul and screenwriter Vanessa Taylor.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting to feel beautiful. It’s not always a choice. This year has been more thoughtful and my hunch is the Oscars red carpet is not going to be all one color, and it’s still going to be a strong and empowering message. It’s the Academy Awards and people are going to bring the glamour because it’s still one of the biggest nights in entertainment and it’s an important moment in our history.”