“People think stylists just tell people what to wear, but that’s not it at all,” Elizabeth Stewart, Hollywood stylist to the stars, tells us about the misconception of what she does. Stewart is the brains behind some of the most famous red-carpet looks of all time, having worked as a stylist for the likes of Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts and many, many more.
Stewart started out her career as a Paris Fashion Week reporter for Women’s Wear Daily before moving into red-carpet styling and quickly signing some of the most prestigious clients in Hollywood. Her work will be splashed across the front pages of every newspaper going over the next two weeks as many of her clients take to the glamorous red carpets of the Cannes Film Festival. Stewart says that, unsurprisingly, this is one of the busiest times of year for her.
“Although I have dressed people for Cannes for years, two years ago – with Jessica Chastain – was my first experience with someone on the jury. Until then, I hadn’t realised how much goes into that. They are working so hard, attending two or three screenings a day, plus lots of meetings in between so it can be tough – but I am here to make it easier for them.”
With a fortnight of premieres and photo calls to prepare for, Stewart says that planning is name of the game: “My process is that I plan and prepare for change. Ultimately it is up to the client if things are going to change, but if I have another option in place, then it’s simply a matter of adapting the plan, rather than starting from scratch.”
Although swaps may have to be made because of a client’s preference, it is also possible that last-minute changes will occur to avoid two actresses turning up in similar dresses. Anne Hathaway famously decided in the last minute not to wear a Valentino gown to the 2013 Oscars when she found out that another actress was wearing something similar. This, Stewart says, is difficult to avoid, but stylists do talk to one another to try and prevent it from happening.
“Particularly for Cannes and the Oscars, I tend to stick to custom gowns so that no one will ever turn up in the same dress, but beyond that, stylists try to speak to one another and exchange information very privately behind the scenes – and you know who you can talk to.”
When the Golden Globes took place last year, plenty of stylists were thrown into a situation where the gowns designers had been working on for months needed to suddenly be changed into black to support the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements on the red carpet. Stewart, however, was lucky enough not to be put in too tricky a situation.
“I know some people who had to change their dresses at the last minute, but for me it was actually pretty easy because I was given enough notice. To be honest I was just happy to be a part of it. It was incredible and I will do anything to support that movement.”
That movement continued at Cannes last May when Stewart’s client, Blanchett led a protest highlighting the lack of female filmmakers. The actress, along with 81 others, stood on the red carpet to mark the number of female directors to have been featured in the film festival’s history, compared with 1,688 men.
And this is not the only red-carpet protest Blanchett has made at last year’s festival. The actress arrived to the opening ceremony of Cannes wearing the same Armani Privé dress that she first wore to the 2014 Golden Globes. This was to promote sustainability.
"We couldn't see any reason not to re-wear a dress we love so much for so many reasons,” Stewart told The Hollywood Reporter on the night. “It’s not just couture gowns that take hundreds of hours to make but all clothes that are filling landfills. We need to get the word out to get rid of this ridiculous notion that dresses cannot be worn twice! Beautiful clothes should last a lifetime."
Stewart and Blanchett have worked together for many years and, judging by the results, clearly have the same great affinity for fashion. This – having your client share your love of the red carpet – must clearly help the process along, but is it also easy when someone is just happy to go with what you think?
“I would say that some of my clients are not into it and that can make fittings a bit of a chore,” she says. “But in certain cases, it is easier because it’s just, ‘OK put this on,’ and then my job is done.”
However, Stewart says that it is also a timing issue.
“Cate is obviously very fashion forward and has incredible taste but she doesn’t really have that much time to devote to it. I think the younger ones have a bit more time and are able to have a bit more fun with it. If I do a fitting with Zoey Deutch, she likes to try absolutely everything that’s on the rack because she loves fashion and is still exploring different ideas.”
But ultimately, Stewart says that she is just “channeling their case”.
“I am just doing what they would do if they had the time. I think people believe that stylists just completely impose their will and style on a blank slate but that really isn’t the case. You meet someone, you recognise what their taste is and then you channel it. That is what I do.”
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