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Stylists Are the New Power Brokers on the Red Carpet

At the outset of awards season three years ago, few people had heard of Lupita Nyong’o, a former production assistant who’d made her feature film debut in the historical drama “12 Years a Slave.” Within months, the actress had won an Oscar, become the new face of Miu Miu and Lancôme, graced the cover of Vogue and topped best-dressed lists the world over. The architect of her rapid rise to red carpet fame was stylist Micaela Erlanger, who says the profession has never been more pivotal in the birthing of a star.

“The power of styling can quite literally shape an actress’ public persona and affect the trajectory of her career,” Erlanger says. “When our clients step out onto the red carpet, those images are disseminated, immediately, to millions and millions of television sets, computer screens, and mobile devices. These moments, and the reactions to these moments — both positive and negative — can have a ripple effect into many facets of her career.”

Both on and off the screen. “It’s not just professional dress-up, it’s so much more,” Erlanger says. “We’re the dot connectors between the brands and the talent.

We put talent on brands’ radars and are responsible for cultivating and fostering those relationships that often lead to bigger things.” Namely, lucrative deals with such brands as Miu Miu, Lancôme, and Tiffany & Co. — which recently tapped Nyong’o to become one of the first celebrities ever to star in its Legendary Style campaign.

But who are the new power brokers? Variety highlights nine stylists lending their power to Hollywood’s brightest stars.

Micaela Erlanger

“Lupita and I got on the same page very early on,” says Erlanger of Nyong’o’s 2014 Oscar campaign. “We had a very clear direction and then it evolved from there. I was working hard to do the best styling job I possibly could; she was working hard to work that carpet and promote a film she was proud of. It was just really good synergy.”

Indeed, it was synergy that brought the pair together in the first place, through Michelle Dockery, Erlanger’s first client as a solo stylist.

“[Nyong’o and Dockery] worked together on a film called ‘Non-Stop,’ ” Erlanger says. “Michele knew that Lupita had this movie coming out and she asked if I’d be interested to meet her friend, and I said, ‘Of course!’”

Erlanger also put Dockery on the fashion map by way of a stunning Alexandre Vauthier Couture gown at the 2013 Golden Globes. “That’s the power of being a stylist — we have the ability to influence and shape someone’s personal image and brand on a very public level,” she says.

Erlanger also works with Meryl Streep, who cut a super stylish swathe through Rome during that city’s film festival in October, Hilary Swank, Jennifer Hudson, and Jared Leto, as well as Marc Jacobs muse Winona Ryder, plus Wonder Woman Gal Gadot.

Petra Flannery

With Oscar buzz already swirling around Emma Stone (for “La La Land”) and Amy Adams (“Arrival” and “Nocturnal Animals”), Flannery is gearing up for a busy awards season. It’s nothing new to the stylist, who also counts Claire Danes, Zoe Saldana, and Gwen Stefani among her clients. “It’s definitely a competitive field,” says Flannery of the pressure to constantly up the ante. “My clients are at the top of their field. They take on these daring roles and I want to do that for them with fashion.”

The stakes are higher than ever before. “Today, fashion and film have all merged, and the actresses are doing campaigns and covers and so they have to be good at it all,” she says. “I’m just part of this big business.”

Flannery sees her role as being a “connector” who inspires both parties. For example, a coffee date arranged between an actress and a designer during a trip to Paris might lead to a friendship that might lead to an ad campaign. “You never know what can happen — we all get inspired by each other,” says Flannery, who’s been working with Stone since the actress was just 19. “The beauty of working with someone that long, almost 10 years, is that you get to know them really well, and over the years you draw out this personality in the way that they dress. Emma’s got a great wit about her and she’s very smart. She admires fashion and is very much entertained by it and spirited when it comes to it.”

In contrast, “Amy’s got this amazing beautiful classic look, but I really love to bring out a modern edge to her, too.”

Leslie Fremar

What do Charlize Theron, Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon, and Jennifer Connelly have in common — apart from a stylist and Oscar statuettes? “They’re all very smart, very savvy, very independent women, who are very strong,” says Fremar, who advises young stars to not get too sidetracked by the glitz and glamour of the red carpet. “It’s become a huge part of the job in terms of promotions and recognition and contracts and all that stuff.” Fremar’s clients enjoy enduring relationships with such brands as Dior (Theron), Louis Vuitton (Connelly), and Chanel (Moore). “It’s part of the puzzle now and it’s definitely important, but I don’t think you have to participate in order to have a successful acting career.”

Fremar believes the role of a stylist is to ensure that her clients can focus their attention on their craft. “I think it’s important for new girls coming up in the business to recognize that it’s crucial to have this team that works really hard for you.” She’s been working with Connelly and Moore for more than a decade. “When you jump around to different stylists and you don’t have that rapport, it can fall a little short,” says Fremar, who’s forged such strong relationships with the world’s top fashion houses that her clients wear mostly custom-made pieces.

Christina Pacelli

Three years ago, Pacelli was introduced to relatively unknown actress Laverne Cox. “Ever since, it’s been fireworks and unicorns and rainbows,” says Pacelli of her client, who became the first-ever transgender person to be nominated for a primetime Emmy award (for “Orange Is the New Black”). “I mean, how many non-sample size transgender actresses — who’s also a social figure and pioneer — are in this position to work with high fashion brands and push the fashion boundaries?”

Pacelli dresses her statuesque, 5-foot, 11-inch client in custom creations. “Laverne is not a sample size, so we have to creatively work to dress her,” says Pacelli. She found plenty of supporters early on. “There were designers off the bat like Marc Bouwer and Ports 1961, who are big advocates for the transgender and LGBT community, and loved what Laverne was doing.”

Since then, the stylist has actively expanded her — and Cox’s — reach. “It’s a constant process of researching designers from around the world, emerging and established and everywhere in between, who are willing and excited to work with us.” Pacelli sees herself as an image consultant. She also dresses “OITNB” actress Jackie Cruz, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s” Lauren Adams, and “Transparent’s” Trace Lysette. “I mean, these are artists who have visions for their future,” she says. While Cox hasn’t yet inked any deals with designer brands, Pacelli hints that it’s only a matter of time. “I can’t say too much about that yet, but certainly her brand is expanding at a really rapid pace.”

Maeve Reilly

With two of her films already generating awards buzz — “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures” — Janelle Monáe is about to become an awards season red carpet fixture. Her stylist relishes the challenge. “Janelle’s never really worn a gown, it’s definitely new for us both,” says Reilly of the singer who’s famous for her signature black and white suiting. “I respect so much of what that means to Janelle and the branding behind it, and I never ever wanted to change that.”

Reilly has subtly softened Monáe’s look over the past three years. “It happened organically,” says Reilly. “When we shot the video for ‘PrimeTime’ with Miguel, she wore a skirt and crop top, and then when ‘Yoga’ came out, we did this athleisure kind of vibe, but keeping it in the same color palette. And now, moving forward into this acting lane, it’s a completely different world, and we’re really excited.”

Reilly is also the force behind Hailey Baldwin’s explosion as a supermodel and Instagram superstar this past year. “Hailey hired me two days before the Oscars and then five days later I got on a plane and went to Paris fashion week with her, and we’ve been inseparable ever since,” she says. Baldwin, who’s got a line of cosmetics on Modelcocosmetics.com, has just launched a footwear collaboration with British brand Public Desire.

It’s impossible to underscore the role of a stylist. “I honestly think it’s everything. Not to take away from someone’s talent — clearly their talent has to shine through, but our responsibility is to help it shine.”

Law Roach

At just 20 years of age, Zendaya Coleman is a force to be reckoned with. She not only takes on fashion — she just launched her Daya by Zendaya clothing collection, following on the success of last year’s shoe launch, and will next star in Dolce & Gabbana’s spring/summer 2017 campaign — but also uses her substantial platform to tackle such social issues as race and equality. The creative vision behind her look and line, who’s been by her side since she was 14, isn’t the least bit surprised.

“Zendaya has no fear,” says Roach of the Disney star turned mini-mogul. “What she does best is show her audience you can do whatever you want.” Like sporting a menswear-inspired tuxedo and a mullet to the Grammys and pairing faux dreadlocks with a Vivienne Westwood bridal gown at the Oscars.

“Fashion is the most interactive art form and you should be able to play around with it,” says Roach of his client’s motto.

Yet styling is a business Roach takes very seriously. “I call myself an image architect, because I either build or repair client’s images, and create their fashion footprint,” says Roach, who orchestrated Celine Dion’s dramatic transformation this summer. “Celine has kids, so she knew Z from the Disney Channel, and when she started to notice her in magazines, she Googled, ‘Who is Zendaya’s stylist?’” The result was a series of “fearless” fashion choices during Paris couture week that included an acid-green Balenciaga dress and a Vetements Titanic hoodie that went viral.

“For Celine Dion, the queen of sequins and rhinestones, to wear a sweatshirt and to look so cool and effortless, it just blew people’s minds.”

Elizabeth Stewart

Stewart’s clients — who include Cate Blanchett, Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, and January Jones — are almost as well known for their fashion prowess as their acting chops, evidenced by the fact that they’ve served as the faces of Giorgio Armani (Blanchett), Givenchy (Roberts), and Prada (Chastain). However, Stewart is slow to take credit for playing Cupid on the red carpet.

“I have lots of friends in fashion, but that’s not the basis of a fashion choice,” says Stewart. “I think brand pairings don’t work unless there’s an organic truth behind it. Julia and Givenchy are a great example. I introduced her to the clothing because I knew she would love it. And she truly, truly does love Riccardo and everything he does,” she says of long-time friend and Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci. “Armani has played a huge role in the modern history of fashion, much like Cate has played a huge role in the modern history of film, and it’s a natural pairing — Cate’s red-carpet Armani moments have been transcendent.”

Stewart sees her role as more service than strategy. “I love to, and take pride in, understanding my clients’ tastes and getting to express their individual approaches to the wide world of fashion. It’s important for me to really understand what they want out of the looks. … Comfort? Image? Security? Simple pleasure in a beautiful thing? Basically, I’m here to serve.”

Karla Welch

It’s safe to say that the belle of this year’s Emmy Awards was Sarah Paulson. Not only did she win a trophy for her role in the FX miniseries “People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” she also arguably scooped the award for best date (Marcia Clark) and best dress (custom Prada). The stylist responsible for Paulson’s chic style evolution says they bonded over a fashion disaster.

“We met randomly entering an after-party for the Met Ball maybe three years ago, and she was like, ‘The press doesn’t like my dress,’” says Welch. “I turned to her and said, ‘Do you like your dress?’ And she was, like, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘Well then, I don’t think you should care.’” Two years later, when the actress was looking to make a direction change, “we met and that was it,” says Welch.

Equally serendipitous was the stylist’s meeting with Ruth Negga, star of “Loving.”

“I was reading a little about the film and thought, ‘Oh wow, that sounds amazing,’ and literally a day later I get a text from her publicist, ‘I’ve got this girl, she’s in Albuquerque, would you fly in to fit her?’ Normally, the last thing I would do is get on a plane to Albuquerque, but I just had a feeling, so I replied, ‘Yes, I’d love to.’ I flew in and met her and now we’re off to the races,” says Welch, who also works with Olivia Wilde, Amy Poehler, America Ferrera, Mandy Moore, Karlie Kloss, Lorde, and Justin Bieber, with whom she collaborated on a capsule collection for Barneys and Urban Outfitters.

Kate Young

Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Sienna Miller, Felicity Jones, Margot Robbie, Dakota Johnson — Young’s roster reads like a who’s who of Hollywood. The stylist responsible for Selena Gomez’s ultra-sophisticated transformation, which culminated in a starring role in the Louis Vuitton fall/winter 2016 campaign, is nothing if not modest.

“I’m friends with [Vuitton creative director] Nicolas [Ghesquière]. She went to his show in Paris and they hit it off,” Young says. “It’s just like going on a date. You either have chemistry and speak the same language or you don’t.”

While Young is slow to take credit — “I think brands look at women based on how they look, and also their reach. What I do factors into that, but if somebody’s in the blockbuster film of the moment or is winning the Oscar, that has a lot more to do with it than whether I dress them in Prada” — her clients do enjoy enduring relationships with such brands as Dior (Portman), Bulgari (Weisz), and Calvin Klein (Robbie).

Like Fremar, Young believes a stylist’s job is to relieve the pressure put on stars today to be all things to all people. “Actresses are expected to behave like stylists and fashion editors and beauty editors now, when really their craft is acting.” What her clients want, she says, is what everybody wants: for her exterior to match her interior.

“The best hair and makeup people have huge opinions, the best stylists have huge opinions, it’s a lot of opinions, and sometimes the end result doesn’t represent who you are. I’m more interested in making my clients feel strong and powerful and gorgeous.”

Memorable Moments on the Red Carpet

Lupita Nyong’o
In 2014, the “12 Years a Slave” star crowned a glorious red carpet season — and cemented her style icon status — when she won the Oscar wearing a Prada gown she co-designed with her stylist Micaela Erlanger.

Jennifer Lawrence
The “Silver Linings Playbook” star won the 2012 actress Academy Award in a Dior Haute Couture gown, which she tried on for the first time that morning, earning a place on Oscar’s best-dressed list.

Natalie Portman
In 2011, the “Black Swan” star, pregnant with her first child, redefined maternity style at the Oscars in an ethereal purple gown by Rodarte.

Anne Hathaway
Although the “Rachel Getting Married” nominee didn’t take home the Oscar in 2009, she certainly won the best-dressed prize in an iridescent Armani Privé column adorned with Swarovski crystals.

Sharon Stone
Stone redefined red carpet glamour when she paired a Gap button-down she plucked from then-husband Phil Bronstein’s closet with a lilac Vera Wang evening skirt at the 1998 Academy Awards.

Nicole Kidman
Arriving on the arm of then-husband Tom Cruise, Kidman took a chance on a chartreuse creation by newly minted Christian Dior designer John Galliano at the 1997 Oscars. Her gamble paid off, and she raised the bar for red carpet style.

Elizabeth Hurley
The relatively unknown British actress became an overnight sensation after accompanying then-beau Hugh Grant to the premiere of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” in 1994 wearing the now infamous Versace “safety pin” dress.

Cher
Long before J. Lo flaunted her curves in that sheer, plunging Versace number at the Grammys, Cher stunned onlookers at the 1987 Academy Awards in a Bob Mackie art deco-inspired creation that spawned the advent of the “naked” dress.

Grace Kelly
One of the most enduring style icons of all time, “The Country Girl” star — later to become Princess Grace of Monaco — accepted her Academy Award in a creation by fabled eight-time Oscar winning costumer designer Edith Head in 1955.

Audrey Hepburn
Hepburn, one of the first stars to establish a relationship with a fashion designer, had her longtime collaborator Hubert de Givenchy alter her costume from “Roman Holiday” to accept the actress Oscar in 1954.

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