Red carpet prep for the clothes minded

Stylists offer clients individual looks

The red carpet has always been a fashion minefield.

Critics snipe more than gush, while viewers — filled with Schadenfreude — gag at the style stumbles of the rich and famous. Yet, with the ever-growing ranks of print, online and TV fashion police, the brutality has hit an all time high. And sadly, thin-skinned actresses are more likely to walk a sartorial straight line this award season.

Those who dare to stray from safe choices quickly get skewered. Take Tina Fey, who took a chance this past year at the Golden Globes. The comic actress traipsed down the red carpet in a risque, tiered jacquard couture gown by Zac Posen that the Fug Girls likened to a “coffee filter.”

She skidded on to at least a dozen worst dressed lists, and there was even more fallout. New York magazine reported that Fey fired her stylist and reneged on plans to wear Posen to the Oscars. (Her publicist denied the claim, but Fey wore a more subdued Michael Kors gown to present at the Academy Awards.) However, the long-term damage had been done: “Hang low and stay under the radar,” she told USA Today, when asked about her new red carpet strategy.

It’s not just the talent who shy away from over-the-top couture that could incur the snark of critics. “An actress’ entire team, from the agent to the publicist and manager, get involved in what she will wear, and they don’t want to rock the boat,” says Los Angeles Times fashion critic Booth Moore. “The designers have a financial stake because these actresses become walking billboards for them.”

Who’s to blame for all this vitriol? The late Mr. Blackwell brandished the badge of the very first red carpet cop when, in 1960, he published a “Ten Worst Dressed Women” list in American Weekly magazine. Of Melanie Griffith, he once sneered: “Melanie defines ‘fatal fashion folly,’ a botox’d cockatoo in a painting by Dali!” Nowadays, the snark is pointed, but not nearly as sophisticated. In Us magazine’s recurring “Fashion Police” pages, scribes sling flaccid barbs such as “And this year’s Miss Colorblind 2010 is …”

Celebrity stylists spend months researching the latest trends, often procuring couture and vintage frocks from far-flung locales. It’s all in the name of fashion and staying off the worst dressed list.

“I’ve never been on the worst dressed list and I’m thankful for that, but it’s just an opinion. If the client is happy, your job is done,” says stylist Melis Kuris, whose client roster includes a handful of “Twilight” thesps.

Even New York Times esteemed fashion critic Cathy Horyn threw her chapeau in the ring earlier this year when she blindly quoted a stylist as saying, “You don’t put a big girl in a big dress” about Christina Hendricks’ Golden Globes gown.

Still, it’s Joan Rivers — back on E! this past season after a five-year hiatus — who carries the biggest nightstick. Her “Fashion Police” award show specials have averaged one million viewers, which propelled the network to create a weekly show for her.

Now, no red carpet is safe from the scrutiny of the woman who referred to Anna Paquin’s Alexander McQueen bullfighter-inspired Golden Globes gown as “Mata-whore.”

“Joan puts people to task,” says “Fashion Police” exec producer Lisa Bacon. “She does it with honesty and humor.”

Keeping clients content is the key to success in this fast-paced biz, where an “it” stylist can become a has-been with one fashion faux pas. For stylist Nicole Chavez, who has worked with Katherine Heigl, Scarlett Johansson and Rachel Bilson, creative collaboration is paramount.

“When you work with people for a couple of years, you grow together, discover fashion together and create looks together. I think there is something really wonderful about that collaboration,” she says.

Stylist loyalty also ensures that celebs diversify their red carpet attire.

“They know what designers and looks you’ve worn, and they are going to have your back,” says Phillip Bloch, who has dressed Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez and Sandra Bullock for the industry’s biggest nights. “It’s the theory that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

Younger celebrities don’t always follow that golden rule, seeking instead to work with multiple stylists to achieve different looks.

“What happens when you’re young is you haven’t totally developed your own sense of style, so they go from stylist to stylist to help them get to that point,” explains stylist Colin Megaro.

Even the most experienced actresses fear wardrobe malfunctions and tripping on a gown’s train. It’s the stylist’s job to “expect the unexpected and have a plan A, B and C,” says Bloch.

“Celebrities are just like everyday people,” adds Megaro. “When you go to an event, you think, ‘Will this outfit work for me? Is it going to look great all night?’ It’s the same for celebrities, only they are being thrown in front of the paparazzi.”

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