From Emma Thompson to Amy Schumer to Taraji P. Henson, this year’s list of Emmy nominees reads like a who’s who of Hollywood. With marquee names adding panache to the primetime awards, can we assume that this year’s red carpet will pack an appropriately powerful punch?
“Absolutely,” says stylist Karla Welch, who’s dressing nominees Amy Poehler, Elisabeth Moss, Sarah Paulson and Lisa Kudrow in addition to Carrie Brownstein, whose IFC sketch series “Portlandia” received a nom. “There’s definitely much more excitement these days regarding the Emmy red carpet. I’m finding we’re getting way more opportunity to create custom gowns, so that really says something,” says Welch, who finds that the big labels are more enthusiastic than ever before. “Designers are right on you the second the nominations come out.”
Kemal Harris, Welch’s business partner, and stylist to Robin Wright, nominated a third time for Netflix’s “House of Cards,” says there’s no longer much difficulty in receiving one’s dress of choice. “Designers watch the announcements and look to see if their favorite people are nominated. They’ll call and say, ‘We love so-and-so and would love to send some sketches.’ ”
Why the sudden elevation in style status? “The level of fashion on the red carpet for awards shows in general has elevated,” says Harris. “The stakes are getting higher and higher, people are taking the red carpet more seriously, and it definitely shows.”
Welch credits Emmy fever to the overall TV renaissance, specifically the plum roles attracting A-list actresses. “I haven’t gone to a movie in so long — and I love movies — but I’ve been watching ‘Game of Thrones,’ ” she says. “The caliber of shows on TV right now is so huge, especially the roles for women. There’s a greater obsession with the characters and the actresses who play them.”
Petra Flannery has dressed returning nominee Claire Danes for the past several Emmy ceremonies. “Like everybody else today, designers are such fans of TV,” she says. “There are so many great actors and actresses attending, and there are a lot of designers who want to participate in that. It’s another one of those shows that has a large following, and the fashion will get a lot of play and recognition afterwards. The designers have really thrown their hat into the ring.”
Case in point: Of the four stars Flannery dressed last year, two wore custom and two wore couture. Danes and Gwen Stefani wore, respectively, custom Givenchy and Atelier Versace, while Michelle Monaghan was in Giambattista Valli and Sarah Paulson in Armani Prive. “We take it seriously,” Flannery says.
Where once the timing of the Emmys was considered a drawback — occurring as it does on the tail end of the European fashion world’s summer vacation slump and amid New York Fashion Week fall mania — its newfound celebrity status has turned that window into an asset. “From a fashion perspective, the Emmys happen at such a great time of year,” Flannery says. “You’re coming off of summer, everyone’s tan and relaxed, and I think it’s a really fun show for that reason. It’s crazy from January through March, and then you have people promoting summertime films. In August, it becomes a little slower, and then September comes around and it’s like, ‘OK, now it’s the Emmys.’ It’s in its own unique little niche.
“It’s also an exciting time because there’s new fashion to explore,” adds Flannery, who’s just returned from the Paris Couture shows. “I kind of look at it as the start of the season, because it speaks to what’s coming next, which turns to fall and the nominations for the next round of awards shows.”
However, despite its newfound popularity, Emmy is not about to knock Oscar off his lofty pedestal. “If you think of an awards show, it’s still all about the Oscars,” says Welch. Where it ranks vis-a-vis other shows is anyone’s guess. “There are so many awards shows now, and so many film festivals and events, that I don’t know what I would consider the ranking to be after the Oscars.”
“I wouldn’t necessarily rank them, because they’re all so great for their own reasons,” says Flannery. “They all have their moment. The Globes is the first one out the gates, the Screen Actors Guild is this industry event when you’re amongst your peers, and the Oscars is, well, it’s the Oscars. It’s the award.”
One of the most unexpected side effects of Emmys’ surge is that fashion is embracing actresses of all shapes, sizes and ages. “There’s more of a meritocracy to dressing the icons now,” says Welch.
“Designers are getting inspired by women who aren’t necessarily the freshest, hottest faces. I’ll hear, ‘Oh my God, we love Amy Poehler!’ Not that Amy isn’t gorgeous, but rather than being this cookie-cutter young starlet, it’s more like, ‘Here’s this woman who created this show and this interesting character, and we’re really into that.’ That for me is one of the major shifts I’ve seen — it’s based on the meritocracy of performance. To me, that’s very, very exciting.”
Flannery agrees that the very work the nominees are being celebrated for is a big part of their appeal to designers. “They’re all such amazing actresses — creative and great at their craft,” she says. “Like anybody else, designers look at that and they get inspired.
“As a designer, you see these characters on TV, you love their show, and you say, ‘I’d love to dress them.’ It opens up the field — there are a lot more people to identify with.”
And far too many talented stars to pick just one red carpet favorite. “The Emmys are a celebration of women who are at the top of their game,” says Welch. “And they’re at the top of their game because of their merits, not just because of how they look. That to me just says it all. You don’t have to be this conventional beauty ideal to be an amazing presence.”