Awards season is one of my favorite times of year. I live for the several hours of red carpet coverage before the show begins, watching the savvy of genius stylists and designers come to life in stunning looks that leave an imprint, potentially forever. There's something so festive and fairytale-esque about it all, and I have long been fascinated by what goes in to dressing a celebrity for those big moments.
Enter: Anita Patrickson, the expert behind our Stylist Series, who answered all my burning red carpet questions in riveting detail. Keep reading for her inside scoop on everything from "claiming" dresses for clients and competing looks, to practicing posing, wardrobe malfunctions, and bathroom breaks. There is some mind-blowing—I would even go so far as to say salacious—info in here. It's so good.
How does the whole process begin? Do you sit down with a client ahead of time and figure out what they're looking for (i.e. sultry, bright dress, something super unique, etc.) or do you just suggest several looks and they pick their favorite. Also, when does this process typically start?
This process really differs from client to client. Clients that I have worked with for years - we don’t have a conversation at all. ‘Their people’ will tell ‘my people’ what the particular event that they are attending is and next time we chat is in the fitting room. When I start working with a new client however, I usually have a list of questions I like to run through. Likes, dislikes, areas on their body they are comfortable with, uncomfortable with etc., and then from there we break it down and I have a clear idea of what to pull. With a regular client, I know exactly what they have worn and when they have worn it so I definitely do try and mix it up a little while staying true to their style. Maybe something edgy or sleek for one red carpet and we might choose something girlier to follow that look and so on. Designers don’t like to have their pieces out for too long so you are usually only allowed to pull things a day or two before your fitting.
Do you adhere to a certain theme for awards season for your clients, or is it all a bit random?
Each award show is quite different in ‘personality’ and style. The AMAs, VMAs and Billboard red carpets are way more risqué and fun. The Oscars very serious. The Emmys a little more relaxed and sexy, and the Globes a little more fashion forward.
What comes first – the dress, the hair, or the makeup? Is there a certain order to finalizing a look?
Very rarely will something other than the outfit dictate the look. Even if the outfit is so clean it lends itself to the makeup being the star of the show, the outfit comes first. After that comes the hair and makeup, and it depends on the stylist what the amount of input they have in the direction of the glam. Personally, I like to send inspiration pictures to the hair and makeup artists just so that we can all get on the same page and they can understand my thought process. I am however very conscious not to step on toes or to tell people who know far better than I do how to do their job! I just think it’s a good jumping-off point for the conversation and to steer us on the right path for the final look.
How do you go about securing a dress? Do you have to put down a security deposit? How do you ensure nobody else will be wearing the same thing?
Outfits by high-end designers that are pulled for the red carpet are usually samples from the runways that are not available in stores yet and there really is only one of each look available globally. Big designers have a very select target list of celebrities that they want to dress and people whom they feel embody their brand. Once a sample has been worn and photographed it cannot be loaned out again unless it’s for an editorial magazine shoot. So they are very careful about who they loan it to. They need to know the stylist isn’t going to style it poorly and change the integrity of the piece or that the celebrity wont behave badly or wear it in a way that doesn’t elevate the collection and the brand. Usually the stylists that are pulling these big designer labels are old friends with the PR team and there is no need for credit cards etc. You can't just walk in to Tom Ford and pull a runway dress from the corporate office if you don’t have some connection. It’s most often a cultivated relationship that the stylist and celebrity has built over a number of years.
Do your clients ever decide they don't like a dress at the last minute? If so, what are the next steps?
This definitely happens! With some clients more than others. It also happens a lot more at the big award shows than you might imagine. With a carpet as big as the Oscars you usually have more than one gown tailored and ready to go. Not only just to have the option, but also god forbid the zipper breaks or the alterations weren’t quite right you will need a Plan B. Any number of things might happen and there is no way to be too prepared for a day like that. Usually for a press tour I pack about four extra looks for my clients - new events come up while they are on the road and also they might wake up not feeling too skinny and trim after a long flight and want to wear something a little more forgiving than a body-con Victoria Beckham dress. If you have no back-up and something happens, this is where your contacts and favors come in to play and you better hope you have some friends out there who like you! I once had the head of PR for a global brand save my bacon by opening up the store at 2 a.m. in London and pulling a dress off the rack for me to give to a client whose luggage got lost right before a huge photo call day for a blockbuster movie with a 4 a.m. start time.
What's the most stressful part of the before process?
The most stressful part for me is requesting the clothing: sending a million emails before the fitting asking for looks and designers and not knowing what might be available and who is going to send. Once you start getting the yes’s and the tracking numbers from packages being sent from NYC or Europe, you can start to breathe. As part of my prep, after the New York emails go out and the selects from the runways have been made I will then head out to showrooms in L.A. and pull from the inventory on the west coast.
How do you claim a dress? If someone else is wearing the same/similar dress, how do you move forward from there?
The PR will rarely if ever loan out two dresses that are from the same collection and especially not to celebrities going to the same event. They will hold pieces back until fittings are over and dresses are returned. That is a huge part of their job. I’m sure you can all remember a few times that someone has messed up and dresses have been on the carpet and comparisons drawn. I remember Kim Kardashian and Joan Smalls had that issue at the VMAs one year wearing Balmain. That’s a big no-no in our industry. No one ever wants a 'who wore it better’ scenario!
Any beauty treatments or products that are must haves before an awards show?
A good night's sleep (or a fabulous makeup artist!). A lot of girls like to do a very light spray tan just to even out the skin tone rather than going a shade darker. Facials a day or so before, so that by the time they walk the carpet they have that gorgeous glowy skin. Hydration is key! Lots of water and coconut water in the days leading up to the show. Everyone has his or her own tricks and secrets but truly an amazing glam squad is the key. The hair and makeup teams that work on this level truly are artists; it’s pretty phenomenal to see it all happen.
Talk us through picking accessories: jewelry/clutch/shoes. Are there are any rules that you always follow?
I always do the accessories last. Once I find the outfit I see the accessories as the adjectives: they dictate how the outfit will be viewed. They can take a look in any direction. A white button-up blouse can be menswear, vintage, boho, modern, edgy or glam all with the use of accessories. When picking your accessories, you choose your story line. The trick is keeping all the accessories on the same page. Your cocktail ring needs to tell the same tale as the bag and the necklace. That doesn’t mean they all need to match, it just means that they need to be cohesive. For example you can't have a delicate vintage ring, a chunky deco statement necklace and super edgy black diamond earrings: those are three separate stories. If you are choosing something to be the star of the show and you really want it to pop, you can't have a million other pieces competing. Less really is usually more, especially if you aren’t that confident in your decisions.
How closely do you work with the hair/makeup team? Do you have an opinion in terms of the final look?
I like to work really closely. I create mood boards for hair and for makeup and email to each artist ahead of time so that we can all get on the same page. That’s a personal choice - each stylist works very differently. I just find having the visual jumping-off point very helpful.
How do you find dress options? Do you pay attention at Fashion Week, have relationships with designers - are you sent options?
Finding dress options happens a number of different ways. If you are a stylist who has relationships with designers and have clients that get loaned big designers you tend to be glued to Vogue.com and the runway shows or a fixture at Fashion Weeks. As soon as a new collection ‘walks,’ we have a whole new inventory of pieces to utilize. We will then send a request to the designer’s specific PR team with our fitting date and location, the event, the celebrity and the selects we would like to try (e.g. Prada F/W15, Look #4 or Gucci S/S16 #24). They will then assess whether or not they want to loan, if that particular piece is available and has not been worn, and if they can even get it to you in time. Getting the pieces you want can be a real game of back and forth and moving parts, and compromising on the selects - but when you open the box and see this incredible creation that just walked the runway in Milan nestled into the tissue paper sitting in your studio in Laurel Canyon…it’s pretty special!
What are your three all time favorite Award Show looks? When you're pulling looks, is your goal to have one of those iconic looks?
It's SO tough to choose just three favorite awards show looks! It’s absolutely something any stylist would want - an iconic look that inspires everyone. There are so many factors that play into that and sometimes there is no rhyme or reason. There have been looks that I have styled that I loved but didn’t feel were particularly out of the ordinary but have sometimes blown up and are still everywhere on best-dressed lists from the last decade! Then others, you really think you’ve hit the jackpot and then for whatever reason they just don’t get that air under their wings. Three I love that immediately come to mind are Lupita Nyong'o in the red Ralph Lauren at the Globes 2014, Sharon Stone at the Academy Awards in ’98 when she wore her husband’s shirt with her evening skirt (now that might not seem so special but at the time it was so bold!), and Mila Kunis in the lavender lace Elie Saab.
Any horror stories/problems day of?
SO many horror stories! It’s amazing how many things can go wrong in one simple look! I think that’s why great stylists have a very common trait—resourcefulness! You have to be prepared for ANYTHING. I’ve had a client spill maple syrup all down her Prada dress moments before walking out onto the Today Show and another who split his pants backstage at Ellen! You just have to be calm and make a plan. One of my craziest horror stories was a client who was in the car at the Oscars and whilst getting out, about to put her foot on the red carpet, the zipper on her corset broke…I had to race down to the event, double parked my car in the red, tore down Hollywood Blvd, got into her car with a smile on my face acting as if this was no big deal and sewed her back in behind the blacked windows with a tapestry needle and dental floss! Needless to say I had a rather stiff drink immediately following! But at the end of the day, it always works out, you just have to keep a little perspective and your sense of humor. We aren’t curing cancer over here.
What's in your tool kit for day-of?
My kit is absolutely my lifeline! The one random thing you don’t have is inevitably the exact thing you need… and I have learned that the hard way! I have a whole long list of items that we continually keep the kit stocked with but some of the more utilized items are:
Belt notcher, double stick tape, safety pins, mini sewing kit, alcohol wipes, wet wipes, lint roller, bras and thongs, nipple petals, foot petals, sunscreen, moleskin, a memory stick and Advil!
Let's talk awkward red carpet moments: how do you deal with things like sweat stains, underwear lines, nipples, creasing, etc.
These little mistakes or flaws can completely ruin a red carpet moment no matter how gorgeous everything else is so it’s really important to pay attention to these details…it really is the little things. When it’s a major carpet especially I like to do a practice run and see what the dress looks like after sitting in it sometime. I have an assistant do it at the studio so we don’t have to get the client in; and in the fitting with the client, I like to try it as best I can with the right underwear on etc. (When it’s a smaller carpet, things happen with a little less time so that’s when you do it more on the fly). I am always ready with spanx and scissors. I often cut up underwear whilst it's on my clients' body to make sure it cuts the body correctly keeping everything smooth and clean…underwear is as important as outerwear! Nipple petals can be amazing or horrible. I always have the paper and the gel ones on hand because it usually calls for one or the other depending on the fabric. When it comes down to it though, I rely heavily on my tailor. I really would rather line something and fit it perfectly than to have my client worrying about tape and sticky things all over their body. Seeing tape or petals is one of my pet peeves and it can usually all be avoided with an amazing tailor. As far as the creasing goes, if something creases terribly, I usually opt for another outfit. A little inside secret: most celebrities lie down horizontally like a washboard in their black cars on their way to a major red carpet…glamorous right?
Walk us through your schedule, day of. I want to know when you get up, what you eat, what your stress level is like. Do you have to be suuuuper careful around all of the pieces? When do you leave?
On the day of a major award show, weirdly enough some of the pressure is off in terms of actually ‘performing’. All the running around was before the fitting. Most of the decisions have been made, the dress is chosen, the clutches and jewelry are mostly decided on. The stress lies in the press after the carpet and your client’s happiness as well as the hair and make up coming together to bring your vision to life. The other big stress ‘day-of’ is the timing and scheduling: being able to spend time with all your clients if you have more than one attending the awards show. Each celebrity will leave at a similar time and each of them wants you to be there to zip them in and send them off, so that’s really the tough part, trying to be in three places at once. If I can stagger their leaving times I do - I really like to be there to put each of them into the car and send them off in case something happens at the last minute. Either way, I have an assistant with each celebrity at every moment from the start of hair and makeup to when they leave for the show, and I try and bounce around and spend some time with each of them. The jewelry can definitely be super stressful. Most big jewelers will have bodyguards deliver the jewels in an armored car to wherever you are getting ready and stay until the celebrity walks out of the door wearing the selected pieces. They will then return to collect the next morning or in some case, if the piece has a huge value, I have known them to actually walk the carpet with the celebrity and take the piece off them when they finish the carpet and swap them out for something with a smaller price tag to go and wear for the rest of the evening.
Any items you suggest your clients take with them, just in case?
Usually the client will take the lipstick that the makeup artist used so that they can touch up, some blotting papers, and depending on the shoes they are wearing, sometimes we throw a pair of flats into the car if they are planning on hitting the dance floor.
How do you watch the awards?
Sadly I often miss the actual show because I am running around trying to get the after-party looks ready. But on the odd occasion I have been able to regroup and watch together with my team, we crack open the champers and order some food and watch it all at my house. It's so fun seeing dresses you’ve fit and pulled but that you didn’t choose on other nominees or talent - seeing the way it's all been accessorized and pulled together for the big night.
Do you know what other people are going to wear ahead of time?
Stylists usually like to keep this info close to their chest. Also most people have back-up dresses and until they hit the carpet there is never a guarantee of what their celebrity client is wearing.
Are there any trends you think we'll be seeing a lot of this awards season?
It’s always hard to predict, but there are a lot of sleek and clean looks at the moment. People are following the ‘less is more’ rule. Thigh high slits and simple silhouettes are a huge trend. White is always a favorite and I feel like people are getting over the ‘black is boring’ adage and are embracing the sexy classic vibe that comes along with that. The sheer look has also lost the shock value and is definitely finding its place on the bigger carpets.
Do your clients practice posing in their entire outfit ahead of time to figure out its best angles? I.e. know to look over your shoulder to highlight the back of the dress?
ABSOLTUELY! I always have my clients practice how they want to pose in a dress. Where they put their hands and position their body is so important. They really need to sell the look and show it off in its best light to highlight their figure and embody the entire look. I take a million pictures of them I the dress and we systematically break it down and find the best poses.
How do they go to the bathroom?
Haha! How do they go to the bathroom? Often with difficulty! I don’t always know to be honest and I don’t always ask…
P.S. You can follow Anita on Instagram here, and check out her first post for Cupcakes and Cashmere, The Most Common Fashion Mistakes she sees people make, here.