In many ways, the red carpet has surpassed the awards themselves as the most important—and stress-inducing—aspect of Oscar Sunday. The simplicity of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s yesteryear—think Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Grace Kelly—have been replaced by a spectacle where it’s all about what you wear, not who you are, or what film you were in. Between liaising with PR and design houses, samples, and ensuring both your client—and the millions of viewers watching and critiquing at home—are satisfied, a stylist’s job consists of a whole lot of nerves, and not a whole lot of sleep.
“There’s so much pressure now, especially with the internet,” stylist Anita Patrickson, whose clients include Julianne Hough, Julie Delpy, Emma Watson, and Chanel Iman, told The Daily Beast. “Everybody thinks they’re a stylist, so everybody’s got an opinion. There are hundreds of people who are critiquing your work who think they know how [styling] works, or thinking how easy it must be to just choose a dress and put it on somebody. But it definitely doesn’t work that way—some designers only work with certain people; body shapes and sizes aren’t probably as they look on the carpet; and everybody’s got their different insecurities, especially for the Oscar’s. This is the big momma of award shows.”
Jeanann Williams, 33, is a former PR executive-turned-celebrity stylist whose close friend Naomi Watts came calling for the Venice Film Festival in 2012. “Naomi and I are quite close,” said Williams, who has since added Suki Waterhouse and Emily Mortimer as clientele. “She said she admired my style and wanted to [work] together, so she asked me to dress her. I’ve done every outfit since.”
Last year, Watts, who was nominated for Best Actress for her role in The Impossible, sported a custom silver Armani gown. “Especially because her role was about a strong woman, we wanted to embody strength,” Williams said of the glistening dress. “There were beautiful sketches from Armani. It was based on her measurements, and it was absolutely perfect. The minute she tried it on—the way she was moving and just working her body—you knew it was right and was going to look good on the red carpet.”
Although Watts didn’t win the Academy Award, she scored big on ‘Best Dressed’ lists across the world.
Despite Williams’s luck with the gorgeous, practically flawless, Armani number, stylists often endure other stumbles—some quite literal, when a heel breaks or a zipper snaps.
“The two things that scare the bejeezus out a stylist are A) Your FedEx or messenger service loses your dress, or B) a zipper busts,” stylist Jessica Paster explained. “It’s Murphy’s Law; your zipper is always going to bust.”
Paster, whose laundry list of celebrity clients includes Miranda Kerr, Emily Blunt, Chrissy Teigen, and Bette Midler, has been dressing celebrities for the Academy Awards since Kim Basinger in 1997—the year she scored the Best Supporting Actress award for her role in L.A. Confidential. The mint green Escada dress Basinger wore for the occasion, however, almost didn’t happen.
“We had asked for mint green, and the designer made five variations of the dress that [Basinger] wanted, all in different colors—except the green,” Paster said. “So when I saw the dresses, I’m like, ‘They’re all quite pretty… but where’s the mint green one?’ I ended up having to go get the fabric. Thank god they sent over the person who had actually made the dress—that poor lady stood morning, noon, and night making the mint green dress she won her Academy Award in.”
Patrickson agreed that things never seem to go as expected. “I always tell the story of when I had to race over to somebody and sew them into a dress on the side of the street in the back of the car. That was definitely not glamorous.” The best part? “I sewed them in with dental floss!”
It may seem impossible to calm nerves, but it’s that quick, always on-your-toes attitude that allows certain stylists to dominate the rest, pulling out any trick necessary to ignore the mishaps and panic behind the scenes in order to satisfy the client—and, in turn, the audience.
“I think the main thing with those panics is to breathe and remember: It’s just clothes, and we’re going to be fine,” said Patrickson.