Kering Elizabeth Stewart

Stylist to the stars

Profile of Elizabeth Stewart

Hollywood stylist Elizabeth Stewart’s clients range from ‘Cate’ to ‘Sandra’ via ‘Salma’. She tells K magazine what it takes to dress ‘strong women’ for the red carpet, and how to keep 150 outfits per press tour in check.

“Cate Blanchett could look good wearing a paper bag,” opines stylist Elizabeth Stewart, speaking by phone from her home in a chichi Santa Monica, California neighbourhood much favoured by the film set.

Elizabeth Stewart, la styliste des stars de cinéma

Why so? “It is her confidence and strength that are very evident in how she carries clothes,” she adds.
She should know. A former journalist turned stylist to the stars, Stewart is musing on her career of dressing Hollywood.

“It has to be organic,” she says, talking about creating looks for her clients who include none other than Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Jessica Chastain and January Jones.

I ask her about how much clothing plays a role in creating different persona, strong women versus more delicate creatures, say, in her work? But this doesn't seem to be the way it’s done. “It is like a film,” she says. “You can't fool an audience: it has to be an authentic look. I think it’s pretty organic. Whoever is wearing it has to feel it. If we strategise too much it ends up looking forced.”

‘Strong women’ means something else in this context. “Choosing looks my clients and I like, without thinking about how they will be perceived or what statement they might make is, in itself, a show of strength,” she added.

Elizabeth Stewart, la styliste des stars de cinéma

However, some of her clients are more inclined to make what she sees as bold choices. “The Yacine Aoudi Cate Blanchett tattoo dress, worn to the Carol premiere this year, was a strong choice. An unusual dress, an unknown designer,” she adds.

Dressing up

I wonder how many of her women – she doesn't dress any men – play an active as opposed to a passive role when choosing outfits? “Everyone is interested in personal style,” she said.

But some are perhaps more proactive than others. “Salma [Hayek] has a really strong sense of style and really dresses herself,” she said of the actress. “In a way you could call that being a strong woman. She is intensely curious and has a thirst for new knowledge, so the role I play is bringing her new young designers, anything fresh and interesting she might not have had a chance to see.”

You can't fool an audience: it has to be an authentic look. I think it’s pretty organic.

She first worked with Hayek at the New York Times, where she was style editor for 14 years. “We did one of my favourite all times shoots in 1999 with Matthew Rolston, the highlight of which was dressing her as Queen Elizabeth I,” she recalls. “I have known her for yonks.” But most of her famous clients have strong opinions. “With celebrities, they usually decide,” she says.

She enjoyed more control in editorial. But her styling work is not only creative but multi-faceted. It includes both keeping an eye on fashion and new designers, and keeping track of selected outfits, all of which can prove daunting.

“We once had 150 looks on a press tour,” she says. I ask if so much as a shoe or belt was left behind? Probably not. “It is my job to be organised,” she adds. Red carpet critics often like to throw in their two cents when it comes to star’s choices. But, “Often these are a function of time,” she says. Or of reason. “People say why that shoe? But it is often a choice made for practical reasons,” she adds. “There can be lots of walking.”

Prepped look

Is it scary that often no one knows what a star will wear until they are on the red carpet? “I am so used to it that it is not hair-raising at all. The trick is very careful preparation, and being ready for any eventuality,” she said.

Choosing looks my clients and I like, without thinking about how they will be perceived or what statement they might make is, in itself, a show of strength.

She is prepared in other ways, too. “Living in Paris covering fashion for WWD was extremely helpful. I have witnessed first-hand what goes into the making of a couture dress, so I know what I’m asking for when working with designers. And years of editorial shoots helped me not only to really appreciate fashion, but also to build relationships with hair and make-up artists and photographers, many of whom I still work with today. It also taught me the importance of collaboration,” she said.

She sees as many shows as possible, to stay on top. But introducing lesser known names can be complicated. Hence, perhaps, the sometimes Prom-like looks found in LaLaLand.

“It can be hard because studios don’t give us money for shipping and tailoring, so we often rely on designers for that. So a new designer might not be able to afford making a custom dress or the expenses incurred when working with celebrities. But it’s worth the extra work to support young talent,” she said.

Elizabeth Stewart, la styliste des stars de cinéma

And what are her favourite looks? “[Client] Amanda Seyfried’s Balenciaga at the Les Miz [Miserables] London premiere; Cate’s Givenchy at the 2011 Oscars; Jessica Chastain’s McQueen at the 2013 Oscars; Cate’s Esteban Cortezar dress at the London Carol premiere; or any Stella McCartney worn by Sandra Bullock.”

Her editorial experience still informs her work. "Everything is a collaboration. It’s an extension of my past as a fashion editor. I’m the one who has time to be immersed in the fashion world, and I edit that world for my clients," she said.

Still, at the annual Festival de Cannes last week Stewart had her work cut out. A number of her clients were in town, including Julia Roberts for Money Monster and Cannes regular Jessica Chastain. None of them were wearing a paper bag.