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August 20 2014

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Dressing for Fame: Micaela Erlanger on Styling the Stars

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If celebrity status is conferred in red-carpet appearances, then no actress today can compete without the help of just the right stylist. As Kerry Washington once told Glamour after she noticeably upped the sartorial ante, “There were a couple of actresses whom I felt were having the upper hand careerwise—because they knew how to work that red carpet.” A carefully crafted collaboration between stylist and client, the perfect look can create an indelible impact on agents, casting directors, and those of us watching from the sidelines. Straight from the epicenter of all things celebrity, we’ve asked some of the industry’s top stylists to share their experiences and impressions from their perch above Tinseltown. With our Dressing for Fame series, we bring you an exclusive, insider look at everything it takes to create those iconic moments captured by a million photo flashes.

Micaela Erlanger

Micaela ErlangerIt was the red-carpet run that had us all waiting for the next turn with bated breath. Lupita Nyong’o's awards season made her a household name at the same time that she captured the fashion world’s attention. And behind the scenes it was her stylist, Micaela Erlanger, who was carefully crafting every strategic step. From caped red Ralph Lauren at the Golden Globes to that unforgettable Nairobi blue Prada at the Oscars, is it any wonder Nyong’o was just named People‘s Most Beautiful Person of 2014? With clients including Michelle Dockery and Olivia Munn, there’s no doubt that Erlanger’s profile is on the rise. Here, she shares exclusively with Style.com how she earned her styling stripes, what makes her process unique, and what goes into creating a custom gown.

Can you define a particular moment when you realized you wanted to be a stylist?
I think I knew from a very young age. I remember changing my newborn sister’s outfit in the middle of the night because she needed a different “look”—complete with shoes. I was 5 years old and my mother was convinced I was nuts. But it wasn’t until I started interning during college that I really fell in love with styling.

What has been your biggest learning experience?
Every day is a learning experience, but when I reflect on my time as an assistant, I remember how valuable my training was and how fortunate I was to have an incredible mentor. [Erlanger spent six years working for Annabel Tollman.]

What part of your “training” did you find most important?
It’s hard to choose. I think client fittings were critical, and market research. Understanding how decisions are made, how the negotiations evolve, and of course, how clothing fits. How alterations work, the language of it all, etc. But honestly, all of my experience has been integral.

What sets you apart from other stylists?
I think that my attention to tailoring is abnormal. I am an absolute perfectionist, and fit comes first. You have to be hyper-detailed when your client is being photographed from all angles.

I might have a signature flair or something that people like, but I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint it! My aesthetic tendencies lean toward classically elegant pieces, interesting shapes, colors, and patterns—choosing pieces that have a bit of surprise. It’s about finding the right pieces for the right person.

Beyond that, I think that my communication and collaboration with clients is unique and personalized. I am highlighting who they are and translating it to the red carpet. It is always truly representative of them, and we try to make thoughtful decisions. It’s not just throwing a cute dress on and calling it a day. There is a business, and there are careful considerations when sculpting, perfecting, and maintaining someone’s image.

What was your reaction when you first met Lupita?
I always look forward to the first meeting with new clients. I was so impressed with her grace, beauty, and her interest. I knew that we were going to have a fantastic time collaborating.

What about her and her aesthetic do you think resonates so well on the red carpet?
She wears the clothes. She pushes the envelope when it’s most unexpected, she isn’t afraid of color, she has fun on the carpet, and her choices are always representative of her natural elegance and talent.

What goes into creating a custom red-carpet gown?
The experience has been absolutely thrilling. It has to be a collaboration among all parties in order to get things perfectly right. It always starts with two conversations: a conversation with the client and then a conversation with the brand. Expectations and ideas are all discussed and research and inspiration are exchanged. Then sketches are submitted, and fabric swatches and colors are agreed on. And the fittings begin!

Do your clients’ styles ever rub off on you?
Absolutely! I am constantly inspired by my clients and by the way they wear things. I might be training their eye, but they often teach me without even knowing it! Personally I am more minimal and feminine—easy shift dresses, jeans, ballet flats, and sweaters. Easy, functional, and feminine is my motto.

What’s the key to picking the right accessories?
The real trick to using accessories is about balance, about understanding how the pieces work within an outfit. How the perfect piece of jewelry or a carefully selected shoe will transform a look. All items need to work together or set something off. Accessories are the icing on the cake.

Do you ever get involved in the makeup and hair aspects of a look?
Absolutely. It’s definitely a team effort. For me, it is more so about overseeing a vision through to completion. We often share references with each other—they have ideas, I have ideas. I let them do their thing, but we are always on the same page.

Where do you want to go from here?
I want to continue to inspire, collaborate, advise, and consult.

Photo: Courtesy photo

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