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July 30 2014

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Dressing for Fame: Erin Walsh Talks Kerry Washington, Red-Carpet Make-Believe, and the Art of Collaboration

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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.

Erin Walsh

erinWhen Kerry Washington began making sartorial waves on the red carpet last year, the effort was nothing if not strategic. Her understanding of the power of the red carpet—and those viral images—quickly shot her into the fashion stratosphere, with stylist Erin Walsh knowingly by her side. Walsh, who also counts Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristen Wiig, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as clients, continues to garner attention with her impeccable, take-notice looks that allow her actresses to stand out and shine through. Here, Walsh talks to Style.com about shooting in Irving Penn’s studio, the Samuel Beckett approach to styling, and the power of make-believe.

How did you get into styling?
I fell into it, really. I went to NYU for theater and was planning on becoming an actress. But after graduating and realizing that I was absolutely terrified of the business logistics (ahem, rejection), I immediately looked into other options. Ironically, everything I feared about the acting world is innate to this business as well! I had always loved writing, and thought maybe I could write for a magazine. I got a job in the fashion department of Vogue, thinking I could transfer to Features if things went well, but after my first time on set—in Irving Penn’s studio—it all just clicked. It felt right.

As the intro to ‘Dressing for Fame’ mentions, your client Kerry Washington talks about how actresses who know how to work the red carpet can have the upper hand careerwise. Why do you think that is?
You would have to ask Kerry for her opinion, but I do think that social media and the media in general have gotten completely insane. By being in the spotlight, you’re a part of [the insanity] anyways, so it certainly behooves you to manage the way you are seen. It gives you a certain degree of control in an arena that can be really overwhelming. Everyone has an opinion (albeit plenty of uninformed ones in this peanut gallery). It helps to do what you can to keep the reins in your own hands.

Kerry WashingtonHow do you think you’ve been able to help transform Kerry’s red-carpet personality?

We are a team! Period.

When dressing someone for promotional appearances vs. red carpet, what do you take into consideration? What helps you decide on a look?

I think there isn’t really a difference in what goes into press and red carpet. If you don’t apply the same thought process and consideration, I don’t really see the point. I think every look should always start from a point of ease. You should feel comfortable to look comfortable. A red-carpet version of yourself is elevated, same as press looks, but it should still start from the same canvas. You’re not dressing dolls, you’re dressing people, with character, points of view, and personalities to represent. It begins and ends with my clients, not me. I repeat, it’s not about me. I always take my ego out of it. I like to listen, hopefully inspire, and fill in the pieces, making things a little magical by exaggerating the terms of reality. Red carpet should be a place for make-believe, but it has a personal context. In more specific terms, you should look like yourself.

You style men and women for the red carpet. Which do you find more challenging?
I think it depends on the person, but there are definitely more possibilities with women, if only because of design logistics. Perhaps working with men can be more challenging in this respect because you have to find ways to be creative within a smaller box of options.

When working on editorial spreads, do you find it inspiring or challenging to work with other people? How do you stay true to your vision?
I love collaborating. You learn so much by listening. Obviously, you come to the table with a vision and ideas, but I find you learn the most by at least trying the ideas that others have to offer. If you know the story you want to tell, you keep that thread and try what works around it. It’s a very Samuel Beckett sort of mentality of throwing shit on the wall and seeing what sticks. But there is always a certain amount of risk involved in experimenting, especially considering the way the media feeds on these things. In any case, life is too short to not listen to those around you, and to try and find new ways to dream.

What are the day-to-day challenges you encounter with styling?
Logistics. The amount of merchandise trafficking around and getting things where they need to be—and on time! Getting everywhere on time, when there are only so many appointments you can fit into a day. Letting go of things after they happen. I am a perfectionist but also a realist, and in this business you would go mad quite quickly if you focused on all the “could have beens.” Keeping grace under fire—I like to pride myself on staying calm. Freaking out never helps. It’s only fashion, after all. There is always a way to fix it.

Photos: Courtesy Photo; Film Magic

Victoire de Castellane Talks Dior’s New Jewels

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Dior

Victoire de Castellane, the cerebral artistic director of Dior Joaillerie, has taken a new approach to high jewelry this season. The collection’s name, ArchiDior, plays on French shorthand for “architecture,” as well as a familiar term for “extreme.” So what does that tell us about the house’s latest jewels, a selection of which debut exclusively here? For starters, de Castellane turned away from the flora that so often informs her wares, and instead focused on the structural details found in Dior’s pristine garments of past and present. In the run-up to couture week, the designer took a moment to talk with Style.com about her childlike approach to design, rings that boast a thousand stones, and what sets this high-wattage collection apart from its predecessors.

What were the inspirations behind this new collection?
I started with a theme, Dior couture, and above all the idea of construction in fabric, which I adapted to gold. For Dior, I usually work with nature-inspired themes like roses, flowers, and so on. But this time I wanted to look at the work Dior did in his collections. Most of all, I had read that [when Dior was young] he wanted to be an architect. In some of his collections, he was really building constructions that were translated as cuts, pleats, geometry, and asymmetrical shapes. I thought it would be interesting to take those ideas and work them in metal, which is nothing at all like fabric.

Did you start with one iconic piece, or was it more abstract?
It was the lines: the Bar jacket was an inspiration, but so were the Ailée, Milieu du Siècle and Corolle lines, and such dresses as the Songe (haute couture, Spring/Summer 1947) and the Junon (Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 1949), among others.

Dior

How did you translate those garments and shapes into jewelry?
I like to injecting an idea and then working around it. There’s a point of departure, but it’s light, and it builds from there. ‘Literal’ is not my style; imagination takes over, and when you see the final piece you forget about [the inspiration] because every single one of them looks different depending on the angle from which you view it. For the Junon earrings, I set diamonds in black gold because I wanted to capture just the festive spirit of the dress, which is covered with paillettes. When it came to the Bar jacket, I designed a bracelet that’s cinched with an emerald and diamond baguettes on the ‘belt’ part. I reversed that same scheme for the ring, using a diamond and emerald baguettes. I incorporated the idea of the Miss Dior dress from Raf Simon’s first haute couture collection, which was covered in multicolored sequins like an Impressionist painting. So I took all the colors on that dress and adapted them to this bracelet. It’s a mix of modern couture colors and the Bar suit by Mr. Dior. At the same time, I wanted to give it my personal touch and slightly different volumes.

How do you reconcile architecture with movement?
Every dress moves in a certain way, but that aspect is just a detail in the final piece. The rest is asymmetrical, as if each piece were actually many jewels in one. Each face is always different.

Whimsy is one of your hallmarks. How does that come through in ArchiDior?
There’s a childlike feeling to the collection because I always work in a very spontaneous way. The technique is controlled, but I always forget my real age—when I’m working I feel like I’m five! There’s always joy. I can never work with something that bores me.

Soiree dress and Corolle Soir Rubis

What did you want to express with this collection?
I wanted to show how I work with figurative abstraction. I felt like I was exploring something that I had never done at Dior before, which was the mastery of curves, working outside of vegetal themes, and mixing unusual colors. Everyone does “couture” jewelry. It’s quite classic to depict animals and flowers. With ArchiDior, I wanted to create something new that had never been done this way. That’s why I thought it was really interesting to start with Dior dresses. And it was a real challenge. Some of our craftsmen with forty years of experience behind them found certain pieces so complex and spectacular that it took a year and a half to complete them. That’s what happened with the Ailée bracelet. And lots of rings have a thousand stones in them. There are so many incredible stories behind these pieces.

What’s the balance between the influence of Mr. Dior, that of Raf Simons, and your own vision?
It’s hard to say—all three are there, but it’s complicated. The foundations are Mr. Dior, there are Raf’s colors because he has a very special palette, there’s my taste, there’s what’s happening in couture now… it’s impossible to quantify. Ultimately, I think that’s something people will judge for themselves.

Photos: Courtesy of Dior, Sophie Carre

Dressing for Fame: Cher Coulter on Navigating the Red-Carpet Game and One Model’s Enviable Wardrobe

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Cher Coulter and Elizabeth OlsenWith an impressive CV that includes stints working backstage at fashion shows for the likes of Alexander McQueen and Hermès when she was just 14, as well as a degree in fashion design from London’s Central Saint Martins, Cher Coulter is a rare breed of fashion stylist. The deeply passionate Coulter has cultivated a portfolio of scene-stealing looks and a uniquely cool aesthetic among her coterie of clients that includes such A-listers as Nicole Richie, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Elizabeth Olsen. Coulter took a break from her busy schedule to talk to Style.com about what happens if she disagrees with a client, the stylist who continues to inspire her, and whose wardrobe she’d like to steal.

Why did you start styling?
For me, I think it goes hand in hand with design. When I first moved [to L.A.], I actually came out here with clothing designs of things I had been selling in London, and I just fell into styling. But after I graduated from Saint Martins, I did both. It’s all fashion, and the more qualified in the more areas you can be, the better.

When did you feel as though you’d made it?
I don’t know if you ever do. But I remember when I first went on a press tour with Orlando [Bloom] for Pirates of the Caribbean and thinking, Oh, God, this is a really big deal, being in the same room as people like Johnny Depp. I also won a Hollywood Stylist Award a couple of years ago, and I felt like that was good to get recognized. But sometimes I think, Oh, my God, have I lost it? Am I losing it? That’s the thing with fashion, it’s very up and down. You’ve got to maintain credibility. You’ve got to keep fashionable, haven’t you?

How do you balance what the client wants and what you want for the client?
You’ve always got to do what the client wants ultimately. I think as long as you feel as though you’ve had some sort of creative input, there’s compromise all along the way. Even if you’re doing an editorial, there’s compromise—you’ve got to use advertisers, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that. Unless you have your own blog, it’s never 100 percent you.

Do you ever disagree with the client on a look?
I’m pretty obvious when I don’t like something. Sometimes there are too many choices, and I’ll be like, “Look and see these pictures and sleep on it and wake up in the morning and see what your gut reaction is. What leapt out more to you in the night? What dress does your mind keep going to?” That’s a really good test. But there have been a couple of times when people have worn things that weren’t my first choice. But ultimately, I’ve pulled all the clothes. Normally, what can sometimes happen is that I just want it to be even more fashion, and at the end of the day, sometimes the person wearing it is like, “Well, you aren’t the one who has to walk out there and be up for criticism.” That’s why I never push someone into doing something they don’t want to do, because it will backfire…and then they’ll just hate me.

Do you prefer editorial work or red carpet?
I think variety is the spice of life, and ultimately you need to do a little bit of everything. I like to do an ad job as well when there are parameters where they might say to you, “We just want white swimsuits.” And then what you do is focus in on white swimsuits and you have to find the best swimsuits. I like research. But then I also like working with a brand like J Brand. I worked on their Pre-Fall collection. I like going in there and getting into the designer’s head and aesthetic and then looking at the real subtleties in that collection and styling it. I like that as much as working with a celebrity on the red carpet.

What do you think is the most underrated part of your job?
How much work goes into the prep. I don’t think anybody ever gets that. I can spend two days solid on Style.com looking for gowns. Of course, I’ll start with the designers that I like the most and I’ll put those all into files. And then I send those to each PR and they’ll say, “I don’t have this, this, and this.” So then I’ll say, “Well, what do you have?” It’s such a back-and-forth with each designer. And what’s really important to me is to make sure there’s representation from the client’s favorite designers. So maybe I can’t get the Stella dress, but I got you these Stella pieces instead. They need to know that I’ve approached everybody.

When clients have brand partnerships or act as ambassadors, does that make the job easier or more challenging?
It’s better. And I am part of getting to that place. I encourage someone to go to [the designer's] show, I encourage them to go to any event they do. I think that’s all very important. Designers become close with celebrities, and I think ultimately you can get pushed out as a stylist because they forge friendships and stuff. But you’re also the person who has the objective view and can be a third eye.

Are there any stylists who inspire you?
So many stylists are great. I think Camilla Nickerson is the one. Her attention to detail is amazing. She’s worked hard, she gets to work with the best photographers, she gets the best clothes, but she’ll always put them together with really good flavor. I like how her work isn’t just straightforward pretty. There’s always something out there about it, and the details are spot-on. I think she’s brilliant.

If you could swap style or wardrobes with one client, who would it be?
Rosie [Huntington-Whiteley]. I’d swap wardrobes with her because she has the most insane wardrobe. She has the most amazing vintage, the most amazing Isabel Marant. She has every girl’s dream wardrobe.

Photo: Roger Kisby/Getty Images

Meet Century Xie, the Shanghai-born Designer Who Makes “Jewelry That Makes Women Feel Stronger”

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Century XiTonight marks the official cocktail to honor the winner of the first-ever Edgard Hamon award for costume jewelry. As reported in March, Jing “Century” Xie is taking home the €15,000 prize. In the hours before the event, the 30-year-old Shanghai-born designer sat down to talk accessories, passion, and what can happen when you drop everything to follow a dream.

It’s been quite a ride this season: In three months you’ve gone from freelancing to winning a major jewelry prize to designing women’s footwear for a fast-fashion giant. How does it all feel?
It feels like a long way from where I started! My first job at 21 was helping choose colors and materials for car interiors at Peugeot and Citroën in Paris. After a year I went back to Shanghai and cofounded a company and did graphic design for five years. But something was missing, and I love an adventure. So in 2008 I gave it all up and went to Studio Berçot, and then attended the Institut Français de la Mode.

How did your family react?
My father asked, “How many fashion designers really become famous?” and advised me to stick with a “decent” job. But I’ve always loved fashion and I wanted to be in Paris. I gave up everything in Shanghai and came here with just enough money to get through Studio Berçot. I had no idea what I would do after that.

When did your track become clear?
By my second year, I was really into jewelry and bags, using coated gold paper to work on pleats and make prototypes. That’s when I knew it wouldn’t be clothes, but shoes, bags, and jewelry. I worked on projects like a bag for Paco Rabanne, Dior sunglasses, and shoes for Erdem. As a sideline I did calligraphy for brands like Julien David and Yazbukey.

How do you define your style?
I like things that are rigid, abstract, and contemporary. Actually, my style is quite androgynous. The Edgard Hamon jury laughed [when I walked in] because they were expecting an English guy, not a Chinese girl. For a second there, I thought I had dressed funny!

Century Xi

What was the inspiration for your winning entry?
Richard Rogers’ Lloyd’s building in London. People associate him more with the Pompidou Center, but Lloyd’s has a similar idea about tubes. Everything exists to be functional. So my idea is to interchange all the shapes for different pieces, whether it’s a necklace or a ring. There’s no crystal or anything fancy, there’s just the geometry and the combinations. What holds it all together is a screw, which frankly is the ugliest part, but I don’t hide it. It’s the identity of the collection, and to me that’s very honest. I want to make jewelry that makes women feel stronger. It’s not necessarily very feminine, though, so I know perfectly well it won’t be for everyone.

Were you inspired by other jewelry designers?
I made it a point not to look at anything else. But Elie Top is my favorite jewelry designer—I like everything he does. The proportion of Lanvin jewelry is always big and solid. No matter what you’re wearing, it makes you strong.

Where do you look for design inspiration in general?
Ultimately, I am just a workaholic: I can be at a restaurant and thinking about a bag and something will strike me about the line of a chopstick and the suppleness of noodles. Later, people ask about inspirations—I have to backtrack to find an answer because it was really just something in my mind that came together because of what I ate for dinner one night!

What happens next?
I’ll invest in production. But I love shoes and I want to draw them every day, so right now I am keeping my career and my jewelry separate. I’ve recently moved to the south of Spain, so I’m still adjusting. Someday I will return to Paris, but right now I can walk to the beach in three minutes, which isn’t bad!

Century Xie’s prizewinning eight-piece jewelry collection will be sold at Le Bon Marché starting in September. Prices range from about $240 for a ring to about $1,370 for a large necklace.

Photos: Courtesy Photos

EXCLUSIVE: Anthony Vaccarello on his First Campaign, Versus Versace, and the Beauty of Breasts

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Anthony Vaccarello

Anthony Vaccarello doesn’t fear the nipple. Or any other body part, for that matter. The 31-year-old Italian-Belgian designer has earned a bold reputation for his vampy, va-va-voom aesthetic and daring—sometimes shocking—cutouts. His career has been on the rise following his 2011 ANDAM win, but everyone really started paying attention to the hot young talent after his friend Anja Rubik walked the 2012 Met Gala red carpet in a dangerously high-slit white gown that showcased her lanky gams and right hip. Surely that mega moment helped catch the eye of Donatella Versace, who’s tapped Vaccarello for what may very well be the most perfect Versus collaboration yet. And as if the Versace team-up, which will debut in New York later this year, weren’t enough, Vaccarello has today released his debut Inez & Vinoodh-lensed advertising campaign. Starring Rubik, the sharp ads debut exclusively here. Last week, Vaccarello rang us from Paris to discuss the Fall ’14 campaign, Versus Versace, and why Instagram’s nipple-phobia is utterly absurd.

Congratulations on your first campaign! Can you tell me about the concept behind the imagery?
The concept came from the Fall collection, which was inspired by Tony Viramontes. We wanted a raw image and to do something very dynamic that looked like a sketch. It was a dream for me that Inez & Vinoodh shot it. I never thought I would be able to work with them. I was talking to Anja [Rubik], and she said, “Why don’t you ask Inez & Vinoodh?” She pushed me to try, and they said yes. For me, they are the best because they understand simplicity. The campaign is very sharp but very soft at the same time. We chose red text because I wanted it to look like a gallery poster. And because we had red in the collection.

Why was now the right time to do your first campaign? It’s a big step.
I wanted to control the image of what I’m doing. There were a lot of editorials and stuff like that, but I thought it was important for me to put out the image in my mind that corresponds with the collection—the right image for the collection.

Anja has been somewhat of a poster girl for your brand since its early days. How did you two meet?
We met five years ago through a friend. We started talking straightaway, and she’s really supported me from the beginning. I’m always amazed by the things she does for me. For instance, she introduced me to Inez.

Anja RubikEarlier, you spoke about controlling your image, and arguably the most memorable Anthony Vaccarello image is from the 2012 Met Gala, when Anja wore your hip-baring white gown. What has that moment done for your career?

You know, when I was creating that dress on the mannequin, I didn’t expect all the buzz. But when Anja wore it with her legs and her attitude, it was completely different from what I expected. For me, it was just a simple white dress with a simple slit. It was virginal in a way, and I made it so Anja would feel comfortable. But after that moment, people became aware of what I was doing.

There’s a very fine line between sexy and vulgar. How do you make sure not to cross it?
I think it is a thin line. But a lot of it has to do with the person wearing the clothes. As a designer, you need to know the customer’s limits as far as what they can wear. Even if they love something, it might not be right for their body. Some things can look very chic on one girl and very trashy on another. So really, it’s all about the attitude that a woman gives the dress.

Do you think it’s possible to show too much? Rihanna was basically naked at the CFDAs, and Anja got kicked off Instagram for posting Style.com’s homepage image of her wearing your sheer Fall 2014 top without a bra.
That whole thing with Instagram is ridiculous. On Instagram, you see so many trashy things that are not censored. But if you can see a nipple it’s not allowed? I don’t think that sends a good message about femininity. And especially when you have boobs like Anja, you cannot hide them! I think celebrities like Rihanna or Miley Cyrus are just having fun. And I think that’s fine. Hiding the body and [the recent trend] of putting a woman’s body into all these boxy clothes cancels out the sexuality of women. That’s not a good thing. I like that Rihanna and Miley just do what they want.

You’re half-Belgian, half-Italian, and were born in Brussels. Historically, Belgian designers are quite restrained. So I’m curious, where does all this sexiness come from?
Maybe it comes from my Italian side. I’m never very controlled with my cuts. I think because of my Italian side, I’m more sensual and focus on the body and femininity.

You’ve recently dressed Anja, of course, as well as Gisele Bündchen and a handful of other stars for the red carpet. Is there anyone else you’d like to see in your gowns?
Not really. For me to dress a celebrity, I have to know her. I really need to have a contact, and to know how she feels about clothes. So far, I’ve dressed girls that I really want to work with. I’ve been lucky.

Do you think starlets need to take more risks on the red carpet? If so, who?
Yeah, I think that celebrities are afraid of doing something new and risky. I get very bored seeing them in that cliché prom look or those princess dresses. Maybe it’s a fantasy for women to be princesses. But I think [stars] need to be more risky. I probably shouldn’t say who, but there are a lot. And it’s not necessarily American celebrities. We have actresses in France who should take more risks. Bad taste is everywhere!

Versace recently tapped you to be its next Versus collaborator. How did Versace approach you?
I met Donatella last year. She wanted to meet me because she thought we had similar sensibilities when it comes to femininity. Straightaway, we started to talk like we’ve known each other forever. For me, meeting her was like meeting Madonna in the nineties. She is so cool, so gentle, and so open-minded.

You and Donatella definitely have parallel aesthetics. Is Versace a brand you’ve admired throughout your career?
Versace has inspired me since I was a kid. For me, the ultimate designers have always been Azzedine Alaïa, Helmut Lang, and Gianni Versace. I used to watch Gianni Versace on television. I was always obsessed with the house, its history, all the major photographers and models they worked with. So this collaboration is a dream come true. I know it’s cliché to say that, but I’m so happy with them. And I hope that people will like what I do. There are a lot of expectations, and I’m nervous that people won’t understand it. But it’s good to be stressed like this.

Can you give us any hints about what we can expect from the Versus collection?
It’s a secret! I can only tell you that it’s based on what was iconic for me when I was a kid.

Photos: Inez & Vinoodh; BFAnyc.com