August 22 2014

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1 posts tagged "Samantha McMillen"

Dressing for Fame: Samantha McMillen on Styling Elle Fanning and Suiting Hollywood’s Muscly Men


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.

Samantha McMillen


Elle Fanning’s red-carpet presence and demure aesthetic have been carefully crafted by longtime stylist Samantha McMillen. Just take one look at the starlet’s dazzling ensembles on the Maleficent press tour and you’ll agree that McMillen has the Midas touch. And McMillen’s touch extends to her other clients, too, including Dakota Fanning, Ellen Page, Mark Ruffalo, and Johnny Depp. Here, McMillen talks to about why working in PR helped launch her styling career, dressing Miss Fanning, and suiting some of Hollywood’s most muscly leading men.

How did you get into styling?
I had been working at Giorgio Armani as VP of celebrity relations for almost eight years. I started as an assistant and, you know, worked my way up. The nineties at Armani was pretty hectic, as we were the first and one of the few fashion houses at the time that was actively—possibly at some times aggressively—pursuing relationships with A-list actors for red-carpet appearances. I wore a lot of hats, but I think one of them was sort of as an in-house stylist. Back in the early nineties, not many actors had stylists. They would come in themselves to the showroom and you did your best to dress them head to toe in the brand. I naturally developed relationships with publicists, managers, agents, and the talent themselves. When it came time to go out on my own, I already had a lot of resources and contacts and, thankfully, some people who were willing to give me a chance.

What was your “I’ve made it” moment?
I don’t think I think in those terms. I’m grateful for every little job I took that led me to the next bigger job, if that makes sense. I never assisted anyone. I just jumped right in and started styling, so I had to learn as I went along. It was really hard at first, and I had days and sometimes weeks in a row where I wasn’t sure if I was going to get more work. I think when the work started really flowing in, I felt like I must have proven myself to enough people that they kept rehiring me or recommending me. It wasn’t so much about whom I was working with, but that I was starting to get support, loyalty, respect, and, most important, trust from publicists, photographers, and talent. That felt really good and I am eternally grateful to those people who got behind me and gave me a big push.

How did your work in PR help inform this new path?
Well, having an understanding of both sides of this business really helps. I know what I need on my end and I think I know what designers and their representatives need on their end. Especially when working with women’s runway, you have to be extremely organized, diligent, persistent, and respectful when it comes to samples. I call it “air traffic control.” A lot of designers have only one sample in each exit and there are multiple people requesting it for different editorials or fittings all over the world. If you are lucky enough to get it, or know it’s coming, you need to be respectful about tracking it, getting it back out as quickly as possible if you aren’t using it, and doing your best to keep it in perfect condition. I think the PR teams really appreciate this, and it definitely helps the next time you need their help for a fitting or photo shoot. It’s as simple as the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

Elle FanningWhen working with young women (e.g., Elle Fanning), do you try to keep it age-appropriate?

I really just try to honor the wishes, style, and comfort level of whomever it is I’m working with. Elle is fun because she is daring, unique, and has an incredible knowledge of fashion, especially considering her age. She loves fashion and she loves to try new things. At the same time, she has a good sense of what is timeless and knows which occasion to do a timeless look and which occasions she can be a little bit more experimental. Truthfully, there aren’t that many 16-year-olds out there who regularly have access to haute couture, so the term “age-appropriate” when it comes to fashion kind of makes me laugh. But to answer the question…Yes. I just try not to age them or put them in anything that would draw attention to an area on their bodies that people shouldn’t be focusing on. On the other hand, for my more iconic ladies who are a bit older, we try not to go too young or trendy—just elegant, flattering, and timeless, and a little bit of edge, depending on who it is.

When working with a celebrity for a promotional tour, where do you begin?
I usually start with premiere looks and then take care of the photo calls, junkets, and TV appearances. The TV looks can be more challenging because it’s a bit harder to get new runway for things like that, but it’s a difficult thing to explain to your client. Designers definitely prioritize red-carpet dressing opportunities, so our hardest work is getting great looks for morning shows, late-night talk shows, and press junket days.

What has been your experience with styling men? How do you find it in comparison to women?
I love both. Dressing men and understanding menswear comes very naturally to me. I love when I have a male client who is willing to “go for it.” But I also respect the man who likes to keep it simple, dark, and clean. With both you have to prioritize tailoring and make sure everything is impeccably fitted. Men tend to have a lot more layers and pieces, so the tailoring can be very involved. I work with a lot of guys who do action films and have large muscles in their biceps, shoulders, and thighs. It’s hard to fit those guys off the rack and the pants tend to be gigantic in the waist and the shoulders and arms on the jackets too small, so unless you are doing custom-made suits, you constantly have to tailor and fit to check the tailoring. Most men don’t like to try on clothes or stand still long enough to have their clothing pinned. I think women have a bit more patience with the tailoring process and the trying-on process.

What’s more challenging, working on a campaign or a red-carpet look?
Working on an ad campaign is probably more challenging because there are so many people with different needs and opinions. You have the ad agency people, the client, the photographer or director, and the talent all asking for and expecting different things. You have to submit shopping images ahead of time for approval and your work is under constant scrutiny. You are receiving new info and requests until the last second. I have lost many nights of sleep doing commercials and ad campaigns. But I feel at home with red carpet. Both are time consuming and challenging. Red carpet, to me, is more enjoyable, exciting, and rewarding.

Is there any client whose style you covet?
I mean…there are several things at any given fitting that I would love to have in my own closet, but I’d never try to wear them the same way my clients do. We are individuals, and it’s important to find our own unique way to express ourselves and have the confidence to do so.

Photos: Courtesy Photo; Frazer Harrison / Getty Images