The nearly two-week long red carpet marathon that is the Cannes Film Festival is finally over. And no one is more relieved than those stylists and publicists who are responsible for dressing the endless stream of celebrities who attended the festival.
If there’s one designer name that routinely comes up on the Cannes red carpet (or any red carpet for that matter) it’s Elie Saab. The long list of celebrities dressed by Elie Saab this go round includes: Fan Bing Bing, Aishwarya Rai, Dita Von Teese, Paz Vega, Rosario Dawson, and Ludivine Sagnier–and that’s just to name a few.
But it’s not a numbers game. Dressing celebrities for Cannes–which has two red carpets per day–is all about strategy. It’s about dressing the “right” girls, being able to respond to a capricious actress who decides an hour before an event that she’d like to wear a different dress, and accommodating for nasty weather.
Emilie Legendre, the communication director at Elie Saab, knows a thing or two about how to tackle an event like Cannes. She takes care of everything related to the image of the brand–including celebrity dressing during Cannes–and has been with Elie Saab for 10 years. “You have to be very calm,” Legendre told us of working Cannes. “It’s a 12 day marathon so if you lose it you’ll never make it.”
Here’s how it works: “When the selection of the movies is made official [about two months before the festival] we start to receive requests,” Legendre told us on the phone on the last day of Cannes. “Then I evaluate them to decide which we’ll say ‘yes’ to and which we’ll say ‘no’ to.”
So who gets a ‘yes’? It all comes down to the “image of the actress” Legendre explains. “Who she is in terms of her career and as a person–we have to remember our customers and make sure that they won’t be offended if we dress a certain type of celebrity.” Being a major A-list movie star doesn’t automatically earn you the right to wear Elie Saab. “The codes of the brand are to be extremely feminine and glamorous so when we dress someone we need to make sure the DNA of the brand is in the woman we dress–it doesn’t have to be someone who has been known for 20 years.”
It’s about building relationships with actresses in order to get those important red carpet placements–and those relationships often start when the actress is relatively unknown. “We have to start somewhere,” Legendre said. “We’ve dressed actresses that are now famous but we started dressing them when they weren’t–but we had trust in them.” Legendre points to Bérénice Bejo as an example. “When she was going to Cannes seven or eight years ago she would call me [and we dressed her],” Legendre explained. “And that’s why seven years later when she was nominated for an Oscar for The Artist–and obviously a lot of brands were calling her and offering their support–she said no matter what happens I will wear Elie Saab.”
It’s also all about strategy. While it might seem that dressing a major A-lister like Angelina Jolie would be the ultimate placement, it’s not always the right play for a brand. Cannes boasts a truly international array of stars, which means there’s an opportunity to generate press in different countries. “It depends on the star’s nationality,” Legendre explains. “Do you want to reach the States, Asia, or Europe?” A brand that wants to expand in Asia will try to dress Chinese actresses, Legendre confirms. Hence the prominence of Chinese stars like Fan Bing Bing–who wore Elie Saab three times over the course of the festival. Fan Bing Bing, Legendre adds, also comes by herself to the Saab suite to pick out her own dresses, sans stylist. “She knows exactly what she wants,” Legendre said.
“I think the thing that is really key to understand about Asia is that the customer relates much more to Asian celebrities than international–they can picture themselves better. So you might be dressing an A-lister in Hollywood but it won’t be featured as much as a Chinese star in China.” Legendre says. “That’s not the case anywhere else.”
After you’ve mapped out your strategy, realizing it–making sure those dresses get on the right celebrities at the right red carpets–is the next step. That’s why Elie Saab sets up a suite complete with an on-call tailor on site. “It’s 12 days and for 10 days you have two red carpets–one at 7 pm one at 10 pm and you might have a party, something like amfAR in addition,” Legendre says. “So you need to be there with the team to prevent problems from happening.”
Problems like rain, which plagued the entire festival. “Some girls don’t want to wear a huge gown or a train and want to change for a simpler outfit [in rainy weather]–something that will be more comfortable that won’t get soaked,” Legendre said. Still there’s a silver lining: “I was talking to my friends who are working for shoe brands, and the rain was a blessing because you actually have pictures of shoes when stars have to hold up their dresses and trains.”