How Stylists Prep Teen Starlets for the Red Carpet

Public appearances can pose a challenge for young actresses, who alternatively risk appearing too young, too sexy or too mature.
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Tyler McCall
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Public appearances can pose a challenge for young actresses, who alternatively risk appearing too young, too sexy or too mature.
Maisie Williams in Self-Portrait at the British Academy Television Awards. Photo: John Phillips/Getty Images

Maisie Williams in Self-Portrait at the British Academy Television Awards. Photo: John Phillips/Getty Images

For some starlets, fame comes early — and so do red carpet appearances. Before their 18th birthdays, actresses like Emma Watson (now 25), Chloe Moretz (18), Hailee Steinfeld (18), Elle Fanning (17) and Kiernan Shipka (15) began regularly topping best dressed lists, scoring blue-chip fashion campaigns of their own along the way.

But styling a Cool Teen™ comes with its own set of challenges. "You want to be mindful of everything when they’re under 18," says stylist Tara Swennen, who currently works with actress Odeya Rush (17), dressing her in elegant, streamlined dresses on the red carpet devoid of fussy prints and too much detail. "[Minding] their influence on other young women or girls, that’s actually something that is very important to me."

Parents or family members often sit in on fittings to be sure things are going well; Swennen says Rush has a wonderfully involved family.  Still, as important as it is for these young ladies not to expose too much skin, they also don't want to dress too young or too mature.

Odeya Rush in Armani. Photo: Jacopo Raule/Getty Images

Odeya Rush in Armani. Photo: Jacopo Raule/Getty Images

"I think young girls want to look their age, but they don’t want to look cute," says Harriet Byczok, stylist to "Game of Thrones" star Maisie Williams (18), who favors colorful dresses and skirts in flirty shapes, often hemmed around the knee. "They are growing up; it should be in between. It’s important they don’t wear something too old in the sense that it’s too boring, because they have their whole career to wear more mature clothing — they [should] take the time to wear things that they can’t necessarily wear when they are older."

Brands play a crucial role in striking this delicate balance. Miu Miu is a perennial favorite, while Dior and Louis Vuitton are recent choices for Swennen's younger stars. Still, it can be tricky to borrow clothing from a brand whose target customer is in an older age bracket — after all, there aren't many teenagers buying up Proenza Schouler.

"The only thing that’s a little bit more challenging from our end is a lot of the brands are designing for women who can shop for them, and obviously 17-year-olds are not really their target," Swennen says. "So sometimes it can be challenging to convince a designer that a 19-year-old up-and-comer is exactly who they want in their brand to try to help sell an outfit to a 35-year-old."

Kiernan Shipka in Valentino. Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Kiernan Shipka in Valentino. Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

That's why many stylists also incorporate younger brands. Byczok likes British designers Peter Jensen and Emma Cook, and just dressed Williams in Self-Portrait for an awards ceremony on Sunday (see above). "Those are sort of the girls that most people are targeting, especially sort of like younger designers, newer designers," Swennen explains. "They’re realizing that those are going to become the faces of the future, so if they can have a relationship with them early on, they help build their career."

More and more, actresses are knowledgeable of the brands they'd like to wear. Byczok says her clients will come to her with magazine tear-outs and designer names. The rise of Instagram and Twitter has also made young actresses more conscious of the publicity red carpet and fashion week appearances can generate.

"Sometimes I’m like, 'It’s not as important as your career. Go make your money so that you can go to college, but I will help you do so through your fashion,'" Swennen says. "But I do think that they realize that it’s very important. It can help them build their brand, build their name, sort of create their persona. These girls who are coming up these days are very smart — they know how to utilize everything that they need to do to market themselves and this is just a great tool."

Elle Fanning in Christopher Kane. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Elle Fanning in Christopher Kane. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

As young actresses age, it's important to underline that evolution on the red carpet, Swennan says, pointing to client Kristen Stewart (25), whose style has become markedly sexier and more sophisticated since her teenage years. Go forward too fast, she says, and it can impede an actress's career. "We try and maintain the right pace of boldness and I think they know that too," she says. "I wouldn’t presume to know exactly how it works, but I do think that every time someone looks at them, you should know the moment — 'Oh, they got a little sexier.'” 

And for these stylists, it's as much about making the actress feel comfortable and happy as it is making them look good. Taking in the actress's feedback is an essential part of the styling process, especially for the teen set. "I think being a teenager can be so much fun as well, especially with styling, so I think it’s important that they aren’t dictated into being told what to wear, but have their own personal input along with the stylist," Byczok says. "They are more comfortable asking questions and they carry themselves differently."

Hailee Steinfeld in Rodarte. Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Hailee Steinfeld in Rodarte. Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images

As relationships develop, Swennen has clients who ask for her help off the red carpet as well as on. After working with Rush for a recent Armani party in Milan, the duo moved on to the next big thing on Rush's calendar: prom. This excitement and willingness to experiment is often what makes these clients some of the most fun for stylists.

"I love it because I find that when they’re young they just want to play," says Swennen. "It’s like playing dress up."