Hollywood styling is a high-stakes business. A magical red carpet moment can make an actor's career and drive major sales for the designer fashion and jewelry brands willing to pay top dollar to put the right girl in the right dress at the right event. But the people with the most influence over who wears what are the stylists, who know their clients' bodies and insecurities, negotiate with the brands and know how to solve last-minute emergencies — like ripped zippers.
At the Vulture Festival's Hollywood Power Stylist Panel on Sunday in New York, The Cut Senior Editor Isabel Wilkinson asked stylists Jessica Paster, Erin Walsh, Brad Goreski and Brandon Maxwell about their long-term clients, how they measure success and what celebrities really get paid to wear certain brands.
"The whole point of having a stylist is that you can make more money, or more people will want to hire you or the brand that you’re wearing is making more money because it's driving sales," said Maxwell, who works mostly with Lady Gaga and on editorial projects. "It's all wrapped up in money. It's Hollywood, we’re not at church!"
Both Maxwell and Goreski said they've never been offered money to ensure one of their clients wears a certain designer. "It's not like they’re trafficking drugs," said Goreski. "They’re wearing a dress. So what? If somebody offered me $150,000 to show up in a beautiful dress by 'x' designer, I’d be like, where do I sign?"
Paster, was more open about the financial deals, which she calls "ambassadorships," and said that she has received anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000, while actresses can expect between $100,000 to $250,000 — all for wearing one dress to one awards show. "If it looks awful on you, $100,000 or $250,000 is not worth it, but if it looks gorgeous and this is the dress you were going to pick anyway, why not get paid?" said Paster, who has dressed Emily Blunt for about a decade. "Let's not forget that when [designers] make these custom dresses, they’re spending about $100,000 dollars, so someone is getting paid." Paster said none of these arrangements involve a contract. If the actress ultimately decides to not wear the dress for whatever reason, no one gets paid.
The panelists explained that these relationships between actress and luxury brands usually lead to campaigns, which are major coups for their clients. "There is prestige to being an ambassador for a brand, 100 percent. That's a goal for people," said Walsh. Goreski agreed: "If you build out their looks in the right way, those campaigns will readily come to them."
So where does that leave younger designers who can't afford to pay for red carpet play? They are in a tough spot, said Maxwell, not just because they can't afford the fees. "Sometimes you go with a higher designer because they understand corsets and boning and they send a whole team for you," he said.
Goreski said he often pulls newer designers for last-minute events. "If we get a call that one of our clients is going to an event that night, we are going to pull what we have access to," he said. "So if there's a young designer in a showroom and I think your dress is dope, I’m pulling it. I’m not going like, 'Oh, I don’t know who this person is."
Working up to the very last minute is par for the course for stylists. Maxwell remembered finding out 12 hours before the 2014 Oscars that Lady Gaga would attend. "[We were] in bed watching television — no dress, no shoes, no nothing, not even thinking about the Oscars," he said. The panelists echoed the importance of having a talented tailor the morning of events for the inevitable busted zipper emergency.
The stylists also agreed that it's a very bad idea to be unclear with designers about what their clients will be wearing to major red carpet events, especially if a designer offers to make something custom. "The minute she tries it on and it's a no-go, I call immediately, I don’t even email them," said Paster. "I call them and say it didn’t work and these are reasons why. I don’t like the element of surprise, that's so f***ed up, man."
Above other metrics of success, all four stylists agreed that the client's happiness stepping out on the carpet is the most important, and rewarding. "You want your client to come to you the following year and be like, 'I felt so amazing last year, let's try to top that.'"