"The moment that really crystallized it for me was seeing [Nicole Kidman] at the UNICEF dinner in Los Angeles in this really amazing Vuitton wrap dress this year," said Eric Wilson. "That was just such a beautiful dress." The InStyle fashion news director was explaining how he and his team go about sorting through the year's many red-carpet looks for the magazine's second annual best dressed list — on newsstands now in the Emily Blunt-fronted issue. But in Kidman's case, she earned more than just a place on the list: she is 2016's "Style Icon," an honor she'll pick up at the InStyle Awards on Monday in Los Angeles.
The Time Inc. magazine launched the awards just last year to honor outstanding players in the intertwined worlds of fashion and Hollywood. "This event is so young that we have a huge wealth of people to approach, so it's actually one of the hardest things to decide," said Wilson about the "Style Icon." Last year, Gwyneth Paltrow was honored. "We want it to be meaningful, timely, relevant to this moment, and also reflective again of someone who has had that lasting impact on the red carpet." Nicole Kidman has been a mainstay of best dressed lists for decades and is back in the spotlight with her new film, "Lion," out in November.
"Some people come, they go, they have great years, they have good years, but Nicole is one who has been consistent for so long," said Wilson, explaining that Kidman isn't afraid to take risks. For example, her 2007 Academy Awards dress — a red Balenciaga gown with a large bow — was criticized at the time. "I think she is so representative a person who accepts the responsibility of dressing for ceremony, but adds their own bravery in terms of how they go about making choices for what to wear," said Wilson.
So what makes someone stand out from the pack when it comes to red-carpet style? "They bring their own personality to what they're wearing," said Wilson. A great stylist is important, but the most successful looks are a "collaboration with many people, ultimately a reflection of [her] own style," he said. "We interview the stylists quite regularly, so we hear quite a lot of insight into how choices are made and why."
Wilson and the team start evaluating looks after Jan. 1 with a sharp eye on the busy awards season. "That is typically the most prolific period for all of these celebrities, and when you're under the most pressure to create a wardrobe of great looks," he said. "We really just studied their evolution, their choices, how they compared with their peers, the stylists they worked with, the makeup and hair choices — all of those factors." The staff then keep an eye on those early standouts as it produces the list over the summer.
And it's not purely about style: InStyle highlights celebrities who bring "a substantial conversation to the red carpet" (such as Shailene Woodley, who is receiving this year's "Advocate" award) or are not "just being a face for a brand" (like Alicia Vikander, who Wilson said brings her own joyful style to her relationship with Louis Vuitton).
While the 2016 list welcomes almost 20 new names, Monday's "Breakthrough Style Star" award will go to Priyanka Chopra. Wilson said the "Quantico" actress stepped into the spotlight this year by pulling off consistently successful looks. "I think it was the enthusiasm and the proficiency she brought to the red carpet," he said. "She's always very careful to arrive in a great-looking outfit and she makes the rounds — that's hard work."
But of course, an event celebrating red-carpet style would be incomplete if it didn't honor the people who make these looks happen: stylists, makeup artists and hairstylists. The honoree in the first category this year is Leslie Fremar, stylist to Charlize Theron, Jennifer Connolly and Julianne Moore to name a few. "Leslie really epitomizes what I'm talking about in terms of the collaboration between the celebrity and the stylist," said Wilson. "She doesn’t impose a style on any one of those people but she recognizes the differences of what they will respond to and what will make them feel beautiful." The result is women who emanate comfort and happiness.
And finally, Tom Ford will pick up InStyle's top designer recognition. Why now for such a lauded force in the fashion world? "Tom is at the forefront of three different conversations we’re all having about fashion right now," said Wilson. The first is the "see now, buy now" shift, the second is Ford's second feature film "Nocturnal Animals" ("he is a designer who understands the concept of overall image better than most") and the third is, perhaps most essentially, that "the fashion is still fantastic."
Between honorees Ford, Kidman, Woodley, Chopra, Fremar, makeup artist Sir John and hairstylist Danilo and presenters Laura Dern, Bradley Cooper, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Usher and Jourdan Dunn (to name a few), the 2016 InStyle Awards are sure to be another glamorous, glitzy event. "[It] creates that energy that feels like this is the fashion industry as seen by InStyle, it feels very us," said Wilson. "I don't get excited by many things after 20 years of this stuff, so the fact that I think of it as a jaw-dropping moment, that revives my whole excitement about why I cover this in the first place... It's hard not to love someone who dresses well, so it touches on that emotion that we all feel when we watch the red carpet." We always want to see what they're wearing next.