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Do Celebrity Stylists Now Wield More Influence Than Print Magazines?

Karla Welch, Elizabeth Stewart and Ilaria Urbinati discuss their growing power as magazines collapse, how politics impact their jobs and how young designers can get on their radar.
Photo: Steve Lucero/

Photo: Steve Lucero/

While the decline of print fashion magazines seems to have reached a boiling point of late, it's actually been happening for quite some time — Fashionista has been covering it since I began working here over six years ago. But despite dwindling circulation numbers that proved print titles were losing their influence and relevance, most designers and publicists continued to hold them in the highest regard, believing a Vogue editorial placement, or even a relationship with the magazine, could make or break their business.

But a new group of industry professionals is giving them real competition. As titles fold and employees are laid off, these men and women are taking on new clients, inking collaboration deals and creating content on social media. We're talking about celebrity stylists, or at least, a select few who are at the top of their game right now. Three who are inarguably among the most influential (The Hollywood Reporter ranked them at numbers one, four and six this year, respectively) — Karla Welch, Elizabeth Stewart and Ilaria Urbinati — participated in an educational panel discussion for CFDA members at the W Hollywood on Monday night, part of a new partnership between the CFDA and The Wall Group, the management company that represents them. And the magazine analogy was theirs, not mine.

Asked how the celebrity styling landscape has changed during their careers, Elizabeth Stewart — stylist to Cate Blanchett, Jessica Chastain, Gal Gadot and more, and the self-described "oldest" in the group — said the biggest change has been the shift in power from the magazines. "It's completely flown over to the world of celebrities and that's who has the power and that's what everything's about," she said. Welch (who styles Justin Bieber, Lorde, Ruth Negga, Sarah Paulson and others) agreed: "Red carpet stylists are hugely respected in a way that I think magazines were — and probably still are hanging onto their perception of their power — and they were the most powerful and then it did shift."

Those magazines have also been known for developing long-lasting relationships with the major brands and designers, occasionally influencing their collections and campaigns. Now, Hollywood stylists are taking on those roles, working with brands to create custom looks for their clients, helping to broker campaign deals with those clients, and often taking consulting roles with brands and designers. "I know which brands work with which client and how to grow those relationships," explained Urbinati (who styles Bradley Cooper, Rami Malek, Donald Glover and all your other boyfriends). "I also try to get them campaigns, like I got Rami in Dior [Homme] and Tom Hiddleston in Gucci."

All of them described getting brands to loan pieces for extended periods of time, which is quite an investment, particularly if a brand doesn't have multiple sets of samples; if it's in Stewart's studio, that means it's not in a magazine's fashion closet. They also compared their assistants to market editors.

And that's all despite the fact that these LA-based stylists rarely, if ever, even attend fashion shows; they're too busy. "I moved here 18 years ago and... the magazines had all the power at that point, not red carpet, and so you had to go to Paris to see those collections," explained Stewart. "Now they're all bringing it to LA because they recognize how much power we have here and how much press is going to get placed." Added Urbinati: "It goes to show how important red carpet is now; a lot of designers are having their runway shows in LA."

Photo: Steve Lucero/

Photo: Steve Lucero/

While celebrity stylists have become an increasingly big priority for big brands, what about the smaller brands who would kill to get on their radars? They all had some advice:

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Send photos in a clear PDF. "From a completely practical sense, if you can send me a really easy-to-open PDF, [I'll open it]; if you send me like a Dropbox, I'm never going to look at it," said Urbinati. "It also helps if the lookbooks... I want people to be able to be artistic with their lookbooks, but I also need to see what the clothes look like."

Be willing to part with your sample for a while. "I've said the same thing to young designers: Let it live in my studio and it will find its place," said Stewart. With accessories in particular, they tend to keep trays on hand to pull from at the last minute once the dress is chosen. "You have to release the baby and know you might strike it and you might not," added Welch.

Have an Instagram presence. Welch said she found a number of designers used on Lorde's Melodrama tour on Instagram and pulled pieces by sliding into their DMs.

Be in a good showroom. They all said they might be in a showroom with the intention of pulling a bigger brand, then see an item by a newer brand and pull that as well.

Don't be snobby about what celebrities you'll lend for; just because an actress isn't well-known yet, doesn't mean she won't be; and it's worth it to develop a relationship with an influential stylist. "Trust the stylist and trust someone who [says], I have a new girl and I want you to lend to her," said Welch. "I do think designers need to get a little more open minded about lending," added Urbinati. "To me, when a young brand gets snobby about loaning to a client, I'm like, 'Go fuck yourself.'"

And finally, don't support Melania Trump. An audience member asked if and how politics impact their jobs and if they'd ever dress the FLOTUS, given the opportunity. Their immediate response was a resounding, "No."

"There are some brands that have gone on-record saying they'd be happy to dress her and let's just say it's duly noted," said Stewart. She clarified: "I wouldn't ban a designer on my clients' behalf, but I would make it a little harder for them to wear that designer."

Welch, who is notably vocal on social media about political issues, added, "I've had a lot of brands react to me in a positive way for my political stance, but I certainly wouldn't be doing it for my business; but it hasn't hurt business."

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