On Sunday, a stream of A-list celebrities will walk the red carpet at the Oscars, wrapping up a long and glamorous two months of awards shows and surrounding events, during which we've all been inundated with photos of celebrities looking their best in bow-adorned designer gowns and colorful lips. Thanks to social media and outlets like this one, most people now understand that said celebrities don't wake up looking red carpet-ready, but actually employ teams of hairstylists, makeup artists and wardrobe stylists to help get them to that point. What's less understood is how those celebrities get those glam teams in the first place, or the fact that one agency is responsible for most of them.
In 2000, Brooke Wall founded The Wall Group, initially to represent editorial hairstylists, makeup artists and a wardrobe stylists in New York. Two years later, she brought on co-director Kate Stirling to open an office in Los Angeles to fulfill the city's growing need for artists that cater to Hollywood stars. (Ali Bird rounds out the agency's all-female director team.) Things have snowballed from there: Now owned by entertainment behemoth Endeavor, parent company of WME-IMG, The Wall Group currently represents Hollywood's most prolific hairstylists, makeup artists and stylists out of its LA office (which has grown 30 percent in the past three years) in addition to operating offices in New York, London and Paris.
The agency's roster includes hairstylists Lacy Redway (Tessa Thompson, Jourdan Dunn, Sarah Paulson), Chris Appleton (Kim Kardashian) and Gregory Russell (Lily Collins, Chloe Grace Moretz) and makeup artists like Emily Cheng (Yara Shahidi), Hung Vanngo (Julianne Moore, Selena Gomez, Emily Ratajkowski) and Daniel Martin (Gemma Chan, Bella Hadid, Meghan Markle). Big-name stylists on its roster include Karla Welch (Justin Bieber, Tracee Ellis Ross), Kate Young (Margot Robbie, Johnson, Natalie Portman) and Ilaria Urbinati (Rami Malek, Bradley Cooper). At the Grammys alone, 45 The Wall Group artists worked with 46 celebrities, including five nominees; and the agency already has 95 artists booked for the Oscars and its many surrounding parties.
Over the years, The Wall Group has helped to fundamentally change the landscape and career trajectory for celebrity stylists and glamsquads, with many of these talented men and women becoming social media influencers and landing major contracts and collaborations with brands. But as much as the landscape has changed, one thing has remained the same: For The Wall Group's agents and artists, awards season is by far the craziest, and most important, time of year: a never-ending "puzzle," as Stirling describes it, that coincides with events like Fashion Week and Sundance in which the agency is also heavily involved.
Plus, catering to famous people inevitably means last-minute schedule changes that can throw everything off, brand contracts that can lead to conflicts and occasional lapses in loyalty. In the lead-up to the Academy Awards, we chatted with Stirling and a couple of her most well-known artists about why awards season is the most important part of an artist's career and how it all comes together behind the scenes.
How a celebrity gets a glam squad
Up-and-coming British actress and WME client Florence Pugh started working with British stylist Rebecca Corbin-Murray last year, but didn't have a glam team in the U.S., where she'd be doing press for projects like Netflix's "Outlaw King."
"Rebecca reached out to us and said, 'Who do you guys suggest?' and her PR team reached out to us, and we come together internally at the company and we really discuss who we think the best hair and makeup would be for Florence," explains Stirling. "We sent over our recommendations and then her publicist I'm sure forwarded it to Florence and I'm sure the publicist also did their recommendations, and that's kind of how a team is formed from the beginning."
There's something of an art to determining which artist is a good fit for which celebrity: Factors taken into consideration might include the celebrity's personal style and whether a given artist has the bandwidth to add a new client; agents might also try and select a makeup artist or hairstylist based on the aesthetic of someone's existing stylist, or vice versa.
Personality also comes into play. "My agent will call and be like, 'I'm going to put you with this person, you're totally going to hit it off,'" says makeup artist Jamie Greenberg, whose clients include Kaley Cuoco and Rashida Jones. To her, vibing with someone can be just as important as being an aesthetic match. "It's like going on blind dates," she says of meeting a potential new client. "I've been doing this long enough, I can feel it immediately [if it's going to be a fit]."
Getting booked for award season
Booking a nominee, particularly one in film, is pretty much the Holy Grail for a makeup artist/hairstylist/stylist. "It's a huge goal. Award season is the busiest time of the year period for people; artists that live in LA — this is their bread and butter and if you can lock in a nominee, you're working all January and February," explains Stirling. It's also about visibility: "Artists know that people are paying attention and they get to display their work and get some recognition, so if they don't have [a client on the awards circuit], it's disappointing." She notes that since the Golden Globes represent film and television, nearly all of their artists get booked, but the roster gets slimmer and slimmer as the Oscars near.
Artists are usually booked well in advance, but not always as far in advance as some celebrity publicists would like. "We have some publicists that, no joke, the day after the Globes, will email us to put our artist on hold next year for the Globes for their client, and we have other publicists that wait until two weeks before," says Stirling, who would discourage her artists from booking a year out. "What if something changes with the artist, with their relationship, with the celebrity, what if they end up working with somebody new that gets a ton of buzz that they want to do for the Globes but they've given the time away?" The sweet spot is when nominations come out. Agents also look at what films are getting buzz throughout the year and put feelers out to stars' representation.
For Elizabeth Stewart, who styles the likes of Cate Blanchett, Julia Roberts and Jessica Chastain, clients might book her "a few months or a few days" out. "For a long term client, I start thinking when award season buzz starts happening. For presenters, it's often very last minute."
Nothing is permanent
If one of the artists The Wall Group sends out isn't a fit, stars aren't shy about requesting someone new, and agents are prepared to field that. To borrow Greenberg's analogy, it's like dating. What's more disappointing is when a long-term relationship comes to an end.
"Nothing's forever, and people go through personal changes, whether it's divorce or they have a baby and sometimes they need to shake it up, so you can work with somebody for 10 years and then they might want to make a change," says Stirling. "It's especially disappointing when celebrities want to do that during award season when, if you've been working with somebody for a long time and you think that you're going to be working with them for award season because they have a lot of buzz, and then all of a sudden you get the news that they don't want to hold you for anything. But it happens and then we scramble to find them somebody else."
The scheduling nightmare
So what do Stirling and her team actually do during January and February? They work late hours looking at schedules and figuring out if and how lots of different people can be where they need to be. "For us, award season is a puzzle," explains Stirling. "We map it out and we put the puzzle together and it changes every day. We get a new option and we're like, shit, we already put them here but we want them to do this person, who could we slide in here. Every single day, it's looking at the schedules; it's trying to figure out how can I get Renato [Campora] from Sundance to New York for this awesome job and then back to LA that night."
But you know what they say about when man plans...celebrities screw it all up. "People's timing shifts, so when you agree to take on a job because it works the day of for the Oscars or the Globes, the morning of or the day before, the celebrity wants to go 30 minutes later and you can't because we spent all last week working around the schedule you gave us and we have somebody booked before and somebody booked after, so that is really challenging and actually happens a lot," explains Stirling. She says the norm is one client per day, but some artists will book as many as three. In situations like that, agents will also ensure artists have enough assistants to accommodate multiple bookings in one day. "Either one assistant is setting up for the second location; one assistant is staying with the first person; it's very well-planned out so everyone feels relaxed."
"I get everyone's schedule and go from client to client, with an assistant driving because the scheduling is often tight enough that even parking takes up valuable time," notes Stewart. "Also, each client has a trusted assistant as a point person."
As celebrity glam artists and stylists have become more and more famous in their own rights, they often get approached by brands who offer them contracts — which Wall Group agents will negotiate — to use and promote their products. Of course, celebrities often have their own brand contracts with responsibilities to fulfill, and that can create a challenge if, say, Dior is dressing Jennifer Lawrence and wants her to also wear Dior makeup, but Lawrence's makeup artist has a contract with L'Oréal.
"That's really hard, because the brands that our artists are under contract with want to get the beauty press around all these big red-carpet moments, but you have to honor the talent and their obligations. And if you can only talk about that one brand, then that's a hard decision for us," says Stirling. "Ultimately, whatever is best for the celebrity, we're going to do; we would never jeopardize that." Agents will also try and match an artist with a celebrity under contract with the same brand.
Artists as celebrities
That challenge points to a larger shift in the celebrity glamsquad world, where artists and stylists are increasingly getting their own deals and embarking on their own projects, whether it's a stylist like Karla Welch designing for Hanes and Levi's or Kate Young designing sunglasses, or makeup artists like Greenberg and Monica Blunder filming tutorials that then inspire brands to reach out about sponsorship deals.
For The Wall Group, Stirling says, an artist having a high profile and large social media following "gives us a lot more to work with when we're trying to think of ideas outside the box." Basically, The Wall Group LA is no longer just booking artists with celebrities — "We've got that down," says Stirling — but it's also pitching artists to brands and press, in addition to fielding "a ton of incoming interest." Stirling says she and her team now encourage their artists to be active on social media. "If somebody doesn't have that platform, it's not as easy to pitch them for a lot of the opportunities that we're seeing," she explains. "We also have artists who are like, 'I just don't feel comfortable doing that,' and we honor that."
"I look at The Wall Group as kind of my PR agency," says Greenberg, who notes that the WME acquisition has also opened the door to more partnership opportunities.
For this new part of the business, it sounds like things are only on the upswing. Most recently, a group of Wall Group artists were booked to star in a big series of commercials scheduled to air during the Oscars. "It's a really big deal," says Stirling. "It's a new area that we are exploring and I feel like we are having so much fun with it."
Top photo: Margot Robbie at the 2018 Oscars. Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images