Feature, Like magazine, December 2014. Click to enlarge. Read below.
The Perks of Being a Fashion Girl
As we head into Awards Season, Carolyn Moore takes a look at how last year’s break out red-carpet star has been taking over the world; one great dress at a time!
Lupita Nyong’o has had a hell of a year.
It’s hard to believe that the fashion world’s current darling, face of Miu Miu and Lancome, was practically unknown this time last year. Now you can go ahead and just call her Lupita, and most people with even a passing interest in fashion or celebrity will know exactly who you’re talking about.
For an unknown Kenyan actress to ascend to the A-List in a matter of months is no mean feat, and while her Oscar win for her astonishing performance in ’12 Years a Slave’ was much deserved, even Lupita herself would admit that fashion has played a vital part in her stratospheric rise to fame.
As celebrity stylist Karla Welch puts it, “A dress can change things for a girl”, and increasingly the Hollywood system is recognising the role that fashion can play in bolstering a publicity push for an actress or her movie. All it takes is a “fashion moment”; a look so strong it can catapult her into another realm of celebrity.
The media loves these moments, and last October, when Lupita Nyong’o stepped onto the red carpet at the LA premiere of ‘12 Years a Slave’, a fashion star was born. After a strong debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, where her outfits garnered as much attention as her film, this was a statement to the industry that she understood the fashion game, and she was here to play.
In a striking cockatoo print Miu Miu dress, she grabbed the world’s attention and has been running with it ever since, winning awards, legions of fans, prestigious advertising campaigns, and a coveted role in the ‘Star Wars’ film franchise along the way. With everyone from fashion bloggers to the mainstream media losing their minds over her every fashion choice, she has more than embraced her transition from newcomer to fashion icon; it seems likely she engineered it as a crucial element of her flawlessly executed Oscar campaign.
Simply put, Team Lupita harnessed the hype and rode it all the way to an Oscar victory.
These days, an Oscar nomination is nothing without a great campaign to bring it home. Like an election campaign, it involves meeting voters, giving interviews and generating buzz. As Vulture.com editor Kyle Buchanan explains it, “A lot of nominees will take a couple of months off knowing that they’re going to be part of awards season. They want to devote their full time and attention to it,” he said. “Lupita Nyong’o could be booking a new movie right now, but her management thought it was better for her to be doing the awards circuit.”
Gambling a client’s future on the outcome of an awards season is a risky strategy, but Lupita’s willingness to play the Hollywood game has been admirable. A publicist’s dream, she is gracious and eloquent in interviews, poised and stylish at every appearance. And style matters, because where the ladies are concerned, the media’s focus will invariably be on their fashion choices.
As more and more actresses are learning to leverage their personal style to their professional advantage, establishing your fashion credentials has never been more important. Enter the celebrity stylist.
Fashion and entertainment have always enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, but as the rise of Lupita illustrates, fashion is playing an increasingly pivotal role in shaping the careers of celebrities. As stylist Leslie Fremar told Vanity Fair “Young girls can get famous today without having huge roles in blockbusters, just by having style.”
The internet’s insatiable appetite for 24/7 celebrity coverage has been a game changer in terms of the way female celebrities are both managed and created. People with no discernible talent can build entire careers off the back of sex tapes and staged paparazzi shots; actresses who are more famous for their fashion than their films can use their personal style to keep a foothold in the tabloids or launch lifestyle or fashion businesses.
And when it comes to casting a name in the next blockbuster franchise, studios are looking for someone who can deliver the hard sell. They know that an actress with a track record for showing up to every event in an amazing dress has the potential to elevate herself off the red carpet and onto the computer, tablet and phone screens of several million blog readers all over the world.
Fashion buys them more PR bang for their buck, and a new generation of actresses is capitalising on this, rushing to add “clothes horse” to their resumés. Leslie Fremar says “I’ve been doing this for ten years, and it’s become relevant as a business during that time. A big business.” Such a big business that studios are willing to pay around $1,500 per day to have a stylist accompany an actress on a press tour, recognising that this relatively small investment can have a serious impact on a movie’s bottom line.
Actress Zoe Saldana, who is styled by Petra Flannery, explained to The Hollywood Reporter “We’ve managed to convince a lot of directors who now have respect for what we put together, and for Petra’s essential place in a huge press tour like Star Trek. Which is very important for me, and for her, and for selling a movie.”
Becoming a fashion darling can prove lucrative in more ways than one. The perks of being a fashion girl range from long term exclusivity agreements with a brand – see Jennifer Lawrence at Dior – to one-off payments for wearing a particular item. Gwyneth Paltrow was paid one million dollars for accessorising her Tom Ford gown with a bracelet by a Chinese designer at the 2012 Oscars. How’s that for a night’s work?
There are smaller deals for attending fashion shows and events, or package deals involving the whole shebang. The marketplace is awash with celebrities of all levels, and almost every aspect of their lives is potentially for sale if the price is right and the brand synergy is there.
In this market, the stylists have significant clout, and some designers would argue they’ve become too powerful, micro-managing their clients to the point where they’re practically designing the dresses themselves. It’s not unheard of for a top-tier stylist to return sketches to the biggest designers in the world with suggestions on how they could be improved.
Indeed, Lupita’s stylist, Micaela Erlanger, admits that her client’s Oscar dress – a custom Prada – was a collaborative effort, with champagne bubbles and that evocative “Nairobi blue” as their inspiration. The dress will go down in Oscar fashion history, the Prada name forever associated with it, but one of the most anticipated dresses on fashion’s biggest night was ultimately something of a departure from its wearer’s trademark style.
But Micaela Erlanger quotes legendary costume designer Edith Head on her website: “You can have anything you want in life, if you dress for it.” On the biggest night of her life Lupita Nyong’o dressed like an Oscar winner, and she became an Oscar winner, so it seems a fitting motto, both for Lupita and for one of the key architects of her success.