Red carpet looks return as stylists get back on the job

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When celebrity events were halted because of the coronavirus pandemic last March, Hollywood’s clothing stylists, hairstylists and makeup artists were put out of work. The return of awards shows and virtual events has fostered a fashion resurgence.

In March 2020, stylist Ilaria Urbinati — whose client roster of Hollywood men includes Rami Malek, Dwayne (“the Rock”) Johnson and John Krasinski — was working on numerous press tours. “Rami had ‘Bond’ coming out, the Rock had ‘Jungle Cruise’ and ‘Red Notice,’” she recalls. “Aaron Paul had movies, then Cannes was coming up, and Venice, and we were in the middle of ‘A Quiet Place II’ press tour. And everything came to a grinding halt.”
Each day, more of her jobs were canceled due to COVID. “It was so surreal,” says Urbinati. “I’m used to working so much. Because I dress all men, I have like 40 clients.”

Urbinati appreciated having more time with her newborn twins, but when it appeared work wouldn’t be returning soon, she launched a passion project. Her men’s lifestyle website, Leo, features style, food, travel and culture — with advice from her celebrity clientele, including Casey Affleck’s guide to Boston.

“Now styling’s full-on coming back,” says Urbinati, who didn’t work until August. “It started to get busy again in the fall.”

She’s mainly styling brand campaigns, commercials and cover shoots, but virtual awards shows enabled her return to red-carpet work. “We had Sacha Baron Cohen, who’s in Australia, so we’ve been virtually dressing him. And we did Karamo Brown [for the Globes], but that’s two people. Normally we do like 17 people. Not to mention I’d be dressing a nominee for every tiny press event, for like 100 things instead of 10.”

At first, Urbinati was careful her style choices reflected the moment’s gravity. “I felt like it would be tone-deaf to make people feel overly glam,” says Urbinati, who put Charlie Puth in a white Prada sweatsuit for November’s CMA Awards. “I wanted people to look like they dressed themselves when they were at home and people were not ready for glamour. Now there’s been a full-circle thing where I think people are looking for a little escapism.”

Come the new year, her clients felt ready to get more dressed up. “We’re putting trousers on people again, but with an elastic waist or drawstrings, everything is a little more relaxed. Men’s fashion was going that way, anyway — the pants were getting looser, the skinny pant is dead. We were already going in a more ’90s, relaxed style, so the pandemic really exaggerated that.”

The Ami Paris suit in which Krasinski hosted “SNL” was the first suit she’d done all year. “But notice, no tie,” she says. For the Globes, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Borat’s” Cohen wore a custom three-piece Dolce & Gabbana suit. “He does a lot of these over-the-top comedic situations,” she says. “So we wanted him to be a little more classic, and take him out of that slightly more goofy persona.” She sought something cool and timeless, in a more understated color than his bright blue from last year. “Green can be really beautiful on camera.”

This year’s undefined Oscar dress code is befuddling to stylists, who don’t want their clients to be overdressed. However, Urbinati’s planning to celebrate Cohen’s nominations. “I want him to look elegant,” she says. “I want him to look back on this moment and he was in a tux. So we are going for the whole look. Bow-tie TBD.”

Though the Oscars will be held in-person, virtual events have meant more traveling for artists, who normally style attendees in L.A. “Clients who were filming couldn’t leave locations because of quarantining, so I was traveling an hour and a half to one client to get her ready and then back to Los Angeles for the other,” says hairstylist Gregory Russell, whose clients include Lily Collins, Anya Taylor-Joy and Chloe Grace Moretz. “The other difference is now we’re in charge of getting our photos. Because of the lack of red carpet, we have to make sure to get the shot, which has been really fun but another thing to add to the list.”

Russell’s press day jobs were likewise canceled when the pandemic hit, and he didn’t work for four months. When he returned, it was with new obstacles. “We always sanitized our tools, but now we have the masks that are such a challenge,” he says. “Not to mention having to be conscious of socially distancing on set when you’re trying to remain in your creative flow.”

Minus the travel, things “almost feel back to usual” for Russell, who looked to past icons in styling clients for the Globes. “My inspiration for Lily [Collins] was Marisa Berenson,” he says. “Marisa is so chic and timeless to me, like Lily. My inspiration for Anya [Taylor-Joy] came from Jerry Hall. She had the long length and often did the ’70s interpretation of Veronica Lake. Looking at the dress, this felt appropriate, elegant and timeless.” He relished the return of awards events, even virtually: “It was emotional to be able to have some creativity and fantasy to channel in my life. Having to sit in all of the depressing news, it was such a blessing of an outlet and gave me a whole new appreciation for what I do.”

Makeup artist and groomer Autumn Moultrie, whose clients include Viola Davis, Regé-Jean Page and LaKeith Stanfield, feels fortunate for the recent work she’s had. “The first job I did after a few months of being down due to the pandemic was the iconic Vanity Fair cover with Viola. I think I was one of the first glam squad members back in the saddle,” says Moultrie, who returned with both enthusiasm and trepidation. “I worked with my client Naomi Osaka and wore a hazmat suit!”

Moultrie’s tightened her cleanliness and safety measures. “I took certified sanitation classes online and bought a sanitizing device that I use to prep my brushes, tools and powder puffs,” says Moultrie, who now works off a palette rather than her hand. Despite being vaccinated, she still must undergo mandatory rapid testing on sets. “There’s been an added 30 minutes to our workday because you can’t just drive up and start your job anymore. You have to get tested, wait for the results and then proceed.”

Davis’ nominations have made for a thrilling awards season. “I am so excited that there are more people of color being nominated for their work,” says Moultrie, whose glam squad cohort Jamika Wilson became one of the first Black women to be Oscar-nominated in makeup and hairstyling, for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” The camaraderie with her community is what’s powered Moultrie through the past year.

“One of the silver linings of COVID-19 has been the solidarity that’s occurred between people who do what I do,” she says. “We all have been doing a lot of Zoom calls and virtual chats to learn from each other, uplift each other and keep everyone’s spirits up during this tenuous time for a lot of artists.”

Urbinati is grateful awards events have gotten Hollywood artists back to work. “Fashion is a huge industry that employs millions of people,” she says. “In an awards show, there are thousands of people involved, then all the stylists, groomers, hairstylists, makeup artists. You can have the viewpoint that it’s silliness compared to other things going on in the world, but entertaining people is uplifting. I think that art is important.”