How celebrity stylists are prepping for the virtual Emmys 2020 red carpetSeptember 20, 2020
The red carpet can catapult a Hollywood ingénue to superstardom, help an actress reinvent her image and turn a hardworking stylist into a household name. But this year, awards show arrivals are looking very different.
Like the VMAs and BET Awards before them, Sunday’s 2020 Emmys will be held virtually amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with a “come as you are” dress code that allows for “designer pajamas.”
But despite the absence of a traditional red carpet, stylist Christina Pacelli isn’t cutting any corners while prepping looks for longtime client Laverne Cox, who’s nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her work in “Orange Is the New Black” and will be presenting onstage during the broadcast as well.
“I feel like fashion’s a bright light in this darker time. It’s a form of escapism,” Pacelli told Page Six Style, revealing that the “Orange Is the New Black” star, 48, will wear two “killer” outfits on Emmys night. “I’m currently pulling a lot of colorful options that feel uplifting and might bring a smile to people’s faces when they need it the most.”
Unlike Cox, most stars will be appearing remotely from their homes during the show, meaning they only have to worry about how they look from the waist up.
“We have to make sure we have a party up on top, even if there’s sweats on the bottom!” quipped Angela Bassett’s stylist Jennifer Austin, whose superstar client is up for both Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (for “Black Lady Sketch Show”) and Outstanding Narrator (for “The Flood”).
“Angela’s not going to be in her house in a gown — sorry! That wasn’t going to fly for her. So I’ve just been looking at suiting — great jackets, great pants,” she continued, adding that she’s planning to save the dramatic gowns for future shows. “We’re not going to waste any magical moments on this.”
There’s also the country’s current climate to consider. “There’s a civil rights moment happening, and a pandemic,” Pacelli noted. “I don’t know if a head-to-toe sequined look that’s super sparkly and glamorous is the mood at the moment, you know?”
At the 2019 Emmys, Cox made headlines by carrying a rainbow-striped Edie Parker clutch emblazoned with the words “Oct 8, Title VII, Supreme Court,” raising awareness of the landmark LGBTQ workplace discrimination cases. And Pacelli says the actress and activist is looking to pack a political punch with her look this year, too.
“I’ve asked all my clients: Are we making a statement about voting? Are we making a statement about Black Lives Matter? Are we making a statement with a mask? This is the time to make a statement, subtle or not, so let’s seize this moment,” she said, pointing to Lady Gaga’s series of high-fashion face coverings at the VMAs and Cate Blanchett’s stylish and sustainable gowns at the Venice Film Festival as two particularly effective examples.
Austin, meanwhile, is hoping to see a strong show of support for BIPOC designers amid the Black Lives Matter movement. “Being a black woman, I’ve always worked with designers of color — that’s nothing new to me,” she told us. “I think we’re going to see a shift. The faces of fashion have really changed.”
When it comes to getting those clothes in the first place, the pandemic has posed major challenges. Many designers shut down their operations during lockdown, while other fashion brands have shuttered completely. “I’m a stylist who will bring racks of clothes to make sure we have options; now, our options are limited,” Austin explained.
“A lot of what’s out there is last season, it’s old. We’re all stressing, we’re all fishing from the same pool of showrooms and designers. We’re literally piecing things together to try and make it work. But it’s a good challenge for us as stylists, because it really makes you rethink things and get creative.”
Both stylists said they’re also now pre-selecting designer looks to try on their clients via email or text rather than pulling clothing in person at showrooms — call it socially distanced shopping.
“I’m not an online shopper; I love going out, feeling the clothes and seeing the fashion in person, so this has been a big change,” Austin admitted.
“My PR colleagues are dropping things off, we’re meeting curbside, they’re putting pulls in my trunk without me even getting out of my car,” added Pacelli.
Close contact is harder to avoid while actually dressing clients, however. “Normally, being a stylist is very physically intimate,” Pacelli explained. “I’m zipping zippers, I’m tying laces, I’m putting shoes on. It’s very hands-on.”
One solution to keeping things safer? Outdoor fittings, which are admittedly easier to pull off in LA than NYC.
“The first celebrity fitting I did [post-lockdown] was outside — we brought the mirror outside and everything,” she told us. “I want to be working outdoors as much as possible, and when I ask my clients, they’re comfortable with that too.”
Both Pacelli and Austin also said they’ve been using face masks and shields at every job since the pandemic began, as well as getting regular COVID-19 tests.
“Being a stylist, the reality is that you have to touch your client,” Austin said. “You have to be in that personal space with them. So it all depends on how comfortable your client is with that.”
At last month’s VMAs, presenters and performers posed for a green screen step-and-repeat days before the actual show in lieu of a live red carpet. Some, like top nominee Ariana Grande, even skipped the professional photos entirely, opting to share her head-to-toe outfit on social media instead — a route many stars are likely to go on Emmys night, as no red carpet of any kind has been announced.
According to Pacelli, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. “A red carpet photo may or may not capture the essence of a look to its best potential; you can’t control the lighting, sometimes you don’t get the shoes,” she explained, adding that it’s never been more important to build time into a star’s pre-show schedule to capture strong shots for social media.
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“We can get great beauty shots, great candid shots, we can get video. That way we’re doing the full look justice,” Pacelli said, adding that it also ensures the designers responsible for a star’s jewelry, accessories, and clothing — for whom the publicity from red carpet placements can make or break their business — get proper credit. “It’s a win-win.”
“We’re always going to love the carpet; it’s exciting. But I think Instagram has actually helped the red carpet,” Austin agreed, citing the photo-sharing platform’s shoppability and discoverability.
“When our clients hit a red carpet and get asked who they’re wearing, the only thing they’ll usually ID is the dress. So with Angela, after I get her dressed, I’m tagging everybody [on our own Instagram photos] so that by the time she hits the carpet, it’s already up and you have all the information on the jewels, the shoes.”
But lest you think Instagram might eat the red carpet alive, fret not — neither Austin nor Pacelli think the good old-fashioned step-and-repeat is gone for good.
“We’re going to have a return to celebrity red carpet fashion as soon as it’s safe,” Pacelli predicted. “It’s too important to Hollywood and the entertainment industry to not return.”
Austin agreed, predicting smaller, streamlined carpets like the Venice Film Festival’s as awards season continues, with tighter guest lists and only nominees and presenters in attendance. “I think it’s going to look different. I think you’re going to see a lot of new, fresh faces hit the carpet — which is good! — whereas the seasoned actors might not,” she said.
“But I don’t think we’re going to stray too far from it, because at the end of the day, everybody loves playing dress-up.”
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