After months of Zoom events and at-home photoshoots, the Emmys offered an occasion to take fashion up a notch. For many celebrities and stylists that “wow” factor meant memorable couture or custom looks, best showcased on a red carpet. For most attendees, the Emmys marked the first big in-person awards shows since the start of the pandemic.
“People are excited to be out of the house and to be able to celebrate,” explains Colin Anderson, co-stylist for nominee Billy Porter, who donned custom Ashi couture for the Emmys. “People are more in the spirit of wanting to show a little something. I know we are. It makes the moments more special. Moments like these do make for a good red carpet, when we’ve gone without one and gone without that rush for so long.”
While Porter is already known for his larger-than-life red carpet looks, including last year’s Emmys all-white Ashi custom ensemble, the return of an in-person awards show was an opportunity for Anderson and co-stylist Ty Hunter to showcase something really special. The team began collaborating on the look with Ashi over two months ago, sending design ideas and sketches back and forth between Los Angeles and Paris. The final gown, created from fabric and elements sourced in several countries, took four tailors working eight hours per day, five days per week, for over two weeks to complete.
“There’s extra steps to everything you do in this job now,” Anderson notes of the challenges of acquiring a custom piece during a pandemic. “There’s lot of protocols and testing before all these meetings. And it throws extra steps into the process of styling, which we’ve all had to learn. [And] the Fed-Ex bills are scary. It’s always the biggest headache: Fed-Ex. International shipping is a scary beast.”
Stylist Alexandra Mandelkorn dressed Jurnee Smollett, nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series for “Lovecraft Country,” as well as series’ writer and showrunner Misha Green, and also felt the desire to create that big red carpet moment. She and Smollett selected a classic gown from Dior’s 2020 Fall couture collection, which was never shown on a runway due to the pandemic. Instead, Maria Grazia Chiuri revealed the collection as miniature gowns in a video presentation, meaning that only a few were ever made in human size.
Mandelkorn wanted to give Smollett a “moment of real old Hollywood glamour,” and paired the silk gauze gown with borrowed Bulgari jewelry (“Obviously with a couture dress you have to have the most high-end diamonds,” she notes). Dior was able to do an in-person fitting with Smollett, which Mandelkorn felt was necessary due to the high level of the couture. Still, the process wasn’t seamless, with many stylists facing the hurdle of several major events taking place in a single month.
“There are so many challenges,” Mandelkorn reflects. “A lot of the ateliers have had to cut down on their staff, so there’s not as many people making the gowns. And there are not as many gowns available. This year, with things being pushed around, the Met Ball happened in the fall. So from Venice to the Met Ball to TIFF to the VMAs to the Emmys, sharing samples was out of control. I’ve never in my life experienced such a nightmare, with things happening all over the globe. It was sending so many things back and forth. Covid has put many wrenches in the flow of things.”
Emerald Fennell, nominated for her role on The Crown, wasn’t able to have an in-person fitting for her ethereal Valentino gown, instead trying on looks remotely. The dress, from Valentino’s Resort 2022 collection, was re-made specifically for the actress by the design house, which added in extra beaded panels and a layer of lining. Fennell’s stylist, Colomba Giacomini, saw the gown as an opportunity for the actress to have a moment of rebirth after walking the Oscars red carpet while pregnant. While Fennell attended the Netflix Emmys celebration in London rather than flying to LA for the actual ceremony, Giacomini presented Fennell’s look as a “butterfly-emerging gown.”
It’s a statement for the actress personally, but also for how red carpet fashion may play out during the awards season that follow. The stylist says that going forward we’re not likely to see the casual aesthetic that was prevalent up during virtual awards shows, or even at the Oscars.
“The Oscars was pretty subdued and rightly so,” Giacomini recalls. “Ems wore trainers to the Oscars. But I don’t think you’ll see her like that again, necessarily. All these designers need our help to keep afloat and keep going. It’s important to celebrate their art and beauty and the craftsmanship and the amazing things these people can do. The world is obviously a mess, at the moment, but I don’t think we need to be somber. It’s nice to celebrate beauty even when the world is a bit all over the place.”
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