Power dressing

DONATELLA VERSACE designed the dress and Angelina did the pilates, but who was the unifying force that got that leg trending?

Power dressing

Jennifer Rade, her talented stylist.

The power of a celebrity stylist to orchestrate headlines and shape brands is substantial yet difficult to quantify. US entertainment weekly The Hollywood Reporter took a stab at the maths last week with its second annual list of the most powerful Tinseltown stylists. The top 25 are ranked through “evaluation of clients, visibility during the awards season and breadth of influence and business”. Transparent as the Russian elections, then.

Still, the ranking are tastemakers who influence the fashion icons of the day. Take stylist No 1, Kate Young, who left the hallowed halls of US Vogue to freelance as both a celebrity and editorial stylist. She is also a designer consultant and fashion editor at Interview magazine. Young is known for using a client’s assets to her advantage rather than extreme makeovers. She made heavily-pregnant Natalie Portman look va-va-voom chic throughout the 2011 awards season. This year, she co-designed Michelle Williams’ Golden Globes dress with Jason Wu and sent her to the Oscars in blood-orange Louis Vuitton. The latter was deemed a major risk (orange pleats?) that paid off by fashion pundits. Williams first sought Young’s help when her daisy-drenched Valentino dress was panned after the 2011 Golden Globes. She has since cultivated a Hepburn-esque look that suits her gamine figure beautifully (get Young’s styling tips from Style.com’s YouTube channel).

Young’s work with Natalie Portman has been so well-received it is widely believed to have catalysed the star’s Dior endorsement deal. Mila Kunis, Dior’s newest signing, has rocked red carpets around the world thanks to stylist Petra Flannery (No 3). Keira Knightly has been the face of Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle perfume since hooking up with Leigh Clark (No 16). True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld won a Miu Miu contract after Kemal Harris and Karla Welch (No 5) positioned her as a fresh fashion icon during last year’s awards season.

Some stylists develop a particular aesthetic that attracts clients who seek to exude their kind of appeal. Christina Ehrlick (No 10) is a former professional dancer who loves graceful, timeless clothes. Her clients include Penelope Cruz and Amy Adams. Need more column inches? J-Lo’s stylists Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn (No 13) know how to get people gawking (they also helped Rihanna get fashion fierce after she ditched Chris Brown). Kim Basinger’s taste was deemed disastrous before feminine-chic Jessica Paster (No 17) put her in Grace Kelly-esque Escada for the 1998 Oscars. Johnny Wujek (No 22) is known for contrasting radical hair colours with outré labels. Both Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj are big fans.

As fantastic as the right stylist can be for a celebrity’s career they can also change a designer’s fortunes. As a designer, stylist and Rolling Stone WAG, L’Wren Scott (No 12) is her own best PR. Leith Clark put London Fashion Week favourite Mary Katrantzou on the map by dressing Keira Knightley in one of her dresses for the Venice Film Festival. Similarly, who recognised the name Tadashi Shoji on this side of the pond before Octavia Spencer’s glamorous Oscar win? He must have sent Wendi and Nicole Ferreira (No 19) flowers. A well-known stylist can expect to be “seeded” or plied with designer swag in the hopes that their famous clientele will be photographed wearing any of it. This is really just smart marketing.

None of the stylists listed are household names but neither was Rachel Zoe when Lionel Richie asked her to transform daughter Nicole’s “Beverly Hills Chav” look for a 2004 Oprah appearance. As Richie slimmed into public fascination, Zoe’s work got more exposure. She was soon dressing the Lindsay Lohan and Mischa Barton. Her young clients all sported oversized aviators and were dubbed “Zoe-bots” in the fashion press. A reality show, book and clothing and accessories lines followed. Zoe, (last year’s No 1) is not on the 2012 list because her accomplishments and earning power (an estimated $10,000 a day) are now so beyond the norm that she warrants her own plauditary feature.

Dressing beautiful women in beautiful clothes sounds like nice work but how do you get it? Rachel Zoe started out selecting shirts for the Backstreet Boys while Jen Rade (No 6) styled videos for Tupac and DrDre. Many of the listees spent years assisting established stylists. Anyone who watched The Rachel Zoe Project knows her ex-flunkie Brad Goreski (No 20) truly earned his stripes. His current client list includes Jessica Alba and Maya Rudolph. George Kotsiopoulos (No 23) learned the ropes from Elizabeth Stewart (No 4) and now styles Jane McTeer when he’s not playing “good cop” on E!’s Fashion Police.

Many stylists land their first client on-set. Nicole Chasez (No #21) bonded with Rachel Bilson while working on the OC star’s costumes. Bilson introduced her to Kristen Bell and a styling portfolio grew from there. TomKat’s ongoing relationship with Jeanne Yang (No 11) began with a Batman Begins photo shoot. Costume designer-cum-stylist Arianne Phillips (No 24) is faithful to Madonna, who she worked with on Swept Away and W.E. and also dresses for events.

Many more originate from the high-end fashion glossies, sales of which increasingly depend on celebrity content. “When I started at Vogue, models were on the cover,” says Leslie Fremar (No 2). “That was 1999 and around two years later, the fashion industry realised that celebrities sell magazines. Models began losing the covers to these women. They [celebrities] have a voice, an opinion and an image. You can’t just say, ‘Wear this’. So styling became more interactive.”

Three of the Reporter’s top five are ex-Voguettes (Kate Young was an assistant to Anna Wintour herself). Gwyneth Paltrow’s stylist Elizabeth Saltzman (No 14) is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Rooney Mara’s wardrobe master Ryan Hastings (No 7) was previously a GQ contributor. London-based Leith Clark is editor of Lula magazine when she’s not dressing Kirsten Dunst or Keira Knightley.

Networking and word-of-mouth are vital for a stylist, so it’s not surprising that three former relationship managers made the top 20. Samantha McMillen (No 8) once worked in VIP relations for Giorgio Armani and now styles Carey Mulligan and the Fanning sisters. Leslie Fremar was head of Celebrity Relations at Prada before dressing Charleze Theron and Reese Witherspoon. Rose Byrne’s stylist Penny Lovell (No 18) is a former Burberry PR.

Stylists are frequently ex-designers with contacts and this is true of Central St. Martin’s grad Cher Coulter (No 15). She began styling her friend Orlando Bloom after wrapping up her menswear label, AKA. Given that fashion buyers seasonally select clothes with popular appeal, it’s surprising just one listee comes from the commercial end of the business. Ilaria Urbanti (No 25) is co-founder of hip LA boutique Confederacy and stylist to Nina Dobrev and Bradley Cooper.

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