Styling yourself for the Oscars should be simple, right? You pick a dress, catch up with your glam squad, and then walk down one of the most-watched red carpets in the world. In reality, it’s far from this simple. There’s almost always a fashion stylist involved, and planning starts months in advance (just like a wedding). Designers clamour to dress nominees due to the exposure the talent will give their dress, or often they align with their brand ambassadors (like Jennifer Lawrence and Dior). It can make awards season dressing quite political, with stylists all wanting the best for their clients—and it’s not just about the clothes. There’s money involved, too. Stylists and actresses can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars to put a celeb in the right dress.
As we lead up to the 89th Annual Academy Awards we wanted to find out more, so we pressed celebrity stylist Sophia Banks to open up and tell us exactly what it was like styling actress Priyanka Chopra for last year’s Oscars. As well as Priyanka Chopra, Banks has also worked with everyone from Amber Heard to Nicole Trunfio, and Kendall and Kylie Jenner.
Keep scrolling to read our exclusive interview and find out exactly what it’s like to dress a Hollywood star.
Note: This is the final outfit Sophia Banks and Priyanka Chopra came up with for the 88th Annual Academy Awards.
WHO WHAT WEAR AUSTRALIA: How far in advance do you start preparing looks for your celebrity clients when they attend a major awards show, like the Academy Awards?
SOPHIA BANKS: It's a very detailed process before I start working with any client. I have a full questionnaire of everything they like and don’t like, looks they have loved, looks they have hated. I also spend a lot of time talking with the talent about what career they want, how they want to be perceived to the public, and what type of image they are trying to build.
WWW: What do you consider when planning their look?
SB: I always make it about the actor or actress and how to make them shine. I look at what colours look good on them, their body shape, and then look at what dresses will gain international attention and run across the world in the press. It's a very detailed process, and one that I spend a lot of time on to ensure that we get results—like Priyanka Chopra’s Oscars dress from last year that was seen by millions.
Note: Cate Blanchett was styled for the 83rd Academy Awards by Elizabeth Stewart.
WWW: How far in advance do you start prepping a star before an award show?
SB: I’ll give you the example of Priyanka Chopra. She was my biggest client at last year’s Oscars and was presenting. It was a big moment, in front of so many people. We [Chopra’s team—her publicist, mother, and manager] all wanted something amazing.
I started looking for the perfect dress before Christmas. I’m in love with designer Zuhair Murad and was waiting to see the couture show… When I saw the white strapless embellished gown, I loved it.
We requested many gowns from the couture shows and flew to Montreal where Priyanka was filming to do a fitting with about 40 gowns in tow. After the fitting, the white was definitely one of the top options but it needed alterations.
In case the alterations weren’t quite right, we flew back over for a second fitting and some more dress options (just in case!).
Priyanka arrived in Los Angeles on the Saturday morning before the Oscars so we could do another fitting to make sure it worked—and it did! Then came choosing all the diamonds—we were so happy to work with jeweller Lorraine Schwartz—Priyanka chose $8 million dollars worth of jewels.
We were doing finally touches until right before Priyanka walked out the door, and then we [the team] all sat and waited while we watched her walk down the red carpet on TV... We were so excited.
Note: Rihanna was styled for the 57th Annual Grammy Awards by Mel Ottenberg.
WWW: How many dresses will you call in for a fitting?
SB: For an event like the Oscars, I’ll normally call in around 60 gowns. When we were dressing Priyanka it was upward of that. I also styled Kristen Chenoweth in 2013 who closed the Oscars with a performance, and that was a similar amount. It is a very, very important moment for any star, a lot is at stake and it has to be perfect.
WWW: Tell me, how intense is the politics in terms of which designers can dress who?
SB: As soon as the Oscar nominations are announced, the designers will clamor to dress each of the nominates and top actresses, such as Emma Stone or Jennifer Lawrence. Once those designers are locked into deals with major stars, they won’t dress anyone else.
Note: Alicia Vikander was styled for the 88th Annual Academy Awards by Cristina Ehrlich.
WWW: How collaborative is the process? Does the talent generally have much input?
SB: Before I even start pulling options, we always have a conversation about what type of moment we are going for—are we going for a fashion moment, a sophisticated moment, is this person a more serious actress? A sexy actress? We discuss and decide what our objectives are, then we talk about specifics. The talent may suggest a colour they’d like to wear, or a general vibe (simple, embellished etc). From there I create a mood board with inspiration and I start talking to fashion houses about the available looks, and also include those in my mood board. From there we decide what we will try. I often insist we try things that are different to what the talent would usually wear—and it is often the choice we end up going with.
There is a lot of collaboration in the process—the talent has to love the dress and feel amazing in it. I also have a very important rule that it has to be about the person first—they have to feel amazing and have inner confidence that shines through and makes them look killer—I am always going for that.
WWW: What has been your most memorable Oscars moment?
SB: For me, it’s my big styling moments. Last year with Priyanka Chopra is up there—it was one of the most Googled Oscars dresses for 2016—something I was very happy about.