How a Celebrity Stylist Navigates Haute Couture

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Fashionista

Pretty much anyone in the industry will tell you that sitting and looking at a collection make its way down a runway is but a fraction of what fashion week entails. If you’re an editor or journalist, for one, you’re filing stories in real time, brainstorming angles and trends, and liaising with PR teams to secure samples or get more information about what you saw. If you’re an influencer or content creator, you’re brokering and executing brand partnerships, coordinating pick-ups and returns for loans, and posting and documenting everything. 

From their seat, a stylist is juggling multiple different job responsibilities and timelines at once: They’re taking in the newness; they’re making mental notes about what might work for their celebrity clients in the next six-to-12 months (sometimes drafting e-mails with their requests right there); they’re considering orders their private clients might want to place. They could also be dressing a client for the show and attending it with them, making introductions and helping them network across the crowd. And when it’s haute couture season, they’re also navigating the politics of the most elite, rarified category of fashion — and, in the case of styling duo Zadrian Smith and Sarah Edmiston, a.k.a. Zadrian + Sarah, holding hands and remembering to stay in the moment. 

Smith and Edmiston have both celebrity and private clients, and at haute couture fashion week, they’re working across both sides of the business. This season, they attended the shows in Paris before flying to Rome for Valentino‘s haute couture outing. There, they were also accompanying their client Ariana DeBose, who would be attending her first-ever couture show. (DeBose won the Oscar for her performance as Anita in “West Side Story” earlier this year wearing Valentino Haute Couture.) So, between a packed schedule of runways and presentations in Paris, they were also coordinating with Valentino and DeBose about the actor’s look. 

“I have to say, the Valentino family makes it very easy for us — especially at this stage,” Edmiston says. “We’ve been in so many countries with these girls, so many fittings. Our fitting, honestly, was 22 minutes long.”

That’s not to say it wasn’t without some last-minute surprises: “We got in, and something else jumped out that was just so fun, so young — the whole vibe of everything everyone wanted to do and everything everyone wanted to say just changed,” Edmiston says. “What’s so wonderful about this team is everybody shifted in the same way at the same time, which is really, really lovely. Everybody gets each other really well.” 

Originally, they had been discussing a more “somber” feel, “to match the energy and the mood of what she’s experiencing right now” in reaction to the current climate, Smith explains: “Everything that we do is rooted in narrative.” In the room, though, they gravitated toward the hand-stitched brocade dress DeBose wore to the show — a look from the last haute couture collection that didn’t appear on the runway, the color switched to pink just for her — and the optimism it exuded. 

“I was so happy when the pictures came through, because what that said to me was: There’s a pocket of joy, there’s a pocket of life. And who better to be that than Ariana?,” he says. (DeBose also debuted a Rihanna-reminiscent bleached blonde cut at the show, which delighted her styling team. “We knew that it was going to happen at some point. We didn’t know when. We got a phone call when we were in the car on our way to Chanel, and we both screamed,” Smith says.) 

“What she needed to do right now was show up in solidarity with women and women’s rights,” Edmiston says. “What we decided in the moment — all of us, all the women in the fitting — is that the best way to show up is with joy and boldness, to be unapologetic. Showing up in solidarity can look dynamic and unafraid. That’s what this look is. Then we were like, ‘Why stop there? A pink shoe, a pink bag, the biggest sunglasses we could find — let’s do it.’ Couture needs the shake-up that is Ariana DeBose.”

Ariana DeBose attends the Valentino Haute Couture Fall:Winter 22:23 fashion show on July 08, 2022 in Rome, Italy

Photo: Daniele Venturelli/WireImage

When it comes to getting a celebrity client ready to attend a show, Smith and Edmiston emphasize the importance of two things: being present and vocal in fittings, and being at the event itself. 

“It has to look like a collaboration between the client’s aesthetic and the brand’s,” Edmiston says. “Our talent are always working — they’re jet-lagged, their head’s in a script, they’ve come off a set or a recording session or a tour rehearsal. We’re really blessed because our clients know that it’s a team, that it has to be the brand, the talent and the styling team all involved. Equally, we’re lucky with the brands we work with. The brands want the stylist’s collaboration and input, and they want you there on the day.” 

Smith explains how, for talent, having a stylist there with them can be a massive asset: “We know who the people [they] need to rub shoulders with are. We can help navigate that space, and help prepare, like, ‘You’re going to get in the car. When you get out of the car, put your right leg out first. Make sure that you don’t open your legs and flash people. People are going to be screaming your name. Maybe do some autographs, maybe don’t. Do some street style photography. Walk in, get to step-and-repeat, then sit for the show. Don’t cross your legs because you’re going to mess it up for the photographers taking the Vogue runway shots. After the show’s over, go backstage.'”

“Going to a show, it’s a rite of passage,” he adds. “Once the girls do it once or twice, they got it. But we try to prepare our clients and help them understand. I’ve seen clients have no presence in the fashion space [go to] fashion week, and after it’s done, editors say, ‘Can we do a cover shoot? Can we do an editorial?’ Fashion shows, especially at the haute couture level, are an opportunity for you to be seen, to have eyes laid on you by some of the most powerful people at the top.” 

On the private client side, haute couture is a busy season, naturally. “We work on a lot of private commissions with clients, which is also part of our couture relationships across multiple brands,” Edmiston says. “We love to support couture because it’s the oldest art form in fashion. It’s an art, and it doesn’t always get enough love.”

The strategy is the same across both sides of the business, she explains: “It’s understanding what they have coming up for the next 12 months and understanding what they’ll be attending; earmarking the very, very, very best things, knowing them intimately and also knowing what adjustments will be made and which couture houses are the most collaborative and going to work the best with us. Then it’s a lot of frantic texting during the show.” 

Those exchanges with the brand will normally be about slight adjustments to the look — “‘That’s just that bit too much embellishment. Could we change where the bow is maybe?'” — to make it right for the client. These ”aren’t about improving your dress,” Edmiston says. “Your dress is amazing. We’re suggesting adjustments that mean our client will carry the dress like it’s the amazing dress it is and stand like a queen and pose every way they want to. The brands, I think, trust us with that and with having the optimal result. Because really, the very best dress on Earth will be crushed and killed if somebody doesn’t carry it like they love it.” 

Haute couture also has its unique dynamics, which aren’t as much of a concern with ready-to-wear. 

“The first matter of importance are the clients,” says Smith. “People are waiting to see what’s going to sell. Depending on which client commissions an haute couture gown, they might say, ‘I don’t want to see a celebrity in my gown before I wear it.’ That could be 10, 15, 20, 30 looks. Then we figure out what the politics are around what they pick. Then you have all the ambassadors for the house, and their stylists are saying they get first dibs because they know that XX has Venice, XX has Emmys, XX has Cannes — now you have another 20 looks gone.” You could be working with a brand that releases one look per region, for example, so a private client will want to get in with their requests as soon as possible after the show — normally in the 24 hours that follow, according to Edmiston.

“For haute couture, there’s a lot more to be considered and thought about, and a lot more politics involved,” says Smith. ”This is the cremè de la crème of the fashion industry. This is where brands make a lot of their coin. They have to be very considered about who and how and why they’re releasing these looks to people.”

“This is why we split the duties in many ways,” says Edmiston. “I’m focused on private clients, Z’s focused on celebrity — we’re watching the same show for two different sets of clients. Plus, we’re holding hands, reminding each other to be present.”

That last part is especially important to the both of them. “We’re business partners, but we’re the very best of friends. We both travel so much to look after the clients, we’re not often in the same country at a nice dinner, with a chance to switch off our phones and just have fun together,” Edmiston says. “We really look forward to the little bit of time together, to catch up and do that part of our partnership. On a personal level, that’s what I most love about couture week.” 

“I kept saying to Sarah: ‘This is the biggest blessing,'” Smith says, “to just be able to be a part of this in any small capacity with these amazing houses, I’m just constantly like, ‘Wow.'”

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Ana Colón

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