Hollywood Stylists Weigh in on Power Dressing for the Red Carpet

Part of the allure of Hollywood and its iconic red carpet is the escapism of it all. Ballgowns, diamonds and sparkly shoes have long given shape to the fantasy of movie stars. But on a post-#MeToo red carpet, is a glamorous dress enough? Two experts, Chloe Hartstein (stylist to Glenn Close) and Alexandra Mandelkorn (Janelle Monae) deconstruct how to dress their most powerful clients for maximum impact.

How has women’s dressing on the red carpet become more powerful recently?

Chloe Hartstein: “The conversation has shifted slightly in the sense that of course we are celebrating the beauty of these women; we are giving them a voice. The red carpet is already their platform. [Now] there is a lot more room for them to be comfortable in their skin, to be outspoken and send a message. And we know people are watching.”

Alexandra Mandelkorn: “Women have been more
inspired to take risks and express their own creative voices through their fashion choices — instead of trying to conform to the Hollywood red carpet standard.”

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Janelle Monae at the 2019 Grammy Awards in Jean Paul Gaultier with Le Silla pumps and Tiffany & Co. jewelry.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

After the #MeToo movement started in late 2017, there were some red carpets dedicated to making statements, such as the Times Up representation at the 2018 Golden Globes or the white roses worn at the 2018 Grammys. Did these efforts make any progress?

AM: “Making statements on the red carpet is a huge platform to challenge society in thinking about the way that fashion can, and does, coincide with the sociopolitical climate.”
CH: “At first, the idea of everyone dressing in black [for the Golden Globes] sounded sort of sad and bleak, but when I finally saw it take shape, it was so beautiful and strong. It seems like things are slowly shifting, voices are being heard, and women aren’t afraid anymore of speaking up. Think of Frances McDormand’s 2018 Oscars speech. [But] it will take time.”

Chloe, you dressed Glenn Close for this awards show season, and she received a lot of positive style coverage. Why do you think this red carpet season was so successful for her?

CH: “If you look at photos of Glenn from the past, she has always looked so cool and elegant and different on the red carpet. In the ’80s and ’90s, she had this incredible relationship with Giorgio Armani [and still does]. When we started working together and building for awards season, it was about creating a narrative and elevating what she has [already] worn. She’s known for wearing amazing suiting, so we collaborated with designer Sander Lak [of Sies Marjan] on a few custom suits. Glenn is incredibly smart, but she’s also funny and has a sense of quirkiness. I think that’s what you saw [in the suits].”

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Glenn Close in a custom Sies Marjan suit and Jimmy Choo pumps — and with her dog Pip — at the 2019 Independent Spirit Awards.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Glenn’s gold beaded Carolina Herrera gown for the Oscars was instantly iconic. How did it come together — and why so many capes through the season?

CH: “As soon as she was nominated, I sent a text to [Carolina Herrera creative director] Wes Gordon. He sent three sketches over, and Glenn and I saw this one, and goosebumps. We had a gut feeling that that would be the dress. The second she tried it on, it was so beautiful and strong. We wanted to include a subtle nod to suiting, which is why we had the cape. It was also a nod to the Armani Privé velvet cape she wore to the Golden Globes. [There was another] Armani Privé cape she wore to the Vanity Fair party. It seemed so fun and dramatic but also easy. It was the perfect note for that evening. She just wanted to go to the party and see her friends.”

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Glenn Close in a Carolina Herrera beaded gown with cape, Cartier jewelry and Giuseppe Zanotti platform heels at the 2019 Oscars.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Does age matter in power dressing?

CH: “I don’t think it matters at all. You can be young and confident or middle-aged and confident. It’s not related to an age group. It revolves around the comfort zone, and different things can be appropriate. It’s about your personality and how you respond to it.”
AM: “If you’re 65 and feel great in a tutu, then you better rock that tutu, girl! If you have style, you’re always appropriately dressed, no matter your age.”

accent that balanced her outfits, which had a lot of gravitas to them. We liked that it was peeking out sometimes. Glenn texted me recently and said, ‘I have to get a pair of those platforms.’ She has such an incredible knowledge of costume history, and she has kept all of her costumes from past movies. She kept referring to a pair of platforms from her Cruella De Vil costume [in the 1996 film ‘101 Dalmatians’].”

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Glenn Close at the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscars party in Armani Privé, Cartier jewelry and Giuseppe Zanotti platforms.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

We noticed Glenn also wore platforms a lot during awards season. How did that happen?

CH: “There was one specific shape she loved, and it was by Giuseppe Zanotti. It looked so fun and sexy, and it was the perfect platform — really high, but the pitch was comfortable enough that she could be in it the entire evening. It was a funky little accent that balanced her outfits, which had a lot of gravitas to them. We liked that it was peeking out sometimes. Glenn texted me recently and said, ‘I have to get a pair of those platforms.’ She has such an incredible knowledge of costume history, and she has kept all of her costumes from past movies. She kept referring to a pair of platforms from her Cruella De Vil costume [in the 1996 film ‘101 Dalmatians’].”

What’s next when it comes to making a political or social statement on the red carpet?

AM: “The brands you choose to wear or represent say a lot about what you believe in and support. It’s thrilling to watch actresses wear more brands designed by women and people of color, as well as brands that are making huge strides in sustainability. We’ve also seen people bring activists and other strong voices as their dates to events. I’d love to see more of this happen, especially with all of the anti-abortion laws being put into place. [Celebs] using Instagram platforms to promote their greater message in conjunction with their red carpet looks is an incredibly powerful tool. I wish more of the biggest social media stars would use even a fraction of the time that they do selling their mass-produced beauty products or flat-tummy teas for promoting positive world change.”
CH: “As stylists, we definitely have room to do more, though it depends on the client. Cate Blanchett and [her stylist], Elizabeth Stewart, decided to rewear different gowns, and that’s a wonderful message to send. Sometimes our industry can feel wasteful, but [we can] make it more sustainable in our own way. It’s really up to us on a micro level. There is more to be done in raising awareness where we want to raise it.”

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Janelle Monae at her Coachella performance.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Can you pinpoint what gives power to a woman’s look on the red carpet?

AM: “The only thing that gives power to a woman’s look is the woman herself. You can have on the sharpest power suit, but if you don’t exude the confidence, the look will fall flat. Whether you’re in a minidress, overalls or ballgown — whatever. It’s all about her presence.”
CH: “It’s about confidence, it’s about your client feeling good and strong. If the garment makes them feel that way, you will see it. I see it in the fittings, when you put on the right dress or suit, the body language changes, the posture changes.”

Alexandra, what do you look for specifically to give Janelle a powerful edge to her looks?

AM: “There are certain design details that resonate with Janelle’s style and help her feel most in her power when walking a carpet. Sharp, strong shoulders and elongating silhouettes are some of our go-to standards, and her signature black and white [color scheme] always comes across strong and bold. Bold prints, anything menswear-inspired. Asymmetry, deconstruction and other off-kilter elements keep looks interesting and unexpected. Janelle is always open to considering something new. That certainly doesn’t mean she loves everything I bring to the table, but she likes to see what options are available and if anything piques her interest when she sees it in person. She’s adventurous, and we’re excited about pushing boundaries and creating new artistic moments.”

Where and how does the collaborative process start?

AM: “Once we have some creative direction around a project, we home in on what story we are trying. If it’s a film premiere, we sometimes try to subtly incorporate a piece of the film into the look. For award shows and major red carpet events, we discuss what kind of overall story
we are trying to tell that year with her projects and stylistic choices of the moment. The most important thing is making sure we are creating some cohesion and not just throwing out random looks for the sake of fashion. They will resonate more if there is purpose behind every detail.”

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Janelle Monae in Christian Siriano suit gown and Christian Louboutin shoes.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

The color red seems to dominate many of Janelle’s looks. What does this color mean to you?

AM: “Everything we do is intentional, and yes, that includes using the color red. Of course, it’s often associated with power, but I think even more so, red is a color of duality. It can be aggressive and masculine, sensual and feminine. It can represent fear and anger, but [it] also represents love and passion. It’s the color of blood, which represents both death and life. It’s a color that always commands your attention.”

What is your definition of a power shoe?

CH: “I don’t think it’s based on height. A flat shoe, a brogue or a beautiful sandal under a gown can be super sexy. It comes down to the stance that it gives to the person who is wearing them. I was working with Melissa McCarthy, and we did some kitten heels. As long as they are standing tall and strong, it’s a power shoe.”
AM: “One that makes me ready to step on necks! [For me], they usually have a really high heel.”

Watch FN’s video below with Carrie Dragshaw on how to walk in heels. 

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