For Hollywood's glamazons, almost as nerve-wracking as waiting to hear your name called out on Oscars night is the reaction to your red carpet gown. Get it right and you're fashion gold, while the wrong dress could even cast shade on your on-screen achievements. So to help them shine on the night of a thousand stars, nominees employ a whole glam squad, led by a stylist who's become their cheerleader-in-chief, adviser and friend all rolled into one. Planning with the precision of a military campaign, these ladies hunt down the most fabulous dress for their client – often custom-made to ensure it's truly unique – and search out the perfect jewellery, often worth millions of dollars. Here we profile the names behind this year's top stars.
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LUPITA NYONG’O, MERYL STREEP, NAOMIE HARRIS Micaela Erlanger
Micaela Erlanger (centre) styles Lupita Nyong'o and Naomie Harris
The alchemy by which a little-known actress can become a megawatt red carpet star overnight is summed up by Micaela Erlanger's collaboration with Lupita Nyong'o in 2014. One perfect dress at a time, Micaela honed the Kenyan actress' image, culminating with a Prada creation for the Oscars. Awards season is like a gruelling campaign and no actress wants to risk peaking too early. It was clear that in this case they'd saved the best till last. In a hue instantly christened 'Nairobi blue' after Lupita said: "It's a blue that reminds me of Nairobi. It's a little bit of home", the pleated Grecian gown was worthy of an Academy Award of its own. Later Micaela added Meryl Streep and Naomie Harris to her roster. Her philosophy is: "I don’t think there are any don'ts. It's more about how you turn everything into a do."
EMMA STONE, AMY ADAMS Petra Flannery
Petra Flannery (centre) works with stars including Emma Stone and Amy Adams
Whenever Petra Flannery's starlets hit the red carpet social media goes into a frenzy - as witness Emma Stone in a jumpsuit with a trailing bow train or a gown evoking a gladiator. Petra's signature look is elegant with an envelope pushing twist. La La Land actress Emma, 28, pictured collecting her best actress award at the Golden Globes, has been advised by her for a decade. She explains jokily: "We love taking risks. We are risky ladies." The über-stylist draws on influences from architecture to her own mother, who ran the Pucci department of Saks Fifth Avenue in the Sixties. A former agent with Elite Models, Petra tries to limit her clientele. "I'm not just going to style anyone," she says. "I get inspired by the person. I have to feel like there's a connection there."
JESSICA CHASTAIN, VIOLA DAVIS Elizabeth Stewart
Elizabeth Stewart (centre) styles Jessica Chastain and Viola Davis
If Elizabeth Stewart gives the impression that she could be your favourite big sister it's because fittings sometimes end up with lunch and TV in bed. That's what happened before this year's Golden Globes with Jessica Chastain, a client she's worked with "since the beginning, so it's very efficient". Her other leading ladies include Cate Blanchett, Julia Roberts and a favourite of this awards season, Viola Davis. After hours spent poring over looks, Elizabeth knows when a dress is The One if she and her client both love it. "There's usually a glimmer of excitement, like a colour or a vibe. Dresses that are special with incredible couture detailing," she told InStyle. "And then you just have to hope that the magic happens."
RUTH NEGGA Karla Welch
Karla Welch styles Oscar-nominee Ruth Negga
Her mantra is 'dare to be different', and working with an up and coming star like Ruth Negga, the Irish-Ethiopian star of Loving who has been making waves this awards season, has given Karla plenty of scope to do that. From Ruth's rose gold and silver-sequinned Louis Vuitton showstopper for the Golden Globes to the high romance of her floral Valentino gown, every appearance has had fashion critics at her feet. Karla told The Telegraph that the approach of transforming an actress is a very strategic one. "You find out what they're promoting and what they would like their image to be. You learn their silhouette, what kind of shapes work best and how far one person can experiment. Then we start calling in looks from designers."
CHARLIZE THERON, JULIANNE MOORE, REESE WITHERSPOON Leslie Fremar
Leslie Fremar (centre) styles Charlize Theron and Reese Witherspoon
Charlize Theron's head-turning look at last year's Oscars involved countless calls to Dior, followed by her stunning mermaid gown being flown back to Paris for final alterations with just days to spare. There was no hint of that frantic dash, however, when the Mad Max beauty stepped out, the epitome of lady-in-red allure. Her stylist Leslie Fremar, who learned the ropes with a real-life Devil Wears Prada experience as the assistant of Vogue's Anna Wintour, finished the look with plunging diamonds. It was daring on more counts than one, because the megastar client didn't have any hand in picking the design. "Charlize was filming in Berlin, and she was like, 'I trust you and I'm really busy,'" says Leslie. "I showed up the week before with her dress, and that was the first time she saw it."
NATALIE PORTMAN, MICHELLE WILLIAMS Kate Young
Kate Young (centre) styles Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams
The glossy posse's favourite stylist Kate Young admits she doesn't sleep for two weeks before the Oscars. Perhaps that's because she deliberately picks looks that won't immediately find favour. "When you see something and like it right away it's usually too boring an hour later," says Kate, another former Anna Wintour acolyte. "I want to push the envelope just far enough that you're not sure if you like it at first. I want people to initially say, 'Oh, that's an interesting choice', and then hopefully say, 'Oh, but I really like it'." Which is why you'll see her actresses with an unexpected beaded rose accent – like Natalie Portman's – or wearing a bow instead of a necklace, like Michelle Williams.