The endless stream of parties, premieres, and awards shows that constitute the red carpet is at once a source of lighthearted entertainment and a billion-dollar business. For years, the step-and-repeats at these high-profile events were the best places to gauge a celebrity’s style or track a brand’s popularity amongst A-listers, but the system is now evolving. This year’s global reset has prompted a shift in the way people can gather, how they dress, and what they view as important. In Hollywood, the changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic have had a significant impact on how films are made and the way they are promoted. That has meant traditions like the Emmys and MTV Video Music Awards going virtual, press tours occurring on the internet, and the temporary cancelation of institutions like the Cannes and Telluride Film Festivals.
Naturally, these changes have impacted the cottage industry that surrounds red carpet dressing. Stylists have had to innovate to keep up with the times and the changing needs of their clients. For a look to work in 2020, it has to resonate online, allude to an actor’s political stance, or connect to a message that addresses timely issues. For the biggest names in the industry, the challenge has been adapting to the new normal as they reinvent the role of stylist to better suit 2020’s concerns.
For Wayman Bannerman and Micah McDonald, that has meant helping stars like Regina King and Kiki Layne wear their hearts on their sleeves. At the Emmys, King honored the life of Breonna Taylor by wearing a T-shirt from her personal wardrobe beneath a shocking pink Schiaparelli pantsuit. The kind of informal outfit that would have been at odds with the dress code in previous years, it made a strong statement against police violence on television’s biggest night.
Image architect Law Roach has been behind some of the most meme-worthy looks of all time, transforming Céline Dion into a couture addict and making Zendaya her generation’s most-watched fashion star. In 2020 he’s still making waves, but the intimate nature of today’s awards shows allows him to play an active part beyond the getting-ready process. Roach was seated with his muse and her family as she picked up the Emmy award for best actress in a drama, the kind of full-circle moment that could only happen at a virtual show.
As the man behind the long-running celebrity gossip site, JustJared.com, Jared Eng has a unique understanding of what works online. Fifteen years of feeding the internet’s desire for red carpet content and having access to all the data and metrics that go with that is helpful when you’re making decisions about what your young Hollywood clients ought to wear. When Eng dresses actor Joey King in pleated Iris van Herpen or vibrant Versace florals, he knows in advance what will play on social media and how to showcase that via curated posts.
In between styling Justin Bieber, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Sarah Paulson, running two clothing brands, and helming a creative studio, Karla Welch is using her influence to keep politics and social reform top of mind. Whether that means putting soccer star Megan Rapinoe in a Black Lives Matter T-shirt on the ESPY Awards or dressing Ross in Proenza Schouler at the Democratic National Convention, Welch is committed to kick-starting the conversation about how celebrities, fashion insiders, and concerned citizens can use the visibility provided by the internet to amplify the issues that matter.
Each stylist has had their way of adjusting, but the changes they’ve made individually speak to the wealth of new opportunities the digital format provides. With dress codes banished, celebrities are now willing to make bold sartorial statements and timely political ones. Eventually, the old step-and-repeats will return. Still, the current willingness to utilize the world’s interest in glitzy events to do more than push products is likely to be permanent.