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Dressing the stars

How do celebs find the time to keep up with the latest trends, the newest ‘It’ things or the hottest designer? Thanks to the paparazzi-like culture of the media, celebs must look perfect always.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2009 22:16 IST
Parul Khanna

Sonam KapoorYesterday, you saw pictures of actress Sonam Kapoor at the X Awards, wearing a skin-tight Dior gown. Today’s papers showed Sonam wearing a Lanvin dress at a premiere. And hmm… the day before yesterday, you recall, didn’t you see pictures of Sonam wearing a red salwar-kurta that looked like a Sabyasachi? Wow, you think. Film stars must be really, really rich. And clearly, with all the shopping they do, must also lead the most leisurely lives. And then you sit back and growl to yourself a bit about the inequities of life, and wait to see what Sonam’s wearing tomorrow.

Professional look

Whether film stars are really, really rich, only the Income Tax people can say. But if you think about it, the chances of Sonam Kapoor actually doing her own shopping are painfully low. Look at it this way: She jets around the world for lengthy shoots. Attends a hundred-odd events for publicity and the sake of her fans. Shoots ad films too, because of her endorsements. And still must find time for her family.

How in the world would she find the time to keep up with the latest trends, the newest ‘It’ things, the hottest designer? How in the world can she fill her wardrobe so full? Well. Unlike us, Sonam has a stylist – a person whose job is to give her an image and keep her within the limits of her look. It’s stylists who give celebrities their sense of style. Remember Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in that blood red gown at Cannes? That gown was her stylist’s idea. And the stylist would have carried that gown, the shoes to go with it, the other accessories – the whole ensemble, in fact – with her or him, to dress Aishwarya for the occasion, because that is the stylist’s job.

It could be an awards function. Or a party like Shah Rukh Khan or Katrina Kaif’s birthday bash, where the press could be present. Or a formal event, like a brand promotion or fashion show. A press conference, a TV appearance, a music launch – anything where the star has to appear in public. The look has to be unique, apt for the occasion, flattering to the star’s body type, height, complexion and image – and also true to the trend of the moment. “Our work is about understanding the client and giving him or her a unique sense of style,” says fashion designer and celebrity stylist Swapnil Shinde, who has styled Priyanka Chopra and often styles actress Amrita Rao for her off-screen appearances. “We help people who don’t have a sense of personal style develop it, and we help the people who do have a sense of style hone and maintain it, so that it matches their personality.”

Star light, star bright
Film stars lead such hectic lives that if they had to take care of their own shopping, keep up with the latest fashion trends, and find their own style, they’d never be able to get a film done. “It’s difficult for us to go shopping and also to source clothes,” says Amrita Rao. “So the stylist takes care of that department. Also, since a stylist knows about trends and clothes, we are reassured.”

Much like a fashion designer, a stylist customises clothes and looks for the stars. But unlike a fashion designer, he or she doesn’t design the clothes but collects or assembles a look for the celebrity concerned. Says Shy Kalra, fashion stylist and owner of The Production House, “If a star is short, plump, dark or whatever, I will get him or her clothes accordingly. For instance, Minnisha Lamba is petite. So for a fashion show, I gave her an ankle-skimming dress rather than a short one. A short dress would have made her look shorter still. You have to give a client the attire that gets the best out of him or her, and hides the flaws.”

There’s more, adds Shy. In a world full of celebs, celebs in the making and wannabe celebs, a star who wants to make an impact must truly stand out. Which means her or his look cannot be static. That’s where the stylist comes in. “A stylist is a concept director,” she explains. “He/she assembles the look of the star, complete with hair and make-up.”

In the spotlight

Film stars generally hire a stylist based on word of mouth recommendations, or if they like the way another celeb is dressed, or if they have worked with a particular stylist in a film or TV commercial.

That’s how Sonam Kapoor came across her stylist, Pernia Quereshi. Pernia was asked to style Sonam for the movie Ayesha and Sonam liked Pernia’s style so much, she asked her to work with her off-screen. Anaita Shroff Adajania, fashion director of Vogue India, began her career as a stylist for a magazine. Soon, she styled stars for films like Dhoom and Dhoom 2, then she was called for commercials and now, also does personal styling.

In India, personal styling is a new concept. That’s because the paparazzi concept is new here. Abroad, stars are used to being stalked by photographers who sell their pictures to tabloids. Since a photo of a celebrity looking like a regular person would destroy the celeb’s image, a personal stylist is a necessity.

Much the same thing is beginning to happen here, says Anaita. The arrival of international fashion-heavy magazines has led to a situation where celebs find themselves being photographed non-stop – and graded on their sense of style. At the same time, the aggressive marketing strategies that filmmakers follow means that stars have more public appearances to make than ever before. And then there are the brand endorsements. So, where once celebrities had only occasional public appearances to make, today they are scrutinised all the time.

“The culture is fast becoming like Hollywood,” says Anaita. “True, even now, even an SRK doesn’t need a stylist every time he steps out. But the trend is on the increase.”

Spin doctor
Clothes for personal style are not the stylist’s only job. She or he must, via the way the celeb looks, create an image for the star – a credible one at that.

“I styled Saif Ali Khan for the Airtel advertisement,” says Nisha Kundani, who mostly does editorial, advertisement and bridal styling. “Now, Saif is not the cool dude of today. That position has been filled by Ranbir Kapoor. So I could not give Saif ripped jeans. His look had to be sexy, intelligent, classy. Of course, with commercials, you also have to stick with the storyline. But if we are styling a star off-screen, we know we are not creating a fantasy look, or emphasising only what they are wearing. We have to enhance the star.”

This means treating every client as an individual – a stylist must really know the star. “I have styled many stars,” says Anaita. “But I never style two people the same way. I research fashion trends and then see what can I give the star so his/her personality shines. And within this parameter, I experiment too.”

How a stylist styles a star depends on the event and whether it’s a public or personal appearance. Pernia Quereshi says that when Sonam was to appear on the Farah Khan show, she had to be herself.

“Sonam is a very friendly person, so I made her wear a casual jumpsuit that looked young and different from the other actresses who generally wear dresses to chat shows. To stand out, instead of the usual blow-dried hair, she had a side bun,” says Pernia. “When she went for a diamond brand promotion however, she had to look classic. So I gave her a white and black Chanel dress and kept her neck bare. She could then showcase their necklace.”

It’s important for a star to trust his or her stylist, and often the decision on the look for an occasion is a mutually made one. “You have to build a rapport with the star,” says Nisha Kundani. “You cannot throw your weight around, believing that as a stylist, you know better. Dressing a star is not just about fashion. It’s also about the star’s personality.”

Perfect fix

This calls for the star to really trust her or his stylist. Because of all this media scrutiny, film stars are under immense pressure to look not just good, but impeccable. Always.

“The image of actors today is largely determined by their style,” explains Kalyani Chawla, brand ambassador and spokesperson of luxury fashion brand Christian Dior. “If they look stylish for an occasion, they can be written about for years. But if they make even one fashion faux pas, they can be slammed by the press with equal vehemence.”

What Aishwarya Rai wore at Cannes made bigger news than the fact that she was a judge. Vidya Balan is constantly slammed by the media for her careless dressing, both on and off-screen. Mallika Sherawat’s hideous snake-back outfit still makes the public shudder. And it isn’t only the media and the
public that matter.

“The same ghastly picture might be seen by producers, directors and even co-stars,” points out Nisha Kundani. “Such a thing destroys a star’s public persona. Because at the end of the day, the film industry is about looks and image.”

This means the pressure to look good is higher than any non-film person can even begin to imagine. “But it’s only right,” says Amrita Rao. “Because if film stars set the style for other people to follow, they had better make the extra effort to look good.” Amrita came to this conclusion only after making her share of fashion mistakes. “I evolved with time,” she says. “I realised that actors have to be costumed all the time, not just on screen.”
the feeling is mutual

‘Costumed’ is correct. If you think celebs actually own all the designer clothes they’re seen in, you’re badly mistaken. Because, as Kalyani Chawla had observed, stars are known for their style. And since that’s the case, what’s the best way for a brand to up its sales quotient? Get a star to wear its styles.

How? Says Priti Zararia, business development manager, Blues Clothing Company, “Versace doesn’t have a direct tie up with any of the celebrities in Bollywood. These liaisons are done usually through their stylist.”

Brand managers, fashion designers and store owners form networks with stylists. Some brands even send briefs on their latest collections to the people who dress the stars. Says Sangeeta Assomull, CEO, Marigold Group, “We made sure Judith Leiber gets extensive coverage in magazines. That helped establish the brand as the natural choice for stylists to pick for their clients’ formal functions. The stylists help us reach the stars.”
This is another Hollywood to Bollywood concept, and it works. “So and so wearing a such and such dress” as a caption beneath a photograph of a celeb in a magazine makes the name of the brand stick in the minds of readers, gives it aspirational value, makes it, in a word, hot.

“We have 50 press bags for international use or samples of the latest collection,” says Sangeeta Assomull. “These samples are usually from new collections that are not yet available at stores. Every ten days, we lend out ten of these bags, and then rotate the others. So we always have something new for stylists.”

It isn’t that celebrities never buy clothes. But usually, what you see a celeb wearing in public is borrowed. “A-list stars are ruling the endorsement market,” says Kalyani Chawla. “And since Indian stars are on the international red carpet these days, they are veering from saris to designer gowns, making them part of the international team of stars who are written and spoken about globally.”

Stylists source or borrow clothes from international designer brands and Indian designers or stores. These are outfits that have been created for celebrity use, so they are borrowed freely. “It’s not about money. It’s about a relationship,” says Nikhil of the designer duo Shantanu and Nikhil. “If an actress is appreciated in our outfit, it’s good for us. We charge money only if we have to design for their personal use, for instance, for a wedding.”

Not all brands and designers lend clothes to just any celeb. Some are very specific about the kind of people they want to see in their creations. Versace is very particular about who wears their garments and who represents the brand. Says Priti Zararia, “The celebrity must be able to match the attitude and image of the brand.”

Research and development

The people who dress the stars are also busy, scouting stores, previewing designer collections, and looking up international trends, to keep themselves – and their clients – at the very top. It’s also important for them to keep in constant touch with brand managers, designers and store owners, because clothes and accessories are often required at just a few hours’ notice. And there’s something important to be kept in mind. Film stars tend to be much thinner than the rest of us.

“You cannot just go to a store and pick up an outfit,” says Vijayeta Kumar, Priyanka Chopra’s stylist. “But most brands and designers have samples in sizes 2 and 4 reserved for such an eventuality.”

Usually, stylists are careful about keeping up with trends, so film stars rarely go wrong. When fashion pundits declared that pink was “the colour for men”, Hrithik Roshan was already wearing it. When Hollywood stars wear Dior, so does Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. So reading up on fashion, travel and other trends is part of a stylist’s research, says Shiraz Siddique who usually styles Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar. And attending fashion weeks, designers’ previews and international shows is also a stylist’s job, adds Shy Kalra.

Which is not to say that disasters don’t sometimes happen. Vijayeta Kumar let Saira Rahman (AR Rahman’s wife) wear flat shoes to the Oscars, which attracted adverse comments. “But she is a tall woman and she didn’t want to look taller than AR,” says Vijayeta. Also, she adds, if an ensemble is created at the last minute, things can go wrong. “For instance, if a dress doesn’t fit, we add a belt. And the next thing you know, that belt is being trashed in the magazines!”

Mix-ups also happen at times. Swapnil remembers an occasion when three actresses wore the same dress to the same function and the fashion critics had a field day. “But most stylists and brands exchange notes on where their clothes go, just to avoid this,” he says.