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Art of Style

Secrets of style: Elizabeth Saltzman

L-R: Jodie Comer, Saoirse Ronan and Gwyneth Paltrow have all worn looks by Saltzman on the red carpet

As one of Hollywood’s most in-demand stylists, ELIZABETH SALTZMAN is the woman behind the enviable red-carpet looks of everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Saoirse Ronan and Jodie Comer. These are the styling rules she swears by…

Fashion

As a native New Yorker, Saltzman’s career in fashion began when she joined Giorgio Armani as a stockroom assistant in 1983, quickly working her way up the ranks so that, within just a few years, the Italian powerhouse had moved her to Milan, where she designed for the Emporio line.

In 1985, Saltzman return to the US after landing a job at Vogue, where she held the role of fashion editor for eight years before moving to Vanity Fair, where she subsequently became fashion director. However, it was Saltzman’s desire to work with real women and help them build an identity that inspired her next move – transitioning from editorial to celebrity styling – and she’s been at the forefront of her craft ever since.

For the past 20 years Saltzman has called west London home, although work means she’s on a plane to New York or Los Angeles every few days. You’d be forgiven for thinking, given her stellar resumé and starry client list, that Saltzman would be a formidable figure, but she’s warm, welcoming and her sense of humor is second to none. Far from being jaded by years spent at the center of the industry, she brims with enthusiasm, stressing that no matter what goes wrong, it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective. “You have to bring positive energy into the room, because no matter what the problem is, we are still the luckiest people in the world.” So if you’re keen to inject your own closet with her signature brand of understated elegance, read on…

It’s all about the individual

“Helping a client find their ‘look’ is just a matter of listening to them and figuring out what they want their outfit to say. However, we don’t just settle once we find a formula that works. For Gwyneth Paltrow’s Golden Globes look, I knew the minute I saw that sheer Fendi dress that it would be perfect for her, I just didn’t know whether she would feel the same – but she loved it! It was an unapologetic outfit – she was practically naked – but she felt happy, confident and safe. Plus, putting million-dollar jewelry underneath the dress, but still on full display, felt like a really cool move. My clients range from 18 years old to 55; I’m dealing with real, strong women who are aware of the world and their power within it. Of course, sometimes I am guilty of falling in love with a dress and just thinking ‘I have to get this on somebody’, which is exactly what happened with the amazing Mary Katrantzou gown that Jodie Comer wore to the Globes. It was such a fun fashion moment; it almost felt more Villanelle [Comer’s Killing Eve character] than Jodie.”

Prioritize comfort

“I want my clients to feel happy and confident on the red carpet. I don’t tend to dress my ladies in gowns because, although they look fabulous, they are incredibly difficult to move in. I would never prioritize a great gown over the woman wearing it. I also avoid dressing my clients in shoes that will kill them. Before I choose a pair of heels, I always ask myself if I could actually wear them all night long. After all, you want your client to be able to make it up on stage to accept their award.”

Elizabeth Saltzman

Don’t be afraid to mix things up

“For Saoirse Ronan’s look at this year’s Golden Globes, we really wanted to show a more sensual side to her. She is someone who has been on the scene for a while – she received her fourth Oscar nomination this year, at just 25 years old – but people seem to think of her as a conservative beauty. By wearing a beaded slip dress by Celine, she surprised people. I didn’t stick a giant bow on her back or give her a dress with a giant train; instead, I was like, ‘just be you’.”

Poppy Delevingne's Giambattista Valli couture gown for the 2018 Emmy awards showed Saltzman’s more extravagant side

Move the needle

“I think putting Gwyneth in that white, caped Tom Ford gown for the 2012 Oscars really made a huge impact on the fashion industry. It was the first time people saw Tom Ford’s eponymous line. Before that moment, red-carpet dressing was all about tulle, sparkles and diamonds – that clean, minimalist silhouette was totally new, and I think we’re still feeling the ripple effects from that look. On the other end of the spectrum, I loved the Carolina Herrera gown that Saoirse Ronan wore to the London premiere of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Giambattista Valli couture gown that Poppy Delevingne wore to the 2018 Emmy awards.”

Come prepared

“On the day of a big awards ceremony like the Oscars I keep things calm and serene, and make sure all my clients are having fun. The key is to play good music and ensure everyone has had a chance to eat. I make a point of getting up early and going for a walk or a bike ride by the sea, then I’ll go to the hotel where everyone is getting ready and make sure my team is prepared. I like everything to be ‘done’; for instance, even if you won’t be seeing a client’s toes, they’ll still have a pedicure. I want their look to feel totally finished. At the 2019 Emmy awards, I dressed five women and every single one of their zippers broke – my team was literally sewing them up on the red carpet. Mercury must have been in retrograde!”

Be open-minded

“It’s just as fun to work with someone who is a big fashion fan as it is to help shape a client’s look from scratch. No matter how much you know, there is always more to learn. My two teenage sons are constantly teaching me about new brands, and emerging designers often approach me on Instagram. Of course, I love established labels like Tom Ford, Valentino, Giambattista Valli, Emilia Wickstead and Erdem – but being able to give up-and-coming talent a platform is one of the best things about my job. In 2018, I dressed Gwyneth in a Retrofête sequin mini dress for the LA premiere of Avengers: Infinity War, and the label’s success blew up.”

Shop smart

“I would rather invest in a great piece that I will have for years than a handful of dresses that won’t stand the test of time. I want a piece I can wear again and again. When you’re choosing an outfit for a wedding or black-tie event, it’s important to ask yourself, can I move in this? Will I be able to sit, dance, laugh, eat and just be merry? Comfort is as important as elegance. If dresses aren’t your thing, try a tuxedo – they’re so versatile, I think everyone should own one. No matter what you’re wearing, when it comes to striking the perfect pose, my advice to everyone is ‘stand tall, shoulders back, girls up’.”

This 2018 red-carpet look for Gwyneth Paltrow is credited with changing the fortunes of Retrofête

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